Crunch­ing the num­bers at the UN World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Pali Le­hohla Dr Pali Le­hohla is South Africa’s Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral and Head of Statis­tics South Africa.

THE UN World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WTO) held its sixth in­ter­na­tional ses­sion on tourism statis­tics with the theme “Mea­sur­ing Sus­tain­able Tourism”. I had the priv­i­lege of rep­re­sent­ing the global com­mu­nity of of­fi­cial statis­tics as a spe­cial en­voy of the UN Statis­tics Com­mis­sion.

My in­ter­ven­tion was themed on trust and great­ness. This was so be­cause with both the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals and their suc­ces­sor the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals statis­ti­cians are called upon with in­creas­ing in­ten­sity to pro­vide the lens of ra­tio­nal­ity at the high ta­ble of pol­i­tics and pol­icy.

For statis­ti­cians who only in­ter­act with the data, we had more than we bar­gained for in the Philip­pines, which stood true to its slo­gan “It is more fun in the Philip­pines”. Part of the pro­ceed­ings was a fash­ion cat­walk that dis­played the cul­ture, fash­ion, cui­sine, pris­tine na­ture and the con­ta­gious friend­li­ness of the hard work­ing Filipino peo­ples.

The high level open­ing was ad­dressed by Sec­re­tary Tulfo-Teo, the min­is­ter of tourism in the Philip­pines, Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ri­fai of the WTO, the Pres­i­dent of Se­nate of the Philip­pines and I as a spe­cial en­voy of the UN Statis­tics Com­mis­sion. Be­low are ex­cerpts of my ad­dress. Let me start by say­ing how re­mark­able and heart­en­ing it is to see so many of you here this morn­ing for a con­fer­ence which is fo­cused on mea­sure­ment and statis­tics. With all of this at­ten­tion I can truly say that it is a won­der­ful time to be a statis­ti­cian.

Statis­ti­cians are din­ing with roy­alty and the well-heeled. I trust they will con­trib­ute pos­i­tively to the high ta­ble for bet­ter­ment of hu­man­ity. Let us lis­ten to Shake­speare in Twelfth Night and in this re­gard statis­ti­cians please do not fear great­ness, for some are born great, oth­ers achieve great­ness and oth­ers have great­ness thrust upon them. Statis­ti­cians have to de­fine them­selves in these con­texts.

Since 2000 I serve my coun­try, South Africa, as statis­ti­cian-gen­eral.

It is my duty and my priv­i­lege to lead my of­fice, Statis­tics South Africa, in pro­duc­ing and pro­vid­ing the high­est qual­ity of of­fi­cial statis­tics for ev­i­dence-based pol­icy mak­ing.

World cup of statis­tics

I am also proud to have served at the in­ter­na­tional level as chair­per­son of the 39th and 40th ses­sions of the UN Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion in 2008 and 2009 and in that pe­riod – in Au­gust 2009 – as the Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral I had the priv­i­lege of host­ing the 57th ses­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Statis­tics In­sti­tute – the world cup of statis­tics.

This Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion I have the priv­i­lege of rep­re­sent­ing at this au­gust ses­sion was es­tab­lished in 1947 and brings to­gether ev­ery year the chief statis­ti­cians from all mem­ber states around the world. It is the high­est de­ci­sion mak­ing body for of­fi­cial statis­tics. This com­mis­sion de­fines the com­mon lan­guage of statis­tics for vir­tu­ally all eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal or so­cial mat­ters.

When we talk about birth rates, about our na­tional in­come or debt, about un­em­ploy­ment rates or about CO2 emis­sions, we, the UN mem­ber states, and we, the peo­ple, can un­der­stand each other, be­cause we have de­fined the mea­sure­ment of these con­cepts in a spe­cific way through the Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion.

It is worth not­ing that in 2008 I had the hon­our as the chair­per­son to say the words “it is so de­cided” for the adop­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Rec­om­men­da­tions for Tourism Statis­tics. At that mo­ment we col­lec­tively de­cided what the rules would be for the mea­sure­ment of tourism statis­tics. We de­cided who is a vis­i­tor, what is a tourism trip, what is cov­ered by tourism ex­pen­di­ture and how to deal with tour op­er­a­tors.


Al­low me to dis­cuss briefly the im­por­tance of of­fi­cial statis­tics and trusted data in a world in which me­dia in gen­eral and so­cial me­dia, in par­tic­u­lar, have taken an in­creas­ingly prom­i­nent role and in which all of us are con­fronted with fake news and al­ter­na­tive facts on a daily ba­sis.

