Outgoing statistician-general Pali Lehohla. Image: Simphiwe Mbokazi.
JOHANNESBURG - Outgoing statistician-general Pali Lehohla has warned that Statistics South Africa will die if the critical issue of funding is not urgently addressed.

Lehohla, who has been at the helm of the august institution for the past 17 years, steps down at the end of the month.

He warned yesterday (Wednesday) that a lack of funding would sink the organisation, which also risked falling prey to the opportunistic “African widow syndrome”. 

The syndrome pertained to the disarray and chaos that often ensued in a bereaved African family when the husband passed on, said Lehohla, explaining further: 

“Everything dies with him. That’s the kind of thing I don’t understand with African institutions. If funding is not solved, the organisation is dead … Funding will sink that organisation.” 

The issue of funding has been a bone of contention for the national statistical service, after the National Treasury decided in May to reduce Stats SA’s budget by R400 million to R2.1 billion.

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This controversial move effectively rendered the organisation inadequate to deal head on with its alarming vacancy rate, following the recent mass exodus of highly skilled senior officials who haven’t be replaced.

Lehohla said they had already lost about 15 employees, some with PhDs, “that we have not replaced. Reason? It’s the money. These people are leaving for bigger responsibilities elsewhere because Stats SA is a hunting ground”.

He said he had taken up the matter with his principals but to no avail. 

“I have actually taken the fight because I was not going to leave without raising the matter as acutely as I have. It would have been absolutely remiss of me. 

"I raised matter with (Finance) Minister (Malusi Gigaba), Parliament, Scopa (Standing Committee on Public Accounts), and everybody that counts, that if this risk materialises these are the consequences.”

A  lack of statistics meant government arrangements “are totally broken completely. It would be regrettable for that to happen. There’s a very clear pointer that an institution will die anyway if it’s not funded”.

Stats SA need to provide accurate information to address the country’s socio-economic situation.
Lehohla said: “When that bone is broken, anecdote and everything will reign supreme and that will be the end of South Africa and the continent because South Africa is the hope of the continent. 

"We should not play with that (Stats SA) button. It’s not to be pressed. If you press it … haha!”

The statistician-general lashed out at governments for not adequately using data and statistics to their best advantage, saying businesses on the other hand used stats as a “central pillar of their business model”.

He pointed out it would be impossible to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 without credible data.

Speaking of himself in the third person, Lehohla said the statistician-general was not “engaged” in the formulation of the National Development Plan (NDP), a blueprint to address the country’s socio-economic crisis by 2030.

He criticised the ambitious document for lacking “proper planning”, adding: “It’s there but you don’t have the steps of predictions. The only thing we know is that we are adapting (policies) all the time. 

"How did we move to the NDP from AsgiSA (Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA) and the other strategic frameworks? There is no proper planning. 

"We haven’t created an instrument that navigates us around rivers, marshes and crocodiles along the way. Where is the plan that ensures we keep our focus (on NDP).”

Lehohla admitted that he had received calls from uncomfortable politicians in the past regarding his work but that he had always stood his ground.

This as former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas called on South Africans last week to defend state institutions including the Public Investment Corporation and Stats SA from state capturers.

“Had I been approached to look at the numbers and change the numbers? Yes, you may get a call to say: ‘What is this number? 

"Yes, I have received calls to say: ‘You are releasing this number and there is an election around the corner.’ Yes, those calls have come, but they have never said ‘change this number’. Politicians will always try, it’s in the nature to do so,” said Lehohla.

- BUSINESS REPORT