Response to The Star newspaper article entitled “poverty data not a correct portrayal”

On 3 February 2015, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) released a technical report (Report 03-10-11) entitled methodological report on rebasing of national poverty lines and development of pilot provincial poverty lines.

The report has attracted a lot of media attention, with the latest being a criticism from the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) published in The Star newspaper, 20 February 2015. The thrust of the article is that, perhaps due to political pressure or interference, Stats SA lowered the threshold for daily minimum per-person energy requirement for good health in the rebasing exercise.

Statistics South Africa conducts its business based on a raft of transparent tools that include principles, legislation, guidelines, statistical methods and procedures. Statistics South Africa is guided by the ten United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics (UNFOPS) which are centred on applying the best scientific methods, international comparison and transparency to mention a few. Congruent with UNFOPS the African Charter on Statistics and the Strategies for Harmonisation of Statistics in Africa are some of the binding overarching global and continental infrastructures that Statistics South Africa has to comply with. Statistics South Africa is governed by the Statistics Act, Act 6 of 1999 and therein the purpose of official statistics is articulated and the independence of the Statistician-General is guaranteed as regards the production of statistics. The United Nations Statistics Commission, StatCom Africa, the International Statistics Institute, the African Symposium for Statistical Development and the South African Statistics Association are all parties that stake a claim in how Statistics South Africa conducts its business.   As regards the operations Statistics South Africa is informed by science based methods and applies advanced statistical techniques and procedures in the design, collection and estimation procedures in the production of statistics. Such methods applied and results derived should be internationally comparable. This is the burden of responsibility a scientific institution of the reputation of Statistics South Africa functions under, and reputation is all it has. It is in this regard that when this reputation is challenged by the likes of AIDC, which suffers no burden of responsibility to anyone that I choose to spare neither leg nor limb to debunk their mischievous and uninformed insinuations.

  1. “The assertion by AIDC stating that Stats SA took instructions from the Department of Health is mendacious, irresponsible and inflammatory. It reflects the amateurish way in which these wannabe institutions frivolously trivialise the importance of evidence and information and its contribution to the development of society. Their unscientific and provocative remarks can only sensationalise and mislead the uninitiated and perhaps this is their ladder to fame. Unfortunately they went on a perilously dangerous rung that will seal their infantile fate.” In executing its mandate, Stats SA consults widely with its stakeholders—the users of its outputs. These stakeholders include other government departments, research institutions, Universities, independent researchers, etc. This user-consultation process yields recommendations on which Stats SA decides to implement or not implement. The interaction that Stats SA had with the Department of Health and, other the institutions, during the rebasing exercise is no different.
  2. It is incorrect for AIDC to infer a temporal trend in poverty levels without following the procedure suggested in report 03-10-11. In pages 13 and 14 of the report users are advised on how this can be achieved and this includes AIDC which still needs to be schooled. Specifically this involves:
  • deflating the 2011 figures backwards, using CPI data, to obtain new series of CPI adjusted poverty lines
  • applying the relevant CPI adjusted poverty lines to IES 2000, IES 2005/6 and, 2008/9 Living Conditions Survey (LCS) data to obtain new measures of poverty incidence and depth in the period 2000 to 2009.

Before I deliver an educative lecture to AIDC and hope that from such a lecture AIDC will emerge as a better corporate citizen, let me speak to the Star Newspaper. This Newspaper six years ago had to apologise to Statistics South Africa for a lead article by a certain Ms Karen Maughn, then their reporter, who on the 8 of January 2008 emerged with a lead article saying that R 600 million wasted. In similar ways, without calling either the Statistician General or the Chair of the Statistical Council she spewed her vitriol to the unsuspecting public and with it making far reaching insinuations about how the data were intended for use for the ANC Polokwane Conference. She had to apologise. This time around the Star commits a similar infraction of not calling or asking the Statistician-General about the silly opinion of AIDC before publishing. This constitutes a violation.

Pali Lehohla is the Statistician General of South Africa and the Head of StatsSA, Chair of Africa Symposium for Statistical Development (ASSD), former Chair of the United Nations Statistics Commission, former Chair of StatCom Africa and former Vice President of the International Statistics Institute and former Chair of Partnership in Statistical Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21). He is a Board member of the International Comparisons Programme and he is a member of the 25 person Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) of the United Nations Secretary General on Data Revolution.

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