The lines be­tween what is fact and what is fic­tion have be­come blurred in ev­ery­day life. What is nat­u­ral and what is ar­ti­fi­cial, what is real and what is vir­tual, have be­come al­most im­pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish.

The day of ro­bot­ics is here with us. Imag­ine when you have suc­cess­fully gone into a con­ver­sa­tion of ma­g­a­n­dang umaga (good morn­ing) and un­be­known to you the lady robot re­sponds se­duc­tively and you go fur­ther and say in­ibi kita (I’m in love with you). Quite pos­si­ble if not care­ful one may wed a robot and dis­cover just too late and pay dam­ages to an im­mor­tal ob­ject.

The mas­tery of lan­guage is not at­trib­uted to Dr Africa, the former head of Statis­tics in the Philip­pines, not Dr Vilora and, not my sis­ter Dr Lisa Ber­sar­les, who are suc­ces­sors to Dr Africa, but from none other than a Filipino high school teacher who taught us math­e­mat­ics in 1975 in Le­sotho. This was long be­fore my first visit to the Philip­pines in 1996.

Against this back­ground it is now more cru­cial than ever that safe­guards are in place to main­tain pub­lic trust in of­fi­cial statis­tics.

It is im­por­tant to note that on Jan­uary 29, 2014, the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly unan­i­mously en­dorsed the Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples of Of­fi­cial Statis­tics, and of­fered sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal sup­port for the in­de­pen­dence of of­fi­cial statis­tics. For ex­am­ple, Prin­ci­ple 2 states: “To re­tain trust in of­fi­cial statis­tics, the sta­tis­ti­cal agen­cies need to de­cide ac­cord­ing to strictly pro­fes­sional con­sid­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing sci­en­tific prin­ci­ples and pro­fes­sional ethics”.

The fo­cus of this con­fer­ence is on the mea­sure­ment of sus­tain­able tourism. This sec­tor pro­vides in­come and employment, but could it come at a cost for the en­vi­ron­ment and the cul­tural her­itage. That is why we need to mea­sure all these as­pects in a co­her­ent and in­te­grated way. Gone are the days when the en­vi­ron­ment had no one to speak on its be­half. Not when ro­bots can speak for them­selves and pass eas­ily for liv­ing or­gan­isms. Cer­tainly en­vi­ron­ment de­serves bet­ter and should, and de­mands to be treated with dig­nity.

Goals and tar­gets

In this re­gard, sus­tain­able tourism is of course a prime ex­am­ple for the goals and tar­gets of the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment. Let me un­der­score a few im­por­tant con­di­tions for ef­fec­tive mea­sure­ment.

First: in­sti­tu­tional co-op­er­a­tion – the na­tional sta­tis­ti­cal of­fice can­not col­lect, com­pile and dis­sem­i­nate statis­tics all by it­self. It needs co-op­er­a­tion and sup­port from many na­tional in­sti­tutes, es­pe­cially for a topic such as tourism.

Sec­ond: stake­holder in­ter­ac­tion – rarefied and quiet statis­ti­cians need to go out and talk more to the users of the data, such as the tourism as­so­ci­a­tions, tour op­er­a­tors, cul­tural her­itage as­so­ci­a­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion groups.

Third: sys­tem ap­proach – tourism statis­tics can­not be prop­erly un­der­stood by it­self.

It needs to be em­bed­ded in a the­o­ret­i­cal and sta­tis­ti­cal frame­work.

Through such in­te­grated ap­proach we can pro­vide in­for­ma­tion needed by pol­icy mak­ers and ad­dress needs of all tourism stake­hold­ers.

The sta­tis­ti­cal com­mu­nity seeks to work with all of the stake­hold­ers, be it gov­ern­ment, academia, pri­vate sec­tor or civil so­ci­ety. It is our duty to pro­vide rel­e­vant of­fi­cial statis­tics as an in­dis­pens­able el­e­ment in the in­for­ma­tion sys­tem of a demo­cratic so­ci­ety. Statis­tics is a con­duit of trust.


Ta­ble Moun­tain is a sig­nif­i­cant tourist at­trac­tion, with many vis­i­tors us­ing the ca­ble­way or hik­ing to the top. Statis­tics can high­light all the needs of all the tourism stake­hold­ers, says the writer.

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