Finance Portfolio Committee's Report on Statistics SA Budget Vote 12

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Finance Standing Committee

15 April 2010
Chairperson: Mr T Mufamadi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met to discuss its report on the Strategic Plan and Budget presented by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) to the Committee on 13 April 2010. A major issue debated by Members at the outset concerned the uncertainty whether the Standing Committee on Finance indeed had oversight over Stats SA, in view of the fact that it now reported to the Minister of National Planning, and the reasons why Stats SA had decided that it should report to the Committee. It was agreed that this matter needed to be clarified with some urgency. Members noted that the sources of data from which Stats SA drew its figures should be more fully enumerated, and that the intergovernmental collaboration in particular with the Department of Home Affairs should be specifically set out. Members questioned whether the Poverty Line Index methodology, or implementation of it, were now finalized, and the Chairperson agreed that this was a point that would need to be further addressed with Stats SA, along with a further report on how Census 2011 would be conducted. Members questioned whether it was correct that teachers be used to conduct the census, because of cost, and the timing, which was close to educational examinations, and commented that all society should be mobilised to assist. Members also stressed the need to count the refugee population correctly and to encourage refugees to come forward through the right public awareness campaigns. A Member suggested that the Committee should examine the effectiveness of a yearly census in comparison to a five year census. Members also commented about the functionality of the healthcare statistics system, wanted to clarify community participation, suggested that all unemployed, not just the youth, be considered, and that census data collection should be a collaborative effort. Members suggested that recommendations be included that Stats SA must develop a comprehensive programme that assisted with its data collecting capacity, and that the state of readiness of Stats SA for Census 2011 be reported. The Committee Members indicated their general support for the budget, although DA and COPE warned that they could not commit their parties prior to their caucus meetings. The Committee Report, incorporating the changes suggested, was approved.

Meeting report

Draft Committee Report on Statistics South Africa strategic plan and budget vote
The Chairperson announced the apologies of Members, and Dr D George also tendered an apology on behalf of another Member who was serving on two committees concurrently and was attending the Standing Committee on Appropriations.

The Chairperson tabled the draft Committee Report on the Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) budget.

Mr M Motimele (ANC) noted that the Committee’s report should not just be a verbatim reproduction of the presentation.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Motimele.

Dr D George (DA) referred to page 1 of the draft report, stating “The organisation is now accountable to the Minister of National Planning.” He wanted know if he was right in understanding that the Standing Committee on Finance was the Committee exercising oversight over Stats SA, and added that the sentence needed clarity. He suggested that the report should stipulate that the Standing Committee of Finance provided oversight.

Mr D Van Rooyen (ANC) referred to page 1, second paragraph of the introduction, which stated “It is responsible for the collection, production and dissemination of official and other statistics.” He wanted to know what the term “other” was referring to and what was meant by the term “official”.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) noted that Stats SA relied on informal and formal forms of data, including official data from government departments as well as other sources. He noted that “other” statistics were statistics generated by other processes.

The Chairperson agreed but added that that sentence should be broadened.

Mr Motimele added that “other” sources could denote informal discussion as well.

Mr Mthethwa noted that Stats SA’s main derivatives for data were the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Police Services (SAPS). He added that to leave the sentence like that would capture those sources that had not been captured.

Dr George sought clarity on the oversight of Stats SA. He said that Stats SA had been moved from the National Treasury to the Ministry in the Presidency for National Planning and that it now fell under Minister Trevor Manuel as opposed to Minister Pravin Ghordin.

Dr George added that the Committee had not received a report of the discussion in 2009 and that he had understood that oversight of Stats SA would be exercised in another committee.

Dr George said that the Standing Committee on Finance had not actually held Stats SA to account over the past year, nor exercised oversight over it. He hastened to add that he was not implying that there was anything wrong with Stats SA.

Dr George added that it was essential to obtain clarity on oversight, so that the Standing Committee on Finance could do its work effectively. He noted that oversight by the Committee needed to be pursued if it was confirmed, as Stats SA played a vital role in South Africa.

