Dis­in­for­ma­tion in a cri­sis is a threat to SA’s democ­racy ‘Mthembu makes up ev­i­dence to blame ex-statis­ti­cian-gen­eral for Stat­sSA bud­get cuts’

Pretoria News - - THE X-FILES - Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statis­ti­cian-gen­eral and former head of Statis­tics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @palilj01.

THE GLOBE is en­gulfed in a tragedy of im­mense pro­por­tions.

South Africa, like all other coun­tries, has risen to the chal­lenge with ma­jor, bold steps that could point to the val­ues of hu­man sol­i­dar­ity, the na­ture and form of ba­sic needs that should be part of the rubric of ba­sic rights.

This pan­demic teaches us this key les­son: the right to health, ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­fence from harm.

These form some of the spa­ces for sol­i­dar­ity and com­mon­al­ity.

As we in the time ahead emerge from this tragedy, it will be nec­es­sary to un­der­stand that for a dif­fer­ent world to arise we need to iden­tify these com­mon fac­tors. We need to en­sure that the ad­vances in pro­duc­tive forces through tech­nol­ogy bur­dens and ben­e­fits are so­cialised.

This is in con­tradis­tinc­tion to the cur­rent sta­tus where in South Africa health so­cialises the bur­dens and pri­va­tises the ben­e­fits. In good part the scale of the chal­lenge is driven by this dis­con­ti­nu­ity in the life­cy­cle value chain. We need to ques­tion the forms of our in­sti­tu­tions, the role pol­i­tics play, the space for eco­nomic pol­icy con­sid­er­a­tions, the right to par­tic­i­pate and, above all, the cen­tral role of ev­i­dence in this land­scape.

Fake in­for­ma­tion in a cri­sis threat to our democ­racy.

This was demon­strated re­cently by the men­da­cious al­le­ga­tions Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jack­son Mthembu made against me in a tele­vised in­ter­view a few weeks ago.

In his in­ter­view, trig­gered by my re­sponse to the threat of the Statis­tics Coun­cil res­ig­na­tion as an over­sight body to the Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral of South Africa, Mthembu claimed that I caused the cur­rent cri­sis of bud­get lim­i­ta­tions at Statis­tics SA.

One needs to look at the sit­u­a­tion of in­sti­tu­tions and where the mat­ter of ev­i­dence lies in the past, the role of state in­sti­tu­tions, and more im­por­tantly in the cur­rency of the coro­n­avirus.

Why is this men­dac­ity cor­ro­sive to the re­mak­ing of the State, both from the ills of State cap­ture and ad­dress­ing the coro­n­avirus?

It is im­pos­si­ble for Mthembu to show even a thread of ev­i­dence from any doc­u­men­ta­tion or in­sti­tu­tion of the State to sup­port his al­le­ga­tions in his au­thor­ity as a min­is­ter. So he has usurped state power and man­u­fac­tured the ev­i­dence for him­self.

From a file on the mat­ters Bud­get, the fol­low­ing in­sti­tu­tions of the State par­tic­i­pate in the pub­lic in­ter­est:

First there is the statis­ti­cian-gen­eral, is

athe Statis­tics Coun­cil and the min­is­ter who are in­de­pen­dent au­thor­i­ties as pre­scribed in the Statis­tics Act, Act 6 of 1999.

Sec­ond there is the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee that looks at pro­gramme and per­for­mance mat­ters of the de­part­ments.

Third there is the Na­tional Trea­sury which upon ap­proval of pro­grammes by Par­lia­ment should de­liver the Bud­get for pro­gramme ex­e­cu­tion.

Fourth there is the au­di­tor-gen­eral who makes pro­nounce­ments on gov­er­nance of in­sti­tu­tions. Fifth there is an in­de­pen­dent de­part­men­tal au­dit com­mit­tee to Stat­sSA, and sixth there is the par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee on pub­lic ac­counts (Scopa).

On the mat­ter of the bud­get for Stat­sSA, all these in­sti­tu­tions play a role. The record for re­quest­ing and ap­prov­ing the Bud­get has no shred of ev­i­dence re­gard­ing Mthembu’s claim.

All these in­sti­tu­tions who work to­wards the Bud­get, sup­ported the re­quest for Stat­sSA’s bud­get, only the Trea­sury de­cided not only to ap­prove the re­quested bud­get, but cut 11 per­cent of the cost of its em­ploy­ees’ bud­get in the year within which that bud­get had al­ready been ap­proved, leav­ing Stat­sSA in limbo.

Three de­part­ments were cut se­verely: Stat­sSA, Health and the SANDF. Be­cause of these bud­get cuts to Stat­sSA, two cru­cial sur­veys – the In­come and Ex­pen­di­ture Sur­vey and the Liv­ing Con­di­tions Sur­vey – could not be car­ried out. This leaves South Africa ter­ri­bly ex­posed on two sets of in­for­ma­tion now ex­ac­er­bated by the coro­n­avirus.

The record, which shows sup­port for Stat­sSA’s re­quest, and I as the chief stew­ard as the then statis­ti­cian-gen­eral, is con­trary to the claims of Mthembu. Per­haps for com­plete­ness he should go on the file of his pre­de­ces­sor, former min­is­ter Jeff Radebe and there he will find a copy of a high court in­ter­dict which I served on then fi­nance min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba’s Medium-Term Bud­get Speech.

The ba­sis for the in­ter­dict was to es­tab­lish whose re­spon­si­bil­ity it would be for the over-ex­pen­di­ture on the com­mit­ments of Stat­sSA and the statis­ti­cian-gen­eral, as a con­se­quence of the Trea­sury’s bud­get cuts.

At the time, Radebe as­sured me that he would ad­dress the mat­ter and only then, 15 days be­fore my re­tire­ment, did I with­draw the in­ter­dict.

I went to this ex­tent, be­cause I was not pre­pared to hand down a poi­soned chal­ice to my suc­ces­sor. It is sad that after a ca­reer of 34 years and 17 years of priv­i­lege be­stowed on me to lead a team of ca­pa­ble peo­ple, Mthembu could not pause and doubt his self-man­u­fac­tured ev­i­dence be­fore he spewed lies about my role at Stat­sSA.

None of the doc­u­ments in pos­ses­sion of the state say what Mthembu says. It is this con­text of cre­at­ing in­for­ma­tion out­side State in­sti­tu­tions that is the great­est threat to our democ­racy, and the great­est threat at the time of a coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

HAN­NAH MCKAY Reuters

SOUTH Africa, like many coun­tries, has risen to the chal­lenge of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, with bold steps point­ing to the val­ues of hu­man sol­i­dar­ity, and the na­ture and form of ba­sic needs that should be part of the rubric of ba­sic rights, says the writer. I

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