29 July 2014
The Chairperson of Statistics Council, Mr Ben Mphahlele;
Members of the Council;
The Statistician-General, Mr Pali Lehohla;
Distinguished African Union Delegates;
Friends from the African Union Commission;
The Economic Commission for Africa Representatives;
Esteemed guests from the African Development Bank;
Dr Mark Orkin, former head of Statistics South Africa;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentleman.
Allow me to express my gratitude for allowing us to engage with you on this very important occasion that promises to be a watershed event in our country. This watershed session is a culmination of a chain of important ground breaking and systematically gigantic efforts in the quest to deliver a better life for all in South Africa. Spanning just about two decades, these efforts are as old as our democracy. Today marks a moment of great promise as we host and welcome you our international guest speakers to our shores. The great promise is anchored on our sacred and valued covenant that commits us as South Africans to a better South Africa, in a better Africa and in a better world.
In certain cases, when people of your calibre are gathered, the hope for an Africa rising is rekindled. I am aware that those who are concerned with the pursuit of evidence-based knowledge such as statisticians and mathematicians are often ridiculed as a class of “Brainiacs” “Clever Joes” or “Slim Jan’s” and so forth. In many anti-intellectual references, these monikers are not very kind because they present a different class of people far removed from the mainstream. It is only when we seriously engage with Statistics that we in Government are decrying the opportunity costs of our late serious entry into this field and also the dearth of the profession.
I am therefore encouraged that Session 7 of Day 3 of this Symposium will deal with the issue of Capacity Building with a view of luring young African Statisticians to this field. I am also aware that our statistics authority is working with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal to have curriculum developed for school teachers. The Census@Schools has been yet another pioneering programme where school children are introduced to the profound utility of measurement at an early age.
In so far as how Statistical information has forcefully entered Government space, Commissioner Joel Netshitenzhe will elaborate the extent to which statistics has assisted in the production of the National Development Plan. The National Development Plan is our comprehensive development trajectory inspired amongst others by the injunction posed by our former President, the late Nelson Mandela on a note to Adelaide Tambo, urging us to plan thoroughly and that we can only be thorough when we use scientific evidence and I quote “Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves plan every detail and allow intervention of fate only on our own terms. Preparing a master plan and applying it are two different things.”
Director-General Dr Sean Phillips will elaborate on the relevance of Statistics to Monitoring and Evaluation. Driven by the need to safeguard this resource as a planning tool for government I will also be keenly awaiting the contributions by Dr Graciela Bevacquas on the threats to the fundamental principles of official statistics. Now that we have tasted the fruit of statistical assistance in our planning, eliminating threats is a collective responsibility. In the main, the Final Report of this Symposium will provide further insight into this wonderful world of numbers.
While intimidating in its voluminous and copious detail, our people should be alerted to the importance of statistics as part and parcel of their daily lives. Popular acceptance of the relevance of statistics can be enhanced when we also point out to ordinary people that what they eat, drink and breathe; where they live work, worship and study: and what their hopes and dreams are for their futures has to be corroborated by one form of statistic or another.
As government we have come to appreciate what most of you gathered here know too well: in that statistics are about people, places and possibilities. As we in government begin to utilise statistics as our basic scientific tools, indeed it is now possible to see change and perceive of possibilities unfolding to realities for our people in their places and spaces of residence, work and play. We too in government have joined you in appreciating that statistics are about evidence and use of evidence for transforming lives for the better hence our full support for this Symposium.
This symposium is important because more often than not, the quotation of data is dominated by sectarian spheres of economic analysis, and can thus be easily viewed as a pursuit of the elite and rich. Underplayed by the prevailing power relations in our country, the role of Statistics in society in all of its more than 171 releases and reports, needs to be given its proper space. Cognizant of these volumes after my briefing by the South African Statistician-General, we would need to engage further with the reconfiguration of our new Department through the Department of Public Service and Administration to find out as to whether capacity should not be created to assist in making these reports and analysis part of our regular operations.
