Statistics South Africa on readiness for Census 2011: briefing

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Finance Standing Committee

30 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr T Mufamadi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Statistics South Africa presented on its state of readiness for Census 2011 scheduled to begin in 41 days. Statistics South Africa indicated that it was on track and ready to begin the Census as planned.  One of the biggest challenges faced by Statistics South Africa was the recruitment of locally based fieldworkers. The recruitment process had however been completed and training of fieldworkers was scheduled for 11 days from 22 September 2011.

Committee Members asked a number of questions on the fairness of the recruitment process for coordinators, supervisors and fieldworkers. Coordinators would be making use of rented cars to conduct the census. Members asked how these cars would be monitored for misuse and reckless driving. Members also asked how fieldworkers could be identified by members of the public.

A number of issues with the types of questions to be asked in the census were raised. An African National Congress Member asked how the census defined certain service delivery items. For example, did the survey merely ask if an individual had access to running water or did it ask more specific questions such as how far an individual had to walk to the nearest source of running water? It was asked how long it would take for a household survey to be completed and at what time of day fieldworkers would be visiting households to conduct the survey.

Meeting report

Briefing by Statistics South Africa on readiness for Census 2011
Mr Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), presented Stats SA’s state of readiness for Census 2011 scheduled to begin in 41 days. Census 2011 would yield detailed statistics to assist, among other things, in the promotion of evidence based planning, monitoring and evaluation for Government and equity in the distribution of Government services. The questionnaire consisted of 75 questions, 50 of which focused on the individual and 25 of which were relevant to households. The country had been demarcated into 103 000 small areas for data collection but this was expected to increase to 114 000 divisions. The recruitment of 6 000 field worker coordinators had been completed. Approximately 5 000 cars would be rented and made use of by the fieldworker coordinators. The recruitment of 30 000 field worker supervisors had also been completed. The recruitment of 120 000 field workers had been completed and their training was due to start on 22 September 2011.

Major challenges currently faced by Stats SA included the counting of people and households living in gated communities, apartment buildings and also informal settlements. The publicity campaign had also been slow but was picking up. There was a lack of fieldworker applicants from “high walled” areas and farming communities. An attempt was being made to ensure that Census 2011 was a community-centered one and so Stats SA had linked up with the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO). Stats SA had struggled to acquire local training venues to train fieldworkers locally.

Mr Lehohla called on Members of Parliament (MPs) to be ambassadors for Census 2011 and to promote it in their constituencies.

Dr D George (DA) said that he was pleased to see that the programme was on track and that the Democratic Alliance (DA) fully supported the Census. Mr George thanked Stats SA for the “Guidelines for MPs” document which he thought was useful. Item 4.6 on this document stated that MPs lived in “hard-to-count” areas and so could assist in encouraging people to allow census staff to promote the census questionnaire. Other public representatives, such as local ward councilors, could also assist. Residence associations that were very active in their communities could also be used to “penetrate the walls” of high-walled and gated communities.

Mr Lehohla thanked Dr George for his very useful suggestions which he would make use of.

Dr George asked what the selection process for fieldworkers, supervisors and census staff had been. Had the process been fair and inclusive?

Mr Lehohla said that where there had been allegations of unfairness this had been resolved very swiftly so as to send out the message that information coming from the ground was being heard. Stats SA advertised its vacancies in June 2010 and re-advertised in June 2011. Successful applicants were employed to work in the areas in which they lived. This had been an extremely difficult task as there were places in South Africa where address names were very unclear. The criteria for applicants was that they had a Matric certificate, a drivers licence (in the case of coordinators), some level of tertiary education and that they resided in the area of the advertised post. Potential candidates would then be trained and required to write a test. Those with highest marks would then be employed. Fieldworker coordinators and supervisors had been subjected to a similar process. It was envisaged that those who passed the test with a mark of 70% and above would be recruited. The benchmark of 70% had had to be lowered to 60%. In certain areas there had been a shortfall of applicants and so Stats SA had had to target potential candidates. Ensuring the fairness of this process had been difficult as there were areas in which Stats SA was bound to fall short.

Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) asked how “service delivery” was quantified in the questionnaire. What benchmarks were used?

Mr Lehohla replied that the questionnaire had been consistent across time. Some additional questions for new phenomena, such as electronics and internet access, had been introduced, but questions regarding water, sanitation and refuse removal had remained the same. Additional questions around “agriculture” and “disabilities” had also been introduced. The questionnaire did not ask how far citizens had to walk to access water and sanitation services for example as this was covered in the Sample Survey. It only asked if the individual or household had access to these services.

