Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) plays a vital role in our economy and has a number of important functions to perform. These functions are both tangible and intangible. They are also quantitative and qualitative. Stats SA is strongly symbolic of what we need to achieve in South Africa – we need to examine and understand our past, learn its valuable lessons to improve on the present and focus on future development.
The crucial intangible role of Stats SA is to ensure that it transmits credible economic data to South Africans who participate in our local economy every day, and to foreign participants, who can choose to invest in and trade with a vast array of competitor economies across the world.
Stats SA does not formulate economy policy, but it does measure the impact of policy and will identify the pattern emerging from the numbers it generates. To be effective, Stats SA needs to input its findings into appropriate policy development while the data is fresh and relevant. This will enhance the credibility and demonstrate the value that Stats SA can add to our developing economy.
This is clearly not happening, especially if we consider rising unemployment, amongst our youth in particular, and the rising anger amongst South Africans who feel marginalised by failed government policies and have found a convenient and defenceless scapegoat as manifested in recent xenophobic attacks against foreign migrants to South Africa.
Stats SA could inform government of the pace of change in terms of black ownership in our economy, instead of a battle having to be waged between the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that places ownership at 23% and the National Empowerment Forum that claims it to be 3%. President Zuma prefers the NEF’s numbers, but should rather prefer those of Stats SA and they should be mandated to collect them.
The tangible work of Stats SA is to support participants to make sense of the economic world in which they operate. Stats SA gives life to the numbers that populate the economic indicators that direct economic activity every day. Its 5 year Strategic Plan from 2015/16 to 2019/20 states that its main focus is to build a durable statistics machinery for the National Development programme that aims at defeating the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Stats SA can qualitatively study the root cause of the numbers that it collects. Poverty will never be defeated when corruption and incompetence leaks over R30 billion from the pockets of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. Unemployment will never be defeated when economic policy increasingly places an incapable state at the centre of our economy and inequality will never be defeated when our education system doesn’t generate the quality outcomes that our people desperately need.
In its strategic plan, Stats SA sets out its strategic outcomes to be: An informed nation; trusted statistics; partnerships in statistics; a capable organisation; and statistical leadership. An informed nation is crucial now that government’s economic policy failures have brought our economy to its knees and increasing numbers of people to the point where they believe that our economy is a zero sum game. In a low growth environment, one person’s gain is another person’s loss and that drives violent reactions against migrants who are perceived to benefit at the expense of locals. Nothing could be further from the truth and Stats SA can play a role in ensuring that the numbers properly reflect the economic growth that actually results from migrants adding value to our economy.
More in-depth demographic and social analysis is required to understand and monitor migration patterns. Our ancestors have been migrating for millions of years, and this phenomenon is not going to stop now, no matter how many obstacles are placed in its way. Quite simply, people move around, sometimes in a trickle and sometimes in a flood. We need to measure it, monitor it and ensure that policies reflect the appropriate reality.
Stats SA has expressed its concern over the reliability of secondary data sources from government and has pointed to declining trust and confidence in public institutions and weak planning across the three spheres of government. Given that Stats SA must co-ordinate statistical planning, production and reporting amongst organs of state, interdepartmental collaboration to improve the quality of statistics available for policy making decisions is a welcome step in the right direction. More comprehensive statistics on safety, education and health can enrich the debate on how to achieve the most benefit from the application of limited resources. What is the progress on the implementation of the South African National Statistics System?
Management theory argues that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Stats SA also needs to consider several unanswered questions about our economy, essential for policy making, such as: how big is the informal sector? How much illicit trading is happening in our economy? Are reports on illicit financial flows from our economy correct? How big is the mismatch between earned and declared income in our economy?
Although Stats SA still has much work to do, it is improving over time. Stats SA enriches the economic debate and improves efficiency through its provision of quality information; it is a valuable national asset that serves us well in our quest to improve the lives of all the people in South Africa and its efforts are greatly appreciated.
Thank you, chairperson.