Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Jacques Naude/Pretoria News
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Jacques Naude/Pretoria News

Lessons of integrity amid crass materialism

Time of article published Aug 6, 2020

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By Dr Pali Lehohla

JOHANNESBURG - Lessons from being wrongfully yet willfully accused of corruption in 2003 loom large in my head in the context of our latter-day wanton looting of the state and of shamelessly doing harm to the extent of causing death to citizens that we are supposed to protect.

In 1988 I set my eyes on playing a significant role in the statistical landscape of South Africa. This was whilst I was still in Mmabatho serving as the statistician in the homeland office.

I raised a bond for my first house in Rooihuiskraal in readiness to be at the Central Statistical Service (CSS) in the future. This I rented out.

In 1990, I raised a second bond in Montana Park, this too I rented out. The dream to be at CSS materialised in 1995. Knowing that I had two houses in Pretoria I did not worry me as I had the option to occupy each of those.

However, I was blissfully oblivious of the obligations involved in lease agreements. Both tenants waved these in my face when I claimed the right to occupy.

Although I was aware that Karl Marx argues that all private property is theft I was loathe and averse to renting. So I raised a third bond in Silverton where I stayed.

The idea of raising bonds took a better part of me and by 2002 I had added amongst others a guesthouse.

Once the registration on this had gone through, I summoned to my office, my deputy, Ros Hirschowitz and chief of Staff, Risenga Maluleke, who is now the current Statistician-General. The aim was to inform them that my family had acquired a guesthouse property, which would be my wife’s business.

As I proceeded to tell them, Ros interjected very sharply and said to me, “You are not going to have business from StatsSA for that guesthouse.”

I replied thus, “Ros that is exactly why I have summoned you. I want to let you know that that business is totally out of bounds to and shall not do business with StatsSA and let this be known throughout the institution.”

Even in trying to be transparent, expect mud to be thrown at you.

Despite filing declaration forms of assets as part of a transparency procedure, some officials surreptitiously prepared a dossier of impropriety about me.

Unfortunately for them I got an original of the document, which I forwarded a copy to the minister. I also asked for his advice as I was ready to present myself for investigation regarding these allegations.

Professor Stan Sangweni led the forensic investigation and found the allegations to be baseless. The ethos of conscious leadership continued to be demonstrated at StatsSA.

A few years later, the niece to my successor, Maluleke, filled in procurement forms for StatsSA. She informed her uncle that she was doing so and that at herself and that Maluleke's wife also intended to fill out a similar form.

The very next day Maluleke informed me about this episode.

However, he told his wife and niece that they were free to fill in such forms, which he would submit to StatsSA, but if he did so, he would hand in his resignation letter at the same time terminating his services with StatsSA.

I am very proud that we could lay an ethos for our conduct in view of the privileged position of authority we occupied.

I am, however, appalled by the base character that defines the state of our state.

The crass materialist conduct of our shameless so called leaders, spewed with scant regard for the suffering of the nation is not only heart rendering, but it is revolting.

Reading from the newspapers, we learn that the ruling party spent a whole weekend discussing things that should and can be avoided by self-conscience and a mission of service.

This mission of service played itself out when I submitted my letter of resignation in January 2005 because of an error I committed in manufacturing statistics release. The buck stopped with me.

Hirschowitz accosted me and said told me not to take the fall as the error came from her division. Instead , she decided to hand her letter of resignation to me. But I could not accept her letter because I had already resigned. I was only awaiting acknowledgement from then president Thabo Mbeki. So Hirschowitz decided to take her letter of resignation to Minister Trevor Manuel. She also awaited acknowledgement.

Ironically, we were to suffer a lengthy period of interment. For Hirschowitz it lasted a year and half when she reached retirement age. For me it took 12 more years and ended at the close of my fifth term of my 17 years of service as the Statistician-General of South Africa and head of StatsSA

I guess when you lead with integrity, true leaders recognize it. They then exercise authority with a profound quality of mercy. I surely in my case experienced this.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa.


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