Ms Z Dlamini–Dubazana (ANC) acknowledged Dr George’s point regarding the importance of clarity on oversight. She also wanted to know if the Committee was saying that Stats SA should have its own Committee. She was not sure if it was a political decision or a Committee decision.

The Chairperson enquired whether Members were saying that they were not sure whether this Standing Committee had any Parliamentary oversight responsibility over Stats SA.

Mr Van Rooyen added that it was not just a question of statistics but that it pertained to areas of monitoring and evaluation of oversight as well.

Mr Van Rooyen wanted to know how Stats SA had come to the conclusion that the Standing Committee on Finance was the Committee to whom it needed to present its Strategic Plan and budget.  

The Chairperson noted that Stats SA was a component of one of the functions of the Ministry responsible for National Planning. He said that the broader question was who that Ministry was accountable to, in terms of Parliament. He said this related to the question of how the National Planning Commission linked with Parliament.

The Chairperson expressed his concern that the question of oversight over Stats SA was a grey area, and whether this Committee would have any authority should Stats SA ever fail to present itself to Parliament. He agreed that this matter needed to be clarified with some urgency.

All Committee members agreed with the Chairperson.

Mr Van Rooyen, referring to Dr George’s earlier request that another sentence be added to the report confirming the oversight provision of this Committee, said that in view of the uncertainty, this sentence should not be added until the Committee had clarity on whether it was to exercise oversight.

Dr George agreed.

Ms Dlamini-Dubazana referred to page 2 of the Draft Report, which mentioned challenges and areas of intervention and said that “Intergovernmental collaboration with the South African Revenue Services (SARS), Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO) and others needs to be strengthened.” She suggested that the words “other departments, like the Department of Home Affairs,” should be added.

Dr George referred to page 3, Section 2.4, of the draft Report, which stipulated that “Stats SA has developed a methodology for establishing a poverty line and conducted a living conditions survey to produce a poverty profile of the country.”

Dr George said that the poverty line index had been mentioned by the former Minister of Finance, Mr Trevor Manuel, two years ago, and Dr George had continued to ask questions around it since. However, every time Dr George enquired about the progress of the Poverty Line Index he received the response that it was being worked on.

Dr George wanted to clarify if Stats SA had mentioned in the meeting on 13 April 2010 that it had developed the methodology for establishing the poverty line index, and whether or not Stats SA were implementing it or had just worked on the methodology. Dr George said that he just wanted to ascertain if it had been developed.

Ms Dlamini–Dubazana said that as far as she could remember, Stats SA had mentioned that it had developed a new methodology. However she was not sure if Stats SA had implemented or executed the new methodology.

The Chairperson said that in terms of Census 2011 and the Committee’s recommendations, the Committee needed to have, before the end of the present term, a definite interaction with Stats SA. It was imperative that the Committee have a full presentation in preparation for Census 2011. The Chairperson said that the meeting or interaction with Stats SA would answer all the Committee’s questions pertaining to methodology, as well as what was applicable for the forthcoming census.

Dr George noted that conducting a census was an expensive exercise. He noted that Stats SA wanted to use teachers, and was concerned if there would be enough money to conduct the census.

Dr George was also concerned about the undercounting challenges faced in South African surveys. He noted the refugee population and undercounting, and said that a lot of noise had been raised about the influx of people from all over Africa. He said that it was vital to know where those people were as many of them were undocumented.

Dr George wanted to know if there was anything specific Stats SA was going to do about the refugees, so that they could be counted effectively. He also wanted to know if Stats SA had enough money to do that.

The Chairperson responded that this matter had been raised when discussing the budget. The Chairperson said that he recalled the Statistician–General (SG) indicating that the budget was, comparatively speaking, higher than other countries who were conducting statistical surveys, being at around a 54% allocation, in comparison to other countries’ 30%.

The Chairperson said that in terms of the refugee population challenge, Stats SA had indicated the difficulties it was experiencing. The Committee, as well as the whole Parliament and civil society, should be conducting a campaign to assist Stats SA in gaining access to as many people as possible in the country.

The Chairperson was also concerned about putting the right message out to the public, saying that otherwise many people would be afraid to come forward for the census, as they would be scared of being arrested by the police.