Dr Luyenge said some physically disabled people were able to work and generate income while others were not able to do so and relied on the disability grant. Did the questionnaire take this factor into account?

Mr Lehohla replied that people with disabilities could indicate on the form whether they were able to work and generate income or not.

Dr Luyenge asked what Stats SA would do with information that they gathered on migrants who might not have legal papers.

Mr Lehohla replied that the questionnaire did ask whether or not people were citizens. It also asked migrants when they had come into the country. The census did not ask whether or not migrants were legal and had the relevant papers. This was the realm of the Department of Home Affairs and the police. Information provided by people was protected by law and to share such information with other government departments would be an infringement of the Statistics Act.

Mr N Koornhof (Cope) asked how long a fieldworker would have to spend in each household to complete the questionnaire. At what time of the day would fieldworkers be conducting the questionnaires?

Mr Lehohla replied that each questionnaire would take approximately 45 minutes to complete. Questionnaires would need to be conducted at times when people were at home. In urban areas fieldworkers would begin going to households in the afternoons from about 3pm. Fieldworkers would then use the mornings to meet with their coordinators and supervisors. In villages there were more people at home during the day time and so fieldworkers could visit those households during the day.

Mr Koornhof suggested that Stats SA use Google Maps to survey the number of households in each area, or the number of apartments in a block of flats.

Mr Lehohla replied that Stats SA had good maps and a good system for doing this. It also made use of a “bar code” system for enumerating households.

Mr Koornhof asked if there had been a tender process for the rental of cars to be used by fieldworker coordinators. Would drivers make use of a log book? Would the cars be yellow?

Mr Lehohla replied that in fact 5 200 cars would be rented. A tender process had been followed and all of the five major car rental companies would be made use of. The drivers would make use of log books. Drivers could not report to a head office for “trip authority” every week but would rather get trip authority for the entire duration that the car was to be used. Otherwise, the benefit of the free 100km per day would be taken up with long drives to a head office. Every so often transport officers would instead be deployed to inspect the cars. The cars would also have tracking devices so that Stats SA could know where they were at any given time. The cars would be yellow so that they could be easily recognised by the police and the public.

Mr D van Rooyen (ANC) asked if there was a hot-line number that members of the public could dial if they witnessed reckless driving. 

Mr Lehohla replied that a hot-line number for the public to report reckless driving would be written on the vehicles.

Mr J Marais (DA) said that it was important to ensure that the Census was completely depoliticised. It was mentioned that Stats SA had made links with groups such as SANCO amongst others. SANCO was however seen as a political organisation. SANCO was not a well-represented organisation in the Western Cape. Either there should be a complete move away from politically affiliated organisations such as SANCO, or else political structures in the provinces should be utilised. Municipal structures were available and could be utilised. There was a political drive from all parties and Mr Marias was afraid that by using politically-affiliated organisations, the process was becoming politicised which was the wrong signal to send.

Mr Lehohla replied that Stats SA had met with stakeholders who were interested in how the recruitment had been conducted. Stats SA appreciated being helped but the choice of who was appointed was the choice of Stats SA. All interests, including political parties, should understand that Stats SA had the final word. Stats SA relied on all sectors of society for their support with mobilising the public.

Mr Lehohla said that Stats SA had hoped to approach local municipalities but the local municipal elections had made this difficult. Stats SA had not wanted to spend its energy forming relationships with councillors who were going to change. The census should perhaps precede local municipal elections instead of the other way around.

Dr Luyenge disagreed with the notion that SANCO was a politically aligned organisation. It was in fact a nationally renowned community-based organisation. If other political parties disassociated themselves from SANCO then that was their problem.

Mr Marais said that there were non-politically affiliated associations that represented disabled people who could be brought into the process .

Mr Lehohla replied that Stats SA had recruited a number of disable people. Because fieldworkers were required to do a reasonable amount of walking, disabled people had not been employed as fieldworkers. Instead, a number of disabled people would be employed as data processors.

Mr Marais said that many people saw themselves as “Africans” irrespective of their colour yet the Census form had the classification of “black African”. Why was this so?

Mr Lehohla replied that this was a difficult question to which he did not have an answer. This question had however yielded consistent results in past surveys. The Khoisan had said that they were not part of any of the four racial categories on the census.

Mr Van Rooyen asked if Stats SA was still on track with its budget projections or if there were deviations that the Committee should be aware of.

