Pandemic puts new spin on statistics
JOHANNESBURG – The coronavirus pandemic has brought statistics, measurement, modelling, predictive analytics and planning as a science to the fore. It's difficult to imagine that a bat and pangolin made this so important.
As a boy in Lesotho, I hunted for birds. Once you established that a bird was nesting and the eggs had hatched, you provided fodder to the nestlings.
But you also had to know when to harvest, least you lost your investment when the nestlings left the nest. I once discovered a bird nesting on a river bank. The best bet way to start the feeding process was to allow for hatching and for the nestlings to mature before they could be devoured.
But it was only when the time to get the nestlings arrived, that I realised that I had been feeding a bat.That is the sense of guilt and regret I have today – to find that my profession has been elevated to levels hitherto unknown by bats and pangolins.
In South Africa we are immersed in models and pre dictive analytics such as the Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) or Applied General Equilibrium (AGE) for Covid-19.
Many of these derive their logic from the free market economy.
Others are largely driven by the recognition that policy instruments are possible and should intervene in the so-called free market economy, because there are often major market failures like the 2008 financial crisis.
I am not a model, I am a bean counter. For seven years I explored what modelling capability existed for better planning outcomes.
I came across Dr Asghar Adelzadeh’s Applied Development Research Solutions (ADRS). I realised that this could inform the demand for statistics in the future.
In time I had a team from Statistics South Africa and the National Planning Commission to explore the veracity of the ADRS models, to advise the government on supply and demand, the child grant and recently, the basic wage.
Besides this, the ADRS have been involved with training officials in the national and provincial government on modelling. We shall be presenting the pre, in, and post-Covid scenarios at the national, provincial, district and municipal level by different sectors of the economy from next week. The models cover the supply and demand side of the economy. Watch this space.
Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.