In our quest for this noble end is our story of a plan, a raft of information and a monitoring and evaluation regime to achieve a better South Africa in a better Africa and a better world. Receiving our 1996 Census in 1998 our iconic former President, the late Nelson Mandela termed this monumental achievement a portrait of our nation. It was the first census in a democratic South Africa. He said and I quote:
“But we do at last have results with which we can work, the numbers that count for the nation. It will take time to absorb the full detail of this intricate picture of our complex society but the broad outlines should act as the clarion call to re-dedicate ourselves in every sector of the society, to the historic mission of a generation charged with transforming South African’s society in order to eradicate the poverty and imbalances that derive from our past.”
Following on this milestone census of 1996, we could, with a degree of scientific evidence, implement the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) for our people. In the fullness of time, as confirmed by Censuses 2001, the Community Survey of 2007, Census 2011 and a raft of economic and financial statistics we were comforted by the facts and these said South Africans see their country of birth as a better place to live in than it was before 1994. Therefore our democracy was not in vain.
South Africa today is home to a better serviced people, with electricity accessible to more than 90% of the population, potable water accessed by more than 85% and primary education being universal. Our strategies to eradicate poverty have seen more than 16 million people accessing social assistance aimed at mitigating the consequences of our sad apartheid legacy. We could confirm that the debt-to-GDP-ratio dropped from a high of 49% in 1996 to 35% in 2011. Inflation has become benign and interest rates are lower, and much fewer go to bed hungry. These are measuring tools that help shape our policies and have real bearing on the livelihood of many of our people. This in itself highlights the significance of statistics in our overall work as government, private sector and civil society at large.
The thirst expressed by President Zuma of knowing where South Africans live, work and play has been quenched by our indefatigable Statistics South Africa through its dedicated staff and our duty bound Statistics Council. This quenching has not only by satisfied our President His Excellency Jacob Zuma, but has also been extended to South Africans from all walks of life. After having achieved our political freedom, South Africans are in unison about the need for the next step of economic emancipation. In order to have a heightened understanding of our targets and achievements in this regard, we shall rely on the quality statistics that comes out of our statistics authority.
Our commitment to evidence-based decision-making is confirmed by our revised statistical legislation Act 6 of 1999 unifying South Africa. Following on this, in 2001 the Cabinet adopted a framework for the implementation of national statistics system (NSS). Sadly, despite legislation and frameworks, the implementation of this NSS has been painfully slow and today we have called on this summit to seek advice on how we can implement our scientific evidential base for better and faster results. We will be ready to proceed with adequate speed as soon as the outcome of this symposium has been made available to us.
Realizing the professionalism of the statistics authority, government has allocated a new role of compiling crime statistics and taking responsibility for their compilation and release. This is our growing confidence on the relevance of scientific statistics that can be achieved through independent statistics compilation. We are also keenly awaiting developments on the small area statistics which will assist our municipalities to plan even better.
Best practice and operational efficiency and effectiveness commands that the statistician-general should take responsibility for compilation and release of all three sides of the national accounts, namely production, income and expenditure. Work is progressing well with the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) for this eventuality. These examples illustrate the dire need for coordination and demand for tighter enforcement of practice through relevant legislation.
Another environment challenge emanates from production of data by a multiplicity of institutions. The quality of the products by these information pedlars is unknown, and accountability as well as ethics and compliance are generally not observed yet they flagrantly display their wares in the public space with no regard of the consequences and impact of their own data and opinions in the public space. This is particularly so in the area of labour market statistics. This poses a serious danger to society and the community of practice has to express itself on this particular issue.
As our population figures rise, and the democratic expression finds root, the feeling and the view of individuals or a group of individuals has to be taken into account. While in the past a powerful individual’s view was easily translated into the view of the many, the current world would scorn at this distortion of statistics.
