Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa. File Image: IOL
JOHANNESBURG - On Friday, the Statistician- General of South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, released the Citizen Satisfaction Survey for KwaZulu-Natal.

This was the second report, the first, was a 2015 report that I released in January 2016. The former prime minister of Lesotho, the late Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, defined politics as the way we agree to conduct the business of society.

Through this process, which is central to the Batho Pele Principle, different communities and societies adopt different agreements thus different political systems. In South Africa - like in a number of countries, in particular in Africa and Eastern Europe, over the past two decades we agreed to conduct the business of our society through our supreme law, the Constitution.

Out of the Constitution emerged constitutional institutions such as Parliament, the Constitutional Court, the public protector and the SA Reserve Bank. From legislative institutions emerged Statistics South Africa, the South African Revenue Service and Chapter 9 institutions, like the Human Rights Commission.

Then there is the executive and their departments through which the business of society is led.

But how then is the business of society assessed?

Statistics South Africa produces at least 246 science-based reports annually that shed light on the effects of how society agrees to do business.

The government of KZN approached Statistics South Africa in 2015 to conduct a citizen satisfaction survey.

In its wisdom, Statistics South Africa approached the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and provincial administrations to have such a science-based enquiry run across the country, rather than in only one province. Unfortunately, there was no appetite for this effort of nationally reflecting on the effects of how society decides to organise itself. Time was running out and KZN was getting impatient, and could not wait for the others.

Besides, it made sense to conduct such a survey on a small-scale pilot first to understand the mechanics of it, especially as new technologies were to be deployed.

So we went ahead with the survey for KZN, but we were wary of ending up with government-inspired inequities through information markets asymmetries. Also, unintended outcomes of inequities and state-inspired conflicts emerge in the glacial movement and struggle for policy coherence and policy impact.

The fundamental challenge South Africa has is that there is a multiplicity of information peddlers that municipalities and provinces pay for to run citizen satisfaction surveys.

This is terribly ineffective, inefficient and only inspires state-sponsored temporal and spatial information, market inequities and conflicts.

The government of KZN recognised and understood this problem and to resolve it they came to an agreement that StatsSA - as a legislative organ of the state responsible for science-based statistical and data systems that inform society - conduct a report.

Maluleke’s report reveals an important tale on how the society of KZN assesses their agreement of conducting their business as a society. The information has placed the province on a much better footing on how they will renew and negotiate their politics in the 2019 elections.

No other province is equipped with this science-based platform to enter a profound conversation regarding the choices that have to be made.

The province now has two substantive information points that reflect at municipal-level how satisfied or otherwise their citizens are, and political parties can thus structure their political manifestos, not from things in their heads, but from concrete material benefits that society has articulated.

The beauty of the data is that spatially the issues are differentiated, giving very clear strategic impetus on concrete messages for politics.

It is a pity our myopic views clouded other provinces, and as a consequence there is not a solid science-based platform informing the nation on how they base decisions to conduct the business of society.

Politicians often have their own facts and this is what might win the day - own opinions, but no one can have own facts.

What did Maluleke reveal? In this 128-page easy to read report with detailed illustrations, Maluleke reveals that the top three priorities for KZN are about job creation, provision of housing and the fight against corruption.

These priorities differ significantly from the top three of 2015, which were provision of water, electricity, and clinics.

The most telling for informing a political campaign is the detailed map of priorities for KZN, which shows priorities for each municipality. This is the essence of the Batho Pele Principle of how society agrees to organise itself.

Without this science-based feedback at national level, our politics are barren and merely pay lip service to the Batho Pele Principle.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of SA and the former head of Statistics SA.