Statistics South Africa: Minister's Budget Speech


18 Apr 2011


Address to Parliament on the Budget Vote of Statistics South Africa – Vote 13 Trevor Andrew Manuel, Minister in The Presidency: National Planning Commission

19 Apr 2011


Honourable Members

Ladies and gentlemen

As I present to this House, today, Budget Vote 13 for Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), I recognise that the full value of statistics is difficult to grasp. Good quality, timeous statistics is a process synthesised carefully and with attention to fine detail; its regularity means that it is a task performed without fuss. In fact, it is a bit like breathing.

We all breathe involuntarily and frequently for long periods we are not even aware of our breathing. However, if there is a crisis when one’s chest suddenly tightens and CPR is required, we suddenly become conscious of all that is involved in this involuntary act. In many ways, statistics is like breathing, it is present and most of us are not conscious of it, until there is a crisis.If a series is not produced on time, or if there are aberrations in particular statistical outputs, everybody becomes very conscious of it. Because we cannot be driven by crisis, it is imperative that I appeal to Parliament for stronger oversight.

This year, oversight by Parliament assumes a new importance as the country readies itself for Census 2011, the third in our democratic dispensation. While the significance of this massive task cannot be taken lightly, it should not detract from the ongoing work of Stats SA. This raises a number of questions about the nature of the oversight and the responsibility of Parliament to monitor spending. It is fundamentally important that Parliament and its committees use the section 32 reports and the quarterly reports published by the National Treasury to inform their work. It does not serve any purpose if all that matters is that Stats SA received an unqualified audit but that the data being collected and produced has no veracity.

I am very encouraged by the vigilance of the Standing Committee on Appropriations who noticed a lag in spending in the third quarter of the previous financial year and called Stats SA to account. In encouraging that committee and other committees, I urge you to extend the oversight. If the breathing results in the release of fuel of oxygen for our bodies, then evidence-based decision-making is the fuel released by reliable statistics.

The budget for Stats for 2011/12 has doubled over the baseline largely because of the census and remains slightly higher in the meduim term expenditure framework (MTEF) period due to the costs related to the processing of the data.In reiterating my call on Parliament to perform ongoing oversight to ensure apposite outcomes, it is important for Members of Parliament to understand their responsibility to ensure the success of the census. The census is not of Statistics South Africa, it is not a government census but it is a state census and it is for the entire South Africa.

I, therefore, want to make one request, in fact one plea, on behalf of Stats SA and in the interest of fiscal responsibility that public representatives everywhere, in all spheres, be involved in the census. I am not suggesting that public representatives replace the enumerators, or - heaven forbid, that there be some expectation that MP’s physically supervise the data processing, but rather, that MP’s assist by encouraging constituents to open doors to census takers and encouraging families to voluntarily participate in the counting exercise. Each one of us as a public representative ought to know the community that we serve, the people in their homes, the community organisations, the faith-based organisations and we should know existing and of prospective settlements and trends in those areas. It is our responsibility to dampen the fears of people who have to provide information to enumerators. Our responsibility is then to take an interest in spending by ensuring that everyone is counted. If the census fails, it will not be money well-spent regardless of the audit results.

If Stats SA is not able to penetrate every nook and cranny, the census data will not be reliable. I want to turn to every Member of Parliament, every member of a provincial legislature and all the soon-to-be newly elected councillors to assist with ensuring that enumerators are able to freely engage every household. It goes without saying that this appeal goes out to members of all political parties. We recognise that there are areas that pose challenges for enumerators where we need assistance such as getting access to every household in a secure block of flats, or getting into compound living areas, be these large golf estates or small gated communities. As public representatives, we should be able to facilitate interaction with immigrant communities, whether they are recorded or not. As public representatives, once we have opened the doors, then we can step aside to allow enumerators to do their work. In providing our support, it is imperative that we ensure that communities trust the process and I want to suggest that our public representatives be available to verify enumerators.

In undertaking this census ten years after the previous one, we need to understand its significance. In all other probability sample surveys Stats SA undertakes, selecting a percentage from the total, the sample selected would be around 30 000 households out of a total of about 13 million (households). At certain times that sample size is increased to 300 000 households, such as was the case in the Community Survey.In other surveys repeat visits are implemented as is the case in the Income and Expenditure Survey and the Living Conditions Survey. The census is not a sample, it is different. The endeavour is to count every person living in South Africa between 10 and 31 October this year. It is not a sample – it has to be the true reflection against which all samples can be measured until the next census. In this regard it has to be an accurate and reliable reflection. An undercount, therefore, introduces the unnecessary risk of distortion. So it is important that we understand that people who hide from enumerators or who blatantly tell untruths are breaking the law and risk wasting the overall spend on the census.