There is greater need now more than ever, for Government and civil society to be alive to the evidence of the Statistical world as a basis for the formulation of their actions and projects. The powerlessness of the Statistical authority to change policy and propose solutions is understood from the perspective that it is limited to bringing out the information required.
I have listened with interest to some of the questions that journalists pose particularly to our Statistician-General as to what should Government do about the Statistics that the authority has produced. In his deft avoidance of responding to these questions, there is an attendant need for Government to act with speed in using outputs from our statistical authority to effect the necessary policy interventions in order to better the lives of our people.
We seek our voice to be heard in global organizations in so far as it relates to how they relate to statistics produced in the continent. We therefore welcome the adoption of the United Nations Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics. What the community of practice should express themselves on is how these principles get enforced in their national states.
We meet on the back of a number of international involvement in the area of Statistics. Working with our continental experts were developed the African Census Analysis Project in 1998 and the After Robben Island the Demography of South Africa was a product of this engagement. In 2003 we were honoured to host the International Summit on Census Costs. We were further honoured to host the African Symposium for Statistical Development in 2006. In 2009 our 57th Session of the International Statistics Institute led to the birth of the Isibalo programme which will hold a back-to-back seminar in the next three days.
Our international engagement is not only a celebration of the past achievements but also a vision for the future. I am impressed with the far sightedness which has been expressed in the Strategies for the Harmonisation of Statistics Vision 2063. Long-term planning, as we have found out in the National Development Plan I have mentioned earlier, is not fashionable but absolutely necessary.
As we note with greater urgency the need to implement the integration agenda of the African Union and our vision 2063, here in South Africa, Statistics South Africa led and concluded with the African Union, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa the Strategies for the Harmonisation of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA). This is a flagship document by statisticians, interpreting the measurement tenets of the integration agenda and identified fourteen priority areas. It is a strategy document that declares an Africa common position on matters official statistics and training.
The document has become a mouth piece and central coordination instrument for partners on this journey. SHaSA is Khoi name that stands for deep precious water. It was befitting to coin this acronym on that hot December day in Pretoria as the Statistician-General Pali Lehohla and African colleagues sought to quench the African policy makers’ thirst for evidence. SHaSA marks a major step in our journey and we shall hear from Cape Verde and Kenya as they extend priority 14 of SHaSA on measurement of Governance, Peace and Security, (GPS) which is an outgrowth of the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism, (APRM).
We would like to thank our continental brothers for affording us the opportunity to host these engagements and we hope we did not disappoint in terms of the outcomes of these engagements.
As a continent we are growing bolder about our ability to grown our own statistical date and we are proud that of the 54 African states, 48 of them, including those that have emerged from conflicts have and are counting to conduct their population and housing censuses. We are pleased that Angola which as not undertaken a population in four decades has done so in May. Madagascar, coming out of a political stalemate, will be running its own census in 2016.The Democratic Republic of Congo is in line for its own in 2015. There is no doubt that all African Governments have acknowledged the crucial role that is played by Statistics in government.
This National Symposium on the Strengthening of the South African National Statistics System should serve as the beginning of a consultative process towards revamping legislation to consolidate best practice which my predecessor began. You as national, continental and international stakeholders in the production and use of official statistics in both the private and public sectors, including research institutions, should contribute ideas and share best practices regarding the design and the building of this our National Statistics System.
To conclude let me reassure you of the importance of official statistics and the importance of their independence. We need independently produced quality statistics that are policy relevant, for quality decisions to improve the quality of our democracy and improve the lives of our citizens.
The much celebrated Amilcar Cabral asserted on a prophetic post-2015 agenda in 1965 when he said, “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in any one’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”
As government we keenly await your further refined insights into how statistics can become the basic reference point from which we premise all our policy interventions to better the lives of all our people.
It is now my pleasure to declare this the Symposium on the National Statistics System for South Africa officially opened.
I Thank You.