The National Statistics System: Our Challenge Presented by Statistics South Africa

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The National Statistics System: Our Challenge

Presented by Statistics South Africa


Lord Charles Hotel: Somerset West

Cape Town

Pali Lehohla
Statistics South Africa

The National Statistics System: Our Challenge


That the implementation of a national statistics system to meet development information needs in South Africa is long overdue is beyond debate. Perhaps what could be the centre of debate would be the options for, and the pace of deliberately developing a national statistics system. Worldwide, it is observed that first world countries possess and continue to invest in well developed information and statistics systems. This statement does not suggest causality but observes this profound pattern. The paper attempts to outline what is required for South Africa to meet its development information needs within a globalising economy and an informatising society. The paper asserts that this can be achieved by developing a national statistics system. Drawing from international best practice and experiences, the paper identifies four general patterns of statistical development adopted by various countries. It observes that the development of statistical infrastructure is a long and arduous process and notes that sustained use of statistics and credibility of the system depend on quality and timeliness of the products delivered by the system. Focusing on South Africa, the paper makes a critical analysis of how the statistics system in South Africa stalled its development over time, and points out the major challenges and populates a “to do’s” agenda for South Africa to be part of the information age.

  1. Background:

Governments require data and information for planning, decision-making and monitoring of social and economic development and change. Different sets of requisite information e.g., quantitative or and qualitative are used for this purpose. Data types require different methods of collection. For instance, through a snapshot household survey, quantitative data can be assembled on the living conditions of citizens; alternatively, through a continuous compilation of administrative records, an assessment of living conditions or access to facilities can also be made. The second type of data is qualitative (tending to explain an underlying phenomena), and this requires a different method of compilation including interpretation. It involves feelings and perceptions about issues. The third consists of studying existing records and documents such as records of proceedings, project documents and minutes. Information architecture and electronic data management systems enable technocrats to support politicians in decision making by ploughing through this maze of information. Project KITE in South Africa aims at achieving this goal.

South Africa, in the post apartheid era, recognises the need for a planning cycle and a framework for managing strategic policy priorities. This is captured and demonstrated in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the creation of clusters, five in all, and the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS). It is admitted that had a more rigorous approach to planning been adopted, the last six years would have witnessed considerably more progress. Subsequently the President gave instructions to the Management Committee (MANCO), of the Forum for South Africa’s Directors’ General (FOSAD), to develop a planning cycle that would be underpinned by a strategic framework. This would strengthen co-ordination and alignment of plans, strategies, budgets, monitoring and reporting. In short it will enable better management of service delivery. In their Lekgotla of 2000, Cabinet instructed departments to create an information system and present progress in the next Cabinet Lekgotla scheduled for January 2001. Statistics South Africa was mandated the task of co-ordinating this effort.

The South African government like many others, through a range of departments and instruments, engages in detailed data gathering and information collection processes of one or the other form in an attempt to inform its development policies and programmes.

  1. Organisation of the paper

This paper is organised into three parts. The first part focuses on country experiences, the second relates to the South African situation and the third part puts across a programme of action for the establishment of a national statistics system.

  1. What is a national statistics system

“A national statistics system is a system that has a coherent body of data. It consists of users, producers and suppliers of data and information. It aims to ensure continuous co-ordination and co-operation among producers and users of official statistics in order to advance standardisation, quality, consistency, comparability and use of evidence as the basis for policy choices and decision making, and avoid unnecessary and costly duplication.”1

A National Statistics System “is a coordinating framework within which the required information for development in the form of indicators are generated. Outputs of the National Statistics System would be indicators and databases within the context of a Management System of Statistical Information. … A National Statistics System is a partnership between those responsible for policy formulation and those responsible for policy implementation so that the latter know precisely what the former wish to achieve, and thereby facilitate production of relevant information to reinforce the planning cycle.”2

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