Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics offers a beacon of hope amidst turmoil.
IN PALESTINE by asking the difficult questions, including assessment of the impact of the wall on citizens, is part and parcel of measuring social concerns.
The political turmoil in Palestine provoked over seven decades of injustice on the Palestinians is treasonous and debilitating. The governments of most of the Western countries are consistent in their approach.
Needless to remind ourselves of the dubious positions the West have assumed on the question of coal and just energy transition. They left South Africa high and dry after the summit in Egypt last year on the matter of the Just Energy Transition (Jet).
The West then changed their tune in the face of Russia cutting off their own energy supplies and ran after black dirty coal in favour of national interest, while still saying the rest of the world must steer clear of fossil fuels. They also suddenly declared nuclear and gas as green leaving us on our ambivalent no-man’s land platform.
We have woken up lately after many livelihoods were destroyed and continue too on a matter the evidence of which has been plain to see even for an idiot.
So, after months of nonsensical quibbling, the Minister of Environmental Affairs has allowed us to “dirty” the environment. It has always been clear that a decision that attempted to limit emissions in the middle of a crisis at Eskom would be disastrous to lives and livelihoods and as such that decision to limit emissions should have never been taken.
Any government with empathy and national interest would have known that and would have not traded South African lives and livelihoods for shackles.
The conduct of a number of Western governments on the deepening crisis in the Middle East has become consistent with the duplicity they displayed on energy and our pliable government fell for the bait.
The stance of struggle that South Africa shares with Palestine can surely not falter and follow the Jet miscalculated and misinformed enthusiasm that we witnessed.
On the 23 of September 2013, I was invited to Palestine to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah. I was assigned the task of delivering a keynote address of “The Statistician-General in the twenty-first century.”
My conclusion drew from the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics as such because “Official statistics provide an indispensable element of the information system of a democratic society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information”.
My counterpart and President of the Palestine Statistics Authority, Dr Ola Awad, who was also the President Elect of the International Association of Official Statistics for 2015-2017, was two years in office and has been since.
She succeeded Dr Luay Shabaneh, who was president of the office from 2005-2010, following on Dr Hasan Abu-Libdeh, who headed the office from 1993 to 2005. They had created a formidable office.
In my speech I reflected on the fact that Dr Abu-Libdeh was scheduled to have been at the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2006 where the case of Palestine was to be discussed.
At stake was that the records of the Census of Palestine were seized from the Palestine Statistics Authority by Israel for purposes of identifying individuals who were targeted for military attack. This was a major violation of the UN Fundamental Principle of Official Statistics. for purposes of identifying individuals who were targeted for military attack. This was a major violation of the UN Fundamental Principle of Official Statistics.
Principle 6 is clear in this regard – “Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.”
Abu-Libdeh was schedule to lead evidence on this subject which was an agenda item for 2006 at the commission. But guess what, the US denied him the visa to enter the US in March 2006. As the Nigerians would say the matter was “uselessed”.
Despite the setbacks, nonetheless, the Statistics Bureau of Palestine remains in good hands and its succession has worked well thus far since it was established. I argued that there is a lot I could learn from Palestine, especially the success they have accomplished.
However, as I saw the wall and the high fence, security with guns I thought of home, South Africa, 20 years ago. I could relate the existence of this to limits to freedom in that part of the world. Having secured freedom back home in South Africa we, however, have a different form of threat to freedom. It is crime and violent crime in part emanating from the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The post 2015 Agenda that was beckoning I argued would have to do with sustainable development and global peace including desire for more equitable societies, less wars, less terror and terrorism and instability across the world.
Measurement of these types of phenomena would be desirable in the future for a world that lives in harmony. A world that Martin Luther King said he had seen, a world that Nelson Mandela fought for, a world we pray that the leadership in the Middle East can move towards and achieve.
A 21st century statistician-general is one like Jan Fisher, who at the time of crisis could deliver his country as a technocrat who could be a Prime Minister. He illustrated beyond doubt that he had political skills. A 21st statistician general is one like Ivan Fellegi, who would come back and question the political integrity of his government on technical merit.
A 21st century statistician general should be like Andreas Georgiou of Greece who stood his ground even against his former board members and protected the integrity of measurement.
In South Africa in the 21st century we have taken on the local intellectuals and moved abroad to drive a Pan-African agenda through the integrity of statistics and continue to challenge methods including at the UN level. We know we are not perfect and we start by critiquing ourselves.
In Palestine, by asking difficult questions, including assessment of the impact of the wall on citizens, is part and parcel of measuring social concerns. In the 20 years of your existence at Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, you provided us a theatre for measuring against the odds and showing that you can do better thereby providing us insights into detente and a peaceful coexistence.
Given the space you have extended the possibilities of measurement and thus providing your community, and the world at large, important lessons that should inform the 21st Century Statistician General.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.
* View Awad and Lehohla on this link https://youtu.be/AiHbR3JowgA.