It was build­ing a house on the hill from hum­ble be­gin­nings

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Pali Le­hohla

STATIS­TICS is a de­rived word from facts about the state – statis – and the suf­fix – tics – is facts or study of and in this case of the state. This is very much like eco­nomics, which is a body of knowl­edge about the econ­omy, and the suf­fix – ics – con­notes facts of and in this case of the econ­omy. Statis­tics South Africa is such an in­sti­tu­tion in the state and pro­vides a nu­mer­i­cal ev­i­dence on the sta­tus of the state.

By end of the year, that is 2017, I will be 17 years at the helm of the mighty in­sti­tu­tion called Stats SA as the Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral and Head of Stats SA.

At my first one-on-one meet­ing with him when he took po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity over Stats SA from re­tired for­mer Min­is­ter Trevor Manuel, the Honourable Jeff Radebe, in June 2014 said to me that Stats SA is a for­mi­da­ble in­sti­tu­tion.

Lit­tle was known of the for­mi­da­ble role Stats SA played in the mat­ters of state in those for­ma­tive years, of what ap­peared from a dis­tance to be an er­ror prone or­gan­i­sa­tion. It was largely known as an of­fice that counts peo­ple ev­ery five years and for the rest of the time it hi­ber­nates.

That was with the ex­cep­tion of those mo­ments when it would be in the press for all the wrong rea­sons. Such rea­sons abounded.

In the litany of com­edy of er­rors was the 2003 Con­sumer Price In­dex­ion, the er­ror in man­u­fac­tur­ing, the suc­ces­sive au­dit find­ings of dis­claimer, qual­i­fied and less se­vere opin­ions such as mat­ter of em­pha­sis.

We have seen it all, and in the mix of these trou­bles were also al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against me by some of my staff who claimed I em­bez­zled funds on res­i­den­tial prop­erty ac­qui­si­tions.

So where I sat in 2002, just over two years in what would be a jour­ney of now seven­teen years, I must have felt com­pletely para­noid and cap­tured by forces con­spir­ing against me.

For­tu­nately or un­for­tu­nately I never felt that way. Why was this the case? This was be­cause in­ter­nally I was at work build­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion with a for­mi­da­ble team of peo­ple who grew from 800 in 2001 to 3 500 by 2012.

Their mis­sion has con­sis­tently been noth­ing else but see­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that in time will be de­fined like in Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on the hill can­not be hid­den.”

Out­side the in­sti­tu­tion, there was a govern­ment and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that was tol­er­ant and un­der­stood the enor­mity of the task and the un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment

There was a crit­i­cal mass of four at the helm that was uni­fied and re­lent­lessly chart­ing the way through un­der all dif­fi­cult and try­ing cir­cum­stances.

of the peo­ple be­hind it.

I per­son­ally ap­proached the lead­er­ship of the govern­ment and of­fered my­self to be probed on those im­pro­pri­ety al­le­ga­tions.

And of course sub­se­quently at the end of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion I cracked the whip on the per­pe­tra­tors – in the end my in­tegrity is all I have and it would not be or ever for sale.

Hard at work

Were we all and al­ways united in­ter­nally? No, not. But there were the cru­cial body of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees that was hard at work.

I can­not men­tion them all by name, suf­fice to say that there was a crit­i­cal mass of four at the helm that was uni­fied and re­lent­lessly chart­ing the way through un­der all dif­fi­cult and try­ing cir­cum­stances.

There was a Statis­tics Coun­cil, which was al­ways tough and frank and truly sup­port­ive. But truth be told there were two mem­bers in the au­dit com­mit­tee who were down­right hos­tile as they ho­lus bo­lus bought in this no­tion of em­bez­zle­ment and im­pro­pri­ety.

This made the task of build­ing very dif­fi­cult. But as the uni­fied lead­er­ship, we had to sort them out.

This ren­di­tion fo­cuses mainly on the years 2001 to 2005, which I call the trou­bled years. At the helm of mak­ing Stats SA work un­der trou­bled wa­ters were my re­tired Deputy Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral (DD-G), Dr Ros Hirschowitz.

When­ever the two of us asked for an ap­point­ment with the for­mer min­is­ter Trevor Manuel, he would claim that he has se­ri­ous heart pal­pi­ta­tions. He was kept ap­prised of the chal­lenges and prob­lems at all times. That is why in jest he ar­gues often that he is a statis­tic of a young man in a body of an old man be­cause of Stats SA, and in par­tic­u­lar be­cause of my­self.

Risenga Maluleke, whom I re­cruited in 1997 af­ter a pro­tracted pa­per cor­re­spon­dence of two years from 1994 is another, and cur­rently my DD-G.