Mr Lehohla replied that it was too early to tell. Deviations would be likely but Stats SA would raise alarm bells as soon as this happened. The 5 000 cars would be the biggest risk as they were not largely under Stats SA’s immediate control. This could potentially be a source of spending deviations. The difficulties of calling people to training centres and not having them at the centre at the same time and landing up with longer training days than anticipated was another area where there could be potential deviations.

Mr Van Rooyen referred to Stats SA’s difficulty in recruiting locally and asked how these vacancies had been advertised. There were many areas in which people did not necessarily access certain media platforms.

Mr Lehohla replied that advertisements had been placed in local media. Application forms had also been distributed through Stats SA offices. The difficulty was that some people applied for the vacancies from districts other than where they resided. There was no way of knowing about this until that person was offered the job in a particular area and then told Stats SA that they did not live in that area. This was a major problem.

Mr Van Rooyen asked which sectors of the country Stats SA had met with so far.

Mr Lehohla replied that Stats SA had already met with South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and would be meeting with SANCO on 12 September, and Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) on 10 September. At the provincial level, Stats SA had been meeting with a number of farmers unions including Agri South Africa. Stats SA met with faith-based sectors in Cape Town last week and would be meeting with the South African Council of Churches again.

Mr Van Rooyen said that fliers should be included in the MP “ambassador packages” so that MPs could distribute these to their constituencies.

Ms Z Dlamini-Dubazana (ANC) suggested that fieldworkers convene at places where old ladies went to collect their pensions. In this way fieldworkers could make sure that they had covered most of the ward.

Ms Dlamini-Dubazana said that KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) was a difficult terrain. People wanted to know where they were going to be deployed.

Mr Lehohla replied that of the 120 000 fieldworkers, 17 000 would come from KZN. These people had not yet been contacted nor informed of when they should report to Stats SA. The 6 000 coordinators would direct the fieldworkers to the training which was scheduled for 22 September.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) asked how fieldworkers could be identified by the public. Would they have name tags so that people could know that they were letting a fieldworker into their house and not a criminal taking a chance? 

Mr Lehohla said that fieldworkers would wear tags with a photograph of themselves on it. Posters of the fieldworkers, with their photographs and their cell phone numbers, would be put up in communities. It was anticipated that the logistics of preparing the posters would be difficult as it would have to be done in the space of the 11 training days planned for fieldworkers.

Mr Mthethwa asked how MPs could find out who the supervisors in their areas were so that they could make contact with them if needed.

Mr Leholha replied that each of the 6 000 coordinators would be linked to councillors.

Mr Mthethwa asked if the fieldworker coordinators would be available to attend community meetings if necessary.

Mr Lehohla replied that this would be possible although it might be difficult for the 30 000 supervisors to do so.

Dr Luyenge asked if the census asked people for their identity numbers. If it did not then the Department of Home Affairs would not be able to utilise the census to deduce how many South Africans did not have identification documents.

Mr Lehohla replied that the output of the census was a statistical output. The number of South Africans that were with or without IDs would be a legitimate statistical output. The success of the census process would be threatened if it did not protect the identity of individuals. In order to maintain the principle of anonymity the census did not ask people for their identity numbers

The Chairperson said that, although they were very different, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Stats SA shared similar logistical processes and similar challenges. The IEC had received qualified audits for the last two years largely because of problems with the payments of fieldworkers. A qualified audit did not however look very good in the public domain. How would Stats SA avoid this problem?

Mr Lehohla said that was always an issue. Although Stats SA had not wanted to disburse any cash, it had in the past been forced to disburse via the provincial offices. Processes to ensure that cash did not “grow feet” had been followed. The payment system for the 120 000 fieldworkers would be different from the system that would be used for the 6 000 coordinators. Because the 6 000 coordinators would be employed for four months they would be remunerated through Government’s personnel and salaries management system (Persal). The 120 000 fieldworkers would be issued with cards which they could insert into an automated teller machine (ATM) to retrieve their payment. This was not anticipated to be a problem for this year’s census.

The Chairperson suggested that there be an opportunity to interact with the Minister [in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission] in bringing all MPs up to speed with the census.

The Chairperson said that the majority of applicants for fieldworkers were young people. The fact that there were 120 000 young people ready to be employed as fieldworkers was indicative of the problem of unemployment among young people. This database of 120 000 fieldworkers should not be lost as it could assist with identifying challenges with further youth training moving forward.

The Chairperson said that the public awareness campaign for the census should capture the attention of and excite the youth.

The meeting was adjourned.


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