We need to understand very clearly why the census data is as vitally important as being able to breathe and what happens when there are difficulties. We are aware that there are parts of the country where residents have expressed dissatisfaction with service delivery and when this impacts on their responses, it creates these difficulties.Refusing to answer the questions posed by the enumerator because of anger due to poor water and sewerage services or because electricity supply is non-existent will not assist us with getting an accurate picture of service delivery needs. It is for this reason that we attach so much weight to the census and it is precisely why we need public representatives to encourage communities to respond fully and honestly. Understanding the circumstances and having a complete picture of the number and characteristics of the South African society allows government to engage in evidence-based decision-making and planning. For Parliament, that this information is accurate is of paramount importance as it allows for more informed and in-depth oversight. In particular when one takes into account the power to amend money Bills contained in the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, then the information gained from the census should provide a sound basis for evaluating government priorities. It is therefore in all our interest that this census is a success.

In his state of the nation address, President Zuma announced that Makhaya Ntini would be a census ambassador ­- I now want to invite all public representatives to be Census Ambassadors.Join Makhaya Ntini, bowl a mean fast ball!

Chairperson, in asking Members to act as ambassadors it is important that I inform the House about some of the preparations that have been underway in order to ensure that the census is a success. On the 10th October 2010, Stats SA launched their public awareness campaign centred on the message designed to appeal to all that ‘You count!’ In what is often referred to as the largest mobilisation in times of peace, the census will employ a workforce of 156 000 in a staggered manner. Six thousand field workers started training this year and continue to do so in preparation for 30 000 supervisors who will be trained by the beginning of September and 120 000 enumerators will be trained by the middle of September 2011. They will be deployed across the country where they will interact with more than 50 million people living in approximately 14 million households as estimated currently.

Because it is crucial that no household is overlooked, Stats SA has divided the country into 103 000 enumeration areas with at least one enumerator per area. I must indicate that these demarcations have nothing to do with municipal boundaries and are purely in place as a tool to manage the census. The verification process of enumeration areas started early this year and will be completed in July 2011.

These enumerators will be fluent in the languages of the enumeration area, will have questionnaires in all official languages and, in the event that they may encounter a language that they are not familiar with, they will be equipped with a translation booklet. In addition to having Stats SA- ssued identity cards, enumerators will be identified by their yellow bibs, yellow caps, and yellow bags. We are aware of the concerns that many people may have about allowing strangers into the homes and to allay these and other fears, all applicants will have their credentials verified by the State Security Agency before being employed.

On 9 October 2011, enumerators will go visit establishments such as hospitals and hotels to distribute forms. Between 10 and 31 October 2011, enumerators will visit households, assist with the completion of forms where required and collect all forms.

The census questionnaire is ready and has undergone several tests including testing the viability of the questions by using a focus group and analysing the reactions to the questions. The processing of the questionnaires by scanning was tested during the pilot project and the pre-census test. The printing thereof is on its halfway mark and will be completed in June this year. In order to manage the logistics, Stats SA has established an additional 64 district offices and the phenomenal task of delivering census materials has already started.

Chairperson, during the budget debate last year, when I raised the concerns about the undercount of 10% that was experienced in 1996 and of 17% experienced in 2001, I challenged Stats SA not simply to reduce it to a single digit but to reduce it to 2%. That challenge is still in place and I urge Members to assist them with meeting that target.

Chairperson, while there is no denying that the census is the biggest project to be undertaken by Stats SA in this financial year, it should not detract from their ongoing work including the production of key economic indicators. Last year we discussed the changes that had been made to the Consumer Price Index so that it accurately reflected the impact of price changes on the living standards of families. As trends constantly change, Stats SA is currently undertaking an income and Expenditure Survey to review the contents of the CPI basket. This survey is expected to be completed in the next six months with the re-weighted basket being completed in the third quarter of the next financial year.However, it must be remembered because it is important that the basket is not pre-determined, drastic changes to the basket may result in a re-weighed CPI being finalised at a later date.

In addition, the Producer Price Index i.e. the index measuring changes to factory gate prices is being substantially re-tooled, including by having additional goods added. It is envisaged that this process will be completed in the next financial year as the process requires one year of overlap in order to see the difference in the index. We look forward to reporting to Parliament on the progress with this initiative.

The Statistics Act makes it very clear that Stats SA is responsible for the production of national statistics. However, the collection of raw data is a national competency and in this regard Stats SA depends on government departments to manage their administrative records as crucial sources of statistical information.Section 14 of the Statistics Act sets out the parameters for the coordination of statistical collection and production across the country and although there has been some progress in developing an integrated national system of statistics, South Africa’s overall statistics system remains fragmented.

