The Portfolio Committee was briefed on the Statistics Amendment Bill in a virtual meeting. The Committee was told that following the publication of the Statistics Amendment Bill in October 2023, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) had been the only entity that had responded to the request for comments, and Stats SA had welcomed their input by putting them up for consideration.
The Committee appreciated the presentation by Stats SA. It resolved to have further meetings with the SARB and the Information Regulator before they carried out clause-by-clause deliberations on the Bill.
Deputy Minister's opening remarks re Statistics Amendment Bill
Mr Kenneth Morolong, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, said that following approval of the work programme of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on advice of the Statistician-General (SG) and Statistics Council by the Minister, the SG executes statistics acts, exercises and ensures independence, and defers statistical methods and best practices. The Statistics Council safeguards official statistics, advises the Minister and the SG, and is independent of Stats SA.
The amendments were a culmination of a process that started about ten years ago following a decision that there were weaknesses in the current act, and the amendment bill brought emphasis to strengthening the statistical coordination in the country. All processes to draft the amendment bill had been followed by including a socio-economic assessment, system processes, working with the office of the Chief State Law Advisor, and consulting the Information Regulator to ensure that the amendment bill was not in contravention of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).
Stats SA presentation: Statistics Amendment Bill [B31-2023]
Mr Risenga Maluleke, Statistician-General, said that the entity’s five-year priorities were to sustain and protect the quality of national indicators, drive legislative reform, and drive business transformation and change. The Amendment Bill was published on 6 October 2023. Written comments were received from the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), and they had asked that Section 17 of the Stats Act about confidentiality should include a sub-section that allows for disclosure of information to authorised personnel of the SARB, subject to the direction of the SG.
Stats SA welcomed the inputs, and advocated for the consideration of the input by inserting section 20A into Act 6 of 1999.
Ms C Phiri (ANC) asked for clarity on clause 2, on the aspects of the Bill which could conflict with the other legislation identified as areas of conflict and would be the only consequential amendment required. She asked what the projected implementation period was to develop statistical units with the required capacity, and the potential impact of cost containment measures, as stated in clause 4. What were the budget implications of the Bill for Stats SA, and what interventions did they have for when statistical units in organs of state fell short of the required standard of the South African Statistical Quality Assessment Framework (SASQAF) and the quality statistics outputs as stated in clause 6? She recommended that there should be a clause of enforcement in the improvement plan, to ensure improvement in consequences, and a clause that enabled the use of approved technological systems and processes for data collection.
Mr M Manyi (EFF) asked if there was scope to reopen the process of public participation, because the changes that were to be made were fundamental, and engaging with the Reserve Bank did not do justice to the extent to which the research should be conducted. He shared his concerns regarding the amendment of the title of the SG to the "SG of South Africa," and asked if there were protocols to guide adding “of South Africa” to a title. He commented that he did not understand the fashionable ‘ten-year period’ used by many countries when setting targets, the considerations and the underlying issues used to set the period.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) supported the recommendations by Ms Phiri. He said that in any research or study, there would be a purpose and scope of the research for a specific desired outcome, which meant that they would be up to interviewing different participants and respondents to use the information for the study. It was therefore ethically and morally incorrect to share the specific details of respondents, which in this case had been only the SARB, as this would discourage the public from participating in surveys because their information had not been used.
Ms S Graham (DA) said that clause 1a did not address whether an organ of state was required to be part of the organisation stated as the National Statistical System (NSS). This was an ongoing issue throughout the Bill when looking at the requirements of the NSS and what they were supposed to be doing. Clause 4b did not clarify what roles the organs of state played, which organs must be part of the entity, and what happens if no organs of state take part in the entity, as this would defeat the purpose of the NSS. From clause 6c, the outcomes of the latest census had raised concern, with the equitable share being affected -- for instance, where one area had sudden immigration, with more people than anticipated, and there was insufficient budget and vice versa. Micro, registered-based and rolling censuses needed to be considered to manage the production of accurate statistics so that the state could make decisions based on facts and evidence. Clause 6l was too broad, giving the SG too much power, as it had the purpose of allowing the SG to access data at no cost.
In Clause 8b, the SG was allowed to advise the organs of state, but there was no clarity about advising organs of the state outside of the NSS. She recommended that there should be a change of names for the NSS system, as stated in clause 8c, and that the composition of the NSS should include the funding of financial implications to be incurred for the staffing of the NSS.
Clause 9 was a direct attack on the right to privacy and security which might have a constitutional implication considering that the country was not safe, and allowing strangers on to one’s private property would not be recommended. She recommended that the right of private dwellers to refuse entry should be dealt with separately to the organs of state and other land premises, or an absolute protection of the right to privacy should be adopted. The Bill was supported, with respect to time frames and the right to privacy.
Mr J McGluwa (DA) asked what kind of method would be used to collect data, and emphasised that people were reluctant to submit data due to safety issues faced by the country. Numerous videos surfaced after the last census, where citizens were fighting service providers for using their power to access their private properties because they felt like they were trespassing.
The Chairperson said that the purpose of this meeting was not for deliberations by the Members. Due to the SARB responding to the advert they had sent out, they would meet with them on 5 December, and then they would discuss the deliberations clause by clause as Members. There was also a need to invite the Information Regulator to discuss the POPI Act and confirm the assertions and points made by Stats SA about confidentiality issues. Reopening public engagement after the closing date was not a part of the process, because little to no response meant that the procedure had been followed, and silence was taken as engagement.
Stats SA's response
Mr Maluleke thanked the Members for their engagement. He said that the budget implications were not usually included in an act unless there were contraventions, fines, etc, due to inflation factors. They had been advised that the collection, processing, and storage of information should encompass all forms of technologies that were relevant at the time. He clarified that the rank of the SG was that of a director general (DG), and he reported to the Minister in the Presidency. The change of title would give him power to enforce laws of collection beyond government at no cost. Stats SA needed a geographic location to collect data and in the case of private dwelling units, they needed to access their yards to obtain accurate information. There should be a discussion with the Information Regulator following the engagements they had with them before.
The meeting was adjourned.
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