What’s your number, Tokelau?

WorldStatsDay150 20 October 2015

Today is world statistics day. Rather than dazzle the reader with lots of figures about the three Tokelau atolls and their inhabitants, we’ll use this opportunity to show what statistics are relevant for Samoa’s northern neighbour Tokelau today, and how they are obtained.

1. First, of course, there was census. Population counts have been carried out regularly  in Tokelau since 1926, when it first became a New Zealand territory. While historic data are proving hard to find, the graph illustrates some tends since then. Censuses have been carried out at five- or 10-yearly intervals, first by the NZ Ministry of Native Affairs in Samoa (which was then also a NZ colony). More recently, both the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea, and Statistics NZ in Wellington have played major roles in collecting such data that are important for resource allocation and planning. The last (2011) census number was 1,411; the 2013 population count was 1,388.
Number of people counted in Tokelau over time.
Tokelau National Satistician Kele Lui (Left) and Statistics Adviser Jaap Jasperse.
Consumer price index for Tokelau, calculated quarterly since base quarter June 2012.

Population pyramid of Tokelau, based on 2013 population count.
2. The Tokelau National Statistics Office (TNSO) is probably the youngest and smallest NSO in the world. Currently with two staff, it comprises National Statistician Kele Lui (right, on the left), supported by Statistics Adviser dr Jaap (“iapi”) Jasperse (right, right) who is seconded from StatsNZ. The team operates under the Tokelau Statistics Rules that were ratified by General Fono (Parliament) in 2013. Among other things, the rules guarantee the privacy, confidentiality and secrecy of personal statistical data.

3. Since June 2012, the TNSO has been keeping track of prices of foods and household goods available in Tokelau’s cooperative and bulk stores (one of each on each atoll) as well as of services such as travel and telecommunications. From these prices we can calculate the Consumer Price Index. This is a measure of inflation, by indicating how the purchasing power of the dollar changes over time: It’s a bit up and down as the graph of quarterly updates over the last 3 years  shows. Tokelau uses the NZ dollar as its currency, and one dollar now buys goods and services that cost only 89 cents in June 2012.

4. Most people in Tokelau will by now have heard of – or have been involved with – the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) that is currently taking place in the villages. The one-year survey aims to get an idea of how much money is circulating in the Tokelau economy, what people earn, and what they spend their dough on. Every quarter, 10 different households on each atoll are interviewed over a fortnight, so that by the time the survey is completed, about half of all Tokelau’s 246 households will have participated. We’re only halfway and we’ll have to wait another year before the results are out. Meanwhile we seek the selected households’ continued cooperation.
5. Practically all goods available in Tokelau stores are imported from Samoa. As there is no air connection to Tokelau all people and goods come by ship from Apia, 500 km to the south. The stores’ invoices and cargo manifests of the shipments provide valuable data on weights, volumes and numbers of goods. This research is still in progress, and clearly offers valuable baseline data for any further policies on health, solid waste disposal and even carbon dioxide emissions that may be put in place.

6. And what’s Tokelau’s Gross National Product (GDP), a measure of its productivity? The answer is that we simply do not know! An estimated figure from 1993 (!) pops up every now and then, probably because that’s all you can find online, in Wikipedia and the CIA Word ‘Facts’ book. Truth be told, we have no idea at all as to what the real value is, but we hope to be able to put one and two together (actually the HIES and imports data will help here) and come up with a reasonably reliable value within about a year. Meanwhile, let’s not perpetuate the online myth.

7. TNSO does not have a monopoly on statistics collection in Tokelau. The World Health Organization (WHO) did its second “STEPwise approach to Surveillance” (STEPS) there in 2014. This survey will provide important information on people’s health – particularly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in relation to eating, drinking and smoking habits. The previous STEPS was done in 2005; so the outcome of the latest survey, in comparison to the former, is awaited with interest. Watch this spot for future updates!

For further information contact:
Jaap ("iapi") Jasperse, PhD
Statistics Adviser, Tokelau National Statistics Office
Ad hoc Communications Adviser, Office of the Council
Phone: +685 20822, Mobile: +685 7294913
Email: yahpnz@gmail.com or iapi.jasperse@tokelau.org.nz

The article was published verbatim in Samoa Observer of 20 October, with the obscure headline: "How Samoa influences life on Tokelau".

An interesting take on the above is given in Pacific Guardians: