Cleanse SA’s wounds properly
IN 2003 I had the toughest task as the statistician-general of South Africa.
I have told this story a number of times previously because it bears such critical relevance in our experiences as South Africa, not only because of how the organisation rose from the situation but also because of the heavy financial losses that the country incurred.
The key difference between that time and now is that the current financial and economic haemorrhage is a result of malfeasance in economic, political, financial and social terms.
The error of omission I committed was largely driven by four fundamental weaknesses – ignorance, the non-existence of an error detection system, insensitive subordinates who failed to escalate the matter, and the government failing to provide R6 million for conducting the October Household Survey (OHS) to weigh the Consumer Price Index.
The combined effects of these errors cost the government R50 billion.
The private sector lost R10 billion and pensioners lost interest that they had placed positions on.
So it was a costly mistake by any order of thinking.
It was a mistake that should never be repeated.
The risk of error of commission in South Africa may not be far off, given the scale and consequence of economic criminal and financial activities that we are served with almost on a daily basis.
When the dust finally settled, I, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the Statistics Council, the responsible political authority, undertook a very deep introspection…
It was a deep introspection about fixing a broken system.
It took us three years to build credibility on whether the changes in the numbers were the result of error or change.
The one thing that was sure was that the changes were showing qualitative differences.
But they were underpinned by significant systems redesign and recruitment of expertise that imbued confidence.
In time, Stats SA became the jewel of the nation because we were committed to this change and understood the profundity of evidence in systems of the state.
BRICS has come and raised our hopes, indeed correctly so.
The country faces a new tomorrow with hope and some level of inspiration.
The Chinese government and business has shown greater willingness to place relief on our malfeasance-inspired losses.
For this we are grateful. An area that promises better and is well managed is nuclear medicine, and the Russian-South African agreement on nuclear medicine specifically is to be welcomed as cancer is a growing menace in society, attacking and afflicting the poor and the rich, with the poor bearing the brunt.
The Steve Biko Hospital can boast of being a premier centre for nuclear medicine and is among the top ones in the world.
It scooped a significant award – in fact the top award recently.
But the funds from China that come as a rescue package, while welcome, are a risk for the very fact that they are going to plug a malfeasance hole which hitherto has not even been cleaned and disinfected.
To me, the fund looks like a rehab for an alcoholic who is far from proving that he is clean.
Deep government and planning are prerequisites for receiving large sums of resources, lest they go down the tubes like sums hitherto not added up.
It is indeed relief for Eskom, but cleaning a wound without removing the pus is a recipe for its cancerous spread.
Our wounds are too deep and they need the amputation of legs in parts.
This is the pain we have to go through to celebrate a hand of friendship.
Short of that, we are headed for even deeper trouble.
This is the pain we have to go through to celebrate a hand of friendship, or our woes will worsen.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former StatisticianGeneral of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.