The Chairperson made reference to page 4 of the Draft Report where “SASQAF” was mentioned as an acronym. He suggested that the abbreviation be put in brackets and the entire name be typed out.

Mr Van Rooyen noted the issue of having a yearly census in comparison to a five year census. He wanted the Committee, during its oversight, to examine the effectiveness of that particular approach. He suggested that the Committee express an ongoing opinion of the yearly census strategy.  

Mr N Koornhof (COPE) was concerned about Census 2011 being held in October 2010, and about Stats SA’s aim to use teachers in the census. He noted that October was a very busy time for teachers, with examinations looming, and was concerned that the census would be disruptive of teaching in 2011.

The Chairperson said that Mr Koornhof had raised an important issue, as education was one of the key statistical themes for Stats SA. He said that the matter would be raised with Stats SA.

Ms Dlamini-Dubazana referred to the second paragraph of page 5 of the Draft Report. She was concerned about the functionality of the healthcare care statistics system that was currently being used.

Dr George wanted to know what the term “Community participation” on page 6, at Section 4.1, was referring to. He was not clear as to whether it had referred to community participation on the entire plan.

Dr George made reference to section 4.2 on page 6 of the Draft Report. He added that it was a radical shift if Stats SA were going to perform these functions daily as opposed to quarterly. He was concerned about Stats SA’s capacity to move in that direction and said that the Committee should say that Stats SA should broaden its capacity to collect data on a daily basis.

Dr George was also concerned about the number of people who often moved around during a census and wanted to know how Stats SA would keep track of that.

Mr Mthethwa referred to page 6, section 4.4, where the Draft Report stipulated “Unemployed youth be considered…” He suggested that the statement needed to be broadened and that it should mention all unemployed people, and not only the youth.

Mr Van Rooyen said that the census data collection had to be a collaborative effort between local municipalities, ward committees and Community Development Workers (CDWs).

Mr Van Rooyen said that it had been clear, when the Committee had been interacting with Stats SA, that there was a problem with data collecting capacity.

Mr Van Rooyen suggested that the Committee should make a recommendation that Stats SA develop a comprehensive programme that assisted with its data collecting capacity.

Mr Van Rooyen also said that the Committee should insert a recommendation that would ensure that the Committee would hold a briefing session with Stats SA on its state of readiness for Census 2011.

The Chairperson said that the Statistician-General had confirmed that undercounting remained a challenge for South Africa. He said that despite this, South Africa was one of the countries visited by other countries who wanted to learn about its census systems.

The Chairperson made reference to the Committee’s observations in the Draft Report, and suggested that the heading should rather be worded that “the Committee noted the following issues”.

The Chairperson said that in terms of enumerators, it would be necessary to go a step further with regards to teachers. He said that there was a need to mobilise all of society to provide support, and strengthen the attempt to get teachers involved in Census 2011.

The Chairperson said that the final report, incorporating the changes discussed, should be finalised by Monday 19 April 2010.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee move to formalize Budget Vote 12.

Dr George said that the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) approach to the Budget was that the DA would have a caucus meeting before the end of May 2010 and go through each vote, as the DA viewed the Budget in its totality. He could not speak for the DA in saying that they would accept the budget, but would be recommending that they should do so.

Mr Koornhof said that COPE would too have a caucus meeting before the 27 May 2010 and, whilst he could not speak on behalf of COPE, he too would be individually indicating his support for the budget.

Mr Mthethwa said that he understood Mr Koornhof’s and Dr George’s positions. He suggested that the Committee support Budget Vote 12.

The Chairperson said that he understood Dr George and Mr Koornhof’s perspective regarding the support of Budget Vote 12, as the parties had not met to make their decisions yet.

The Chairperson said that in general it was clear that the majority of Committee Members supported Budget Vote 12.

Mr Koornhof referred to the final paragraph on page 7 of the Draft Report, and said that the report should then stipulate “The members of the Standing Committee on Finance”, not simply “The Standing Committee on Finance”.

The Committee unanimously adopted the report, with amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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