Cleanse SA’s wounds prop­erly

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FEATURES - THE REAL NUM­BERS Pali Le­hohla

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.

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