Dr Pali Lehohla addressed an audience of graduates, parents and staff, after he was capped Doctor of Science (honoris causa) at a University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) graduation ceremony held at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg on Monday, 23 April. Photographer: Thuli Dlamini.
JOHANNESBURG - For five years now, statisticians, the bean counters of nations, have been the busy bees of the world. 

This mob is moving with to close the Millennium Development Agenda (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). There is no end in sight as this lowly and little known constituency in world affairs has become a Cinderella of our times. They are dining and wining with the high heeled and sharing pleasantries with nobility city to city across the world.  

Just to provide a taste of their weekly schedule more recently they remained high fliers.  

Statisticians had been a common denominator in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where statistics on poverty was on display with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).  In this space heads of state and ministers spoke on multidimensional poverty in glowing terms as a new lens that has opened up their eyes. 

Nobel Prize Winner Professor Angus Deaton said in his keynote address that this lens is appropriate for the US where the numbers of the poor are more than wholesale population in complete countries.  No sooner had he said that, the US Bureau of the Census made waves to OPHI for a coffee chat.  Spain pledged that it would now use Multidimensional poverty indices to manage its policy on poverty.  The political language was that transparency facilitates rational consultative processes and eliminates toxic political competition. It also enhances focused unity in action on what counts.

There is no doubt that the discourse on SDGs must be on the stage of the trillion dollars where meaningful business and private sector intervention participates in eliminating the scourge and self-inflicted scandal of the 21st century.  The challenge should move from New York to Davos to mobilize the trillions necessary for the implementation.

A week ago Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the Department of Social Development hosted the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network to advance the science and practice of poverty measurement and intervention strategies. 

Of no less importance was the launch of the third report of United Nations Secretary General Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) on the private sector and its role in the health of mothers, children and adolescents.  

Fast forward to Addis where African statisticians were discussing, among other things, digitization and digitalization and the future of Africa in measurement.  In the context of the signing of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement ACFTA, African statisticians were seized with the International Comparisons Programme which is the largest global market research on global consumption and expenditure on goods and services. From Dubai to Stockholm, statisticians are considering the development indicators and their adequacy.  

As they move from city to city these missionaries are like shoemakers. They are accompanied by a train of policy makers who would not leave the counter until their shoes are fixed.  

They patiently hold a long queue in the cold or hot anteroom to have a lens made for their policy interest.  As a former statistician, I cannot but confirm that we stayed the cause and course in making statistics visible to achieve greatness. From cold Stockholm where statisticians met, as an old hand and retired captain, I was privileged to share pleasantries with the Deputy Mayor of Stockholm,Ann-Katrin Åslund,  at the prestigious Golden Hall where Nobel Laureates are honoured and dined. 

Greatness achieved can only remain true to form when dispensed prudently. 

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

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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