While there are large areas requiring attention, Stats SA maintains the quality of statistics by ensuring that these sources qualify as potential candidates for official statistics by subjecting them to the South Africa Statistics Quality Assessment Frame (SASQAF).Alignment and evaluation of statistics requires a rational, transparent and sustainable framework for assessing the quality of those statistics. SASQAF has been developed for the purpose of aligning and evaluating statistics produced by government departments and other organs of state.Parliamentary monitoring of this aspect of Stats SA’s work in relation to government departments will play a strong role in improving the collection of national statistics.

It is crucial to understand that while the information will have statistical relevance, it can also be used to track a wide range of social and economic trends. We need to understand the improvement in the co-ordination of statistics as part of our developmental agenda. Co-ordination of official statistics across organs of state remains critical to use evidence as the basis for decisions and statistics remains core to this process. A culture of measurement and record-keeping must be encouraged amongst all organs of state in this country. While the building blocks exist through the Monitoring and Evaluation and Planning frameworks, these require the crucial ingredients of capacity.

The implementation of the South African National Statistics System (SANSS) through the coordination of Statistics South Africa will promote better production across the organs of state, while improving the quality of administrative records. Statistical coordination processes will be strengthened by focusing on the production of statistics on education, health and other forms of basic delivery.

Chairperson, last year I informed you of the joint initiative between Stats SA, SARS and the DTI aimed at creating a single business register.I am pleased to announce that the policy framework and draft legislation - the key mechanisms to bringing about this transformed business registration environment has been developed and is being refined before getting Cabinet approval.Developing tools for the reliable and accurate measurement of our economy is a national imperative and not simply an option.The business registration reform is one of the tools that will provide clarity about role-players in the SA economy.

In the same way as producing national statistics is a collaborative effort, we rely on our partners to assist. This initiative is one that will benefit a great deal from the strong oversight by Parliament that was mentioned earlier. While the target for completion is 2013, regular monitoring and guidance will ensure that the required outcomes are reached.

I think that we will all agree that statistics production requires very specific skills and in order to cultivate these skills to ensure a steady supply of statisticians, Stats SA has established an intern programme. Stats SA provides bursaries to learners after they pass a selection process. To further ensure that there is return on the investment, the students are monitored during their tertiary education and after qualifying, they are employed as interns at Stats SA. This rigorous process ensures not only that the students are employed but that they are properly qualified and employable.

Chairperson, I want to conclude by calling attention to the importance of the independence of Stats SA in a period where we have seen political upheavals in the north of our continent and where we continue to see European economies fold as the effects of the global economic meltdown begin to shake their foundations. These events allow us to begin to draw conclusions about the importance of good quality, trustworthy statistics and the manner that it is used for policy planning. To remind Members, the events in North Africa was set off when a young graduate who was working as street vendor committed suicide as a form of protest against his dismal prospects, amid Tunisia’s poverty. Although it is a country that statistically experienced high growth levels of about 5%, it continued to have high unemployment especially among the youth. In Europe, we are seeing seemingly strong economies taking strain and asking for bail-outs. These examples beg the question, ‘How accurate were the figures that reflected the growth and strength in these economies?’

In South Africa, because of our history and because we remember what the state of our economy was in before our democratic transformation, we understand completely the fundamental importance of independent statistics. We have, in fact, ensured this independence by writing it into the legislation – Section 5 of the Statistics Act, Act 6 of 1999 only gives me the power to prioritise their work on the recommendation of the Statistician-General and after having been advised by the Statistics Council. I must monitor their performance and, after consultation with Cabinet, appoint members of the Statistics Council. Section 5(3) very clearly indicates that I may not interfere with the work of the Statistician-General including how and when statistical information is gathered and released. The production of statistics in South Africa is therefore carefully regulated by the Act which clearly defines the powers, duties and relationship between the Minister, the Statistician-General and the Statistics Council. While the Act in Section 5 outlines the Minister’s responsibilities, Section 6 (2) (a) further strengthens the Statistician-General’s professional independence.To strengthen the co-ordination, Section 13 empowers the Council to advise the Minister, the Statistician-General and organs of state about collection, processing, analysis, documentation, storage and dissemination of statistics. The point about this arrangement is that while Stats SA is funded by the national budget, it has an independence that we must respect, if we are to have any confidence in the foundations of our economy and in the basis of our policies.

Chairperson, I once again call the Members of this House to assist with ensuring that the compilation of the statistics that guide this government be as smooth and effortless as breathing. The good health of Stats SA should serve to prevent it from suffering a loss of oxygen.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Standing Committee on Finance ably chaired by the Honourable Thaba Mufamadi for consistently providing thoughtful insights and challenges to Stats SA. I want to express our appreciation to the Statistician-General, Mr Pali Lehohla and his team, to the Stats Council, chaired by Mr Howard Gabriels, and to the Audit Committee, chaired by Ms Rene van Wyk, for their advice and hard work to date and I want to wish them every success with the census.

Thank you.

Issued by: Statistics South Africa
19 Apr 2011


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