The pa­per cor­re­spon­dence em­a­nat­ing from the head­quar­ters of two home­lands of Gazankulu (Giyani) in Lim­popo where Risenga hailed from and of Mma­batho in Bo­phuthatswana, where I was lo­cated, were about the fu­ture of statis­tics in South Africa. The two-year cor­re­spon­dence cul­mi­nated in a phys­i­cal meet­ing in 1996 and this in­creased our cir­cle of in­flu­ence on what was the only for­ward look­ing cen­tre of dis­course on state facts in South Africa.

Since then there was a meet­ing of minds and through the tur­bu­lent pe­riod Risenga re­mained rock solid on the cause and course of statis­tics in South Africa. Another an­chor in those for­ma­tive years was Annette My­burgh, an econ­o­mist of note, whose com­mit­ment to train­ing staff in project man­age­ment, es­tab­lished against my in­stincts, a pro­gramme of­fice and thus sys­tem­at­i­cally set the sys­tem to mi­grate us from the trou­bled in­sti­tu­tion of bad au­dits in the 2003-2005 pe­riod.

A key cat­a­lyst for change was train­ing and as I took po­si­tion in Steyn’s Ar­cade in Novem­ber 2000, my mis­sion be­sides work­ing to­wards pro­duc­ing high qual­ity statis­tics was first and fore­most grounded and cen­tred on build­ing the hu­man re­sources ca­pa­ble of do­ing so and at­tract­ing high cal­i­bre staff to en­gen­der a cul­ture of learn­ing.

So Africa was to be de­lib­er­ately the space in which we train.

In 2001, hardly three months into the job, I had nom­i­nated and sent with a com­mit­ment for the next ten years co­horts of staff who ac­quired their statis­tics qual­i­fi­ca­tions from Mak­erere Uni­ver­sity in Uganda and East Africa Statis­tics Train­ing Cen­tre in Tan­za­nia.

The chal­lenge of lan­guage was very acute and Ensea, a French Statis­tics School train­ing at Masters De­gree was the next des­ti­na­tion, and since 2008 co­horts of staff qual­ify in sta­tis­ti­cal train­ing in French.

The next stop was ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning as a fun­da­men­tal for statis­tics as an in­for­ma­tion sys­tem for the state and in this re­gard by 2010 a Stats SA Cen­tre for Re­gional and Ur­ban In­no­va­tion and Re­gional Sci­ence (Cruise) at the Uni­ver­sity of Stel­len­bosch, which now en­rols a full-time Masters Pro­gramme in Re­gional Sci­ence was es­tab­lished.

Ev­ery year up to ten se­nior staff from DD-Gs to di­rec­tors level are re­leased for full-time study on this pro­gramme. Since 2003, we started a suc­cess­ful in­tern­ship pro­gramme tak­ing suc­cess­ful ma­tric­u­lants through uni­ver­sity for stud­ies and they com­pete for jobs in Stats SA.


Like a bird, which col­lects ma­te­ri­als, builds a nest and cre­ates con­di­tions for eggs to hatch and nestlings to thrive, at Stats SA that has been my task. Yan­diswa Mpet­sheni led a team that worked tire­lessly on the first ever UN World Data Fo­rum for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment held in Cape Town in Jan­uary this year.

In 2016 Stats SA oc­cu­pied a new home in Free­dom Park. It is a marvel, a city on the hill that can­not be hid­den. It is a nest from which the coun­try will con­tinue to en­joy high qual­ity facts of the state.

Again here staff ex­cel, and men­tion of Akhtari Hen­ning, the DD-G for Cor­po­rate Ser­vices in Stats SA, is de­served as she showed through im­mense lead­er­ship how Pub­lic Pri­vate Part­ner­ships are pos­si­ble (PPP) in South Africa.

A R1.4 bil­lion build­ing was con­cluded within 24 months and this PPP is hailed as the fastest to be con­cluded and, there are no blem­ishes.

Min­is­ter Jeff Radebe opened this nest to staff in De­cem­ber 2016 and said in­for­ma­tion is free­dom. Now we are ag­gres­sively build­ing mod­el­ling com­pe­tency and ca­pa­bil­ity for iden­ti­fy­ing and ad­dress­ing data gaps and plan­ning sys­tems for the state.

My hori­zon ahead in this role surely is much and far shorter than 17 years, but I can look back with pride on what a priv­i­lege South Africa be­stowed on me in these years and a nest where nestlings thrive is what I had the priv­i­lege of build­ing. Pali Le­hohla is South Africa’s Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral and Head of Statis­tics South Africa.

Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency, Jeff Radebe, and Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral Pali Le­hohla when of­fi­cially open­ing the Isi­balo House in Sal­vokop, Pre­to­ria. PHOTO: OUPA MOKOENA

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.