The Democratic Alliance would like to thank the former Statistician General Dr Pali Lehohla for his 17 years of distinguished service to Statistics South Africa and the nation and welcome the new SG, Mr Risenga Maluleke. Mr Maluleke you, sir, have a very important, yet difficult task ahead of you and your shrinking team.
On that note chairperson, I am certain that much of today’s debate will centre on the continuous budget reductions applied to Statistics South Africa and the consequences thereof. This is entirely valid as it compromises both the aim and purpose of Stats SA.
The aim of Stats SA is to provide relevant and accurate statistics in line with internationally approved practice to inform users of the dynamics of the economy and society.
According to the Statistics Act, the purpose of official statistics is to assist organs of state, business, other organisations and the public in planning, decision-making, and monitoring or assessment of policies.
We are living in a global information society where the amount of information and its flow to society is increasing. Statistics play a major role in shaping and providing scientific information that is useful in almost every aspect of human life.
Modern decision making, whether done by a national government, potential investors or an international agency, is increasingly using statistical methods to improve the quality of information and decision making.
Increasing appreciation of the role, power and importance of statistics should lead to a higher priority attached to statistical capacity development.
Yet the budget before us stands at R2.22 billion for the 2018/2019 financial year. This is a significant reduction compared to the R2.49 billion budgeted in the 2016/2017 financial year.
These budget cuts have particularly compromised the ability of Stats SA to fill, attract and retain necessary skills. Its staff complement has been reduced with a significant decrease of funded posts in the current financial year.
At a time when Stats SA should have access to the best skills in the market to embody a modern, cutting edge utility, vacancies stopped being filled in October 2016, 170 staff have since left, and the vacancy rate has increased to 13%.
The consequence is that current staff are overstretched and more prone to errors, and the decline of the skills base continues unabated while Stats SA remains unable to fill critical vacancies. This puts basic statistics at risk of a declining quality over time.
Some of the key indicators at risk include:
– Gross Domestic Product;
– Poverty and service delivery;
– Consumer Price Index;
– Fertility and Mortality;
– Employment; and
– Population estimates
The risks to the population estimates alone will have significant consequences to the Division of Revenue Amendment Bill.
Hon. Chairperson, it thus becomes incumbent on us to ask why the untenable situation at this important institution has been allowed to persist given its importance to the nation and the work of government.
Last year in this very debate, I spoke of the need for government to make use of evidence-based policymaking in realising the goals set out in the National Development Plan.
In simple terms, evidence-based policy-making is a means by which policies and programmes intended to improve lives are based on clearly defined, time-bound, and measurable milestones.
This allows timely modification, consolidation or change of policy as the case may require, thus ensuring urgent responses to challenges.
It is in this context that statistics become part and parcel of ‘evidence-based’ policy-making, statistics understood here to mean more than a routine collection and storage of numbers, but rather as credible and scientifically derived evidence intended to evaluate the impact of policy-making.
Our statistics will remain meaningless and of little value to policymakers unless and until they are embedded in the key priorities of government and become part of the planning tools used by the three spheres of government in directing resources and informing the policy and practices implemented in order to achieve the goals set by the NDP in the manner prescribed by the NDP.
The lives of our people will also not improve when faced with a government that does not recognise the value and import of accurate statistics it can rely on in its every day work.
Honourabl eChairperson, a DA government would staff and equip this institution, utilising the valuable information produced to bring about total change for all the people of South African.
We will use it to combat inequality, to make our communities safer, to skill our youth, to attract investment and to create jobs, to combat illegal immigration, to confront apartheid spatial planning and improve the health services of government. Clearly this is not happening under our current government.