Speech delivered 21 May 2019, Data for Sustainable Development Goals Dinner, Accra, Ghana
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you all for today’s event. It is a great pleasure to see the Ghana Statistical Service working together with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to elevate discussion of data from the technical nitty gritty to the real stories and experiences of why it matters. I hope the international statistical community will be inspired by your ambition. I take this opportunity to welcome Professor Samuel Kobina Annim, the Government Statistician, to help propel this important agenda as we look to the 10-year countdown on the Sustainable Development Goals.
It’s clear, and I have said previously during the Data Roadmap Forum in April 2017, that many governments do not really prioritise data collection, and the political economy of that is very simple: money spent on data collection may not be very obvious to the average voter.
But governments forget that without the data, you will get your policies wrong. The data is what tells you where you are, and helps you get to where you want to get to; and then your citizens will vote for you when you are there, because the data will prove you can deliver.
Statistics deliver both good and bad news, but effective governments need to hear both. When robustly produced, using established internationally agreed standards, statistics provide an indispensable planning tool. Since adopting the global 2030 Agenda, every government has been tracking progress and monitoring how the goals and targets we have set for ourselves are being achieved. This obviously will not always provide good news. The information of areas of non-performance is equally critical in pointing us to areas that require more attention or redirecting policy interventions. This means respect for and understanding the value of data to everyone, political and non-political persons alike should be vigorously pursued.
One of the good things about the Sustainable Development Goals is that we (member states of the UN) did not limit the data requirements to only the traditional data systems. Deciding where we look to be by 2030 challenged us on how best to use data and technology to get there.
Some of the innovations we are introducing in Ghana would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago – drones that deliver over 150 different medicines to remote locations, dropping them in small parachutes within a range of two-parking spots; or that Google has this month opened an Artificial Intelligence Lab right here in Accra, realizing that some of the most exciting technological developments are now taking place in West Africa. There is huge emerging potential in the Africa Regional Data Cube to quantify deforestation or harmful mining activities across enormous swathes of land – and we are joined this week by the NASA/CEOS (Committee of Earth Observation Satellites) team, GPSDD colleagues and representatives of governments of Senegal and Sierra Leone – a chance to exchange deep and valuable learning together.
I want to acknowledge, though, that sometimes showcasing the transformative potential of technological innovation makes people upset, and I understand it. Why are we investing in high-tech things when there are people who still lack basic services for themselves and their families?
But these are not either/or considerations – we cannot begin to solve intractable, complex problems like fast-spreading diseases, polluted rivers, or poor waste management systems without up-to-date information. And the speed and levels of improvement we are pushing for requires innovation, which requires trying new things and expanding them if they work well.
A digitised, formal economy is a crucial plank of the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda. To fight inequality we must count everyone and make everyone accountable to pay their fair share in taxes that will be used to target assistance to those who may not have had access to critical social services previously.
For this reason we are rolling out the Ghana (ID) Card to provide legal identity to our citizens, we established the digital address system so that you can register your business and let others know where to find you. Our upcoming census in 2020 will count every person, including those in slums and homeless individuals and it will cover access to social amenities such as water, health care, educational infrastructure and housing conditions.
I am happy to learn that the press fellows will accompany enumerators to the field to observe the Trial Census activities. Ghana is joining many other African countries to leverage technology in their census count. This will not only provide timely and more quality data, but will help also help better target interventions like LEAP as the geo-locations of the poor households will be known.
Achieving the SDGs requires informed choices about priorities and strategies that are based on better evidence than is available today. Improving sustainable development data is a task for all. Political leadership, combined with the right institutional framework; financial, technical and human resources; and partnerships among public and private data producers and users are crucial for data to enable development.
Mobilising political will and moral courage is not going to be enough if we do not have the right evidence – evidence that points us to making the right and most impactful decisions. We are grateful for the hand of friendship that has been extended from partner organisations and countries with expertise to help strengthen our administrative data and the data ecosystem generally.
Data for Sustainable Development Goals Ambassadors
I know that I stand between you and dinner so I will be brief. In my capacity as a Board Member of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data I am happy to announce that the partnership is introducing ‘Data for Sustainable Development Goals Ambassadors’. This role will be as a goodwill ambassador to advocate for the importance of leveraging data and technology to help governments, companies and citizens make more informed decisions that lead to better lives. The Ambassadorship recognises the recipients’ passion for and deep expertise in using good data to drive good decisions, elevating data-led development from the technical to the political, and in doing so helping to accelerate inclusive development that leaves no one behind.
The first Data for Sustainable Development Goals Ambassador is Professor George Gyan-Baffour, Minister for Planning of Ghana. The Ambassadors will have an advisory function to the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s Secretariat, Board and Technical Advisory Group.
I welcome Professor George Gyan-Baffour to receive this award confirming the role.
I wish all you a pleasant evening and to the international guests I wish you all a fruitful week and enjoy our beautiful country.