House Chairperson, hon members, ladies and gentlemen, when I first became a Minister and delivered budget speeches, it was almost compulsory that you wore a buttonhole. Now that you're wearing such a beautiful flower today, may I borrow it? [Laughter.]
It's worth repeating that the collection and synthesis of data for a national statistical system is something that most people around the world take for granted. We have a sense that the way in which data sets, even from Statistics SA, are received tends towards the same cavalier attitude from time to time. Part of the challenge, part of the responsibility of the statistical agency is to ensure that the detail of the compilation process is understood and that the data series is trusted.
In the recent past, there has been an intense debate between Statistics SA, frequently represented by the Statistician-General, and a particular private agency. Part of the debate is focused on what the level of unemployment actually is. Now, if we follow the arguments of the private company, then South Africa would not have a problem of unemployed people and the emphasis of policy-making could fall elsewhere. If, however, the unemployment level is at 25,2%, as per the most recent Statistics SA release of 8 May 2012, then policy must be directed towards that object. For this reason, Parliament needs to satisfy itself about the quality of statistical releases so that the people will know and policy will be trusted.
Two weeks ago elections were held in Greece and by last night the attempt by the Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, who had invited the three largest parties to form a coalition, collapsed. Greece now stands on the threshold of what may prove to be an even greater calamity than what they are now living through.
Breaking news this afternoon is that a new election will be called. The three largest parties in Greece are New Democracy, which scored 18,85%; Syriza, which is a coalition of the left and scored 16,78%; and Pasok, representing the socialists, which scored 13,18%. Together the three largest parties secured a mere 48,81% of the votes, insufficient to form a government even in the grandest coalition style. The solution might be to invite the Greek electorate back to the polls in the hope that a fresh election may produce a stronger basis for the formation of a government, but nothing is certain about that.
Whilst all of this debate proceeds, there are also questions about whether Greece will remain part of the eurozone. This is fundamentally important because if the answer is no, then it would mean introducing or reintroducing a Greek currency and rebuilding the institution of the Greek central bank to take responsibility for monetary policy decisions. There are untold permutations of what may happen in these circumstances, ranging from the level of the exchange rate of this new currency to the deficit level, to the fundamental question of who will lend to the Greek sovereign state and who will lead the government.
On the issue of lending, I just want to make the appeal that it is fundamentally important that decisions that are taken actually be stuck to. I know that it's very popular for the hon Ollis and the hon Singh to rave on about e-tolling, but we must be careful about what we wish for in the circumstances.
But this is not a Budget Vote on the Department of Transport, nor is it a Budget Vote on the Greek government. The importance of the issue is actually in statistics and whether your statistics are trusted. The issues about the quality of Greek statistics date back at least for the past decade, and we have seen a system in which Eurostat accepted the statistical releases of the Greek government in good faith and there was really no early warning system.
For the past months we have watched as the Greek government attempted to negotiate what to do about the deficit and debate the extent of the austerity measures they face and the terms of the bailout. What we must recognise is that at the root of the problem lie statistical miscalculations.
In September last year the Greek courts ordered a preliminary investigation into whether there had been a conscious miscalculation of the deficit to 15% in order to impose a harsher bailout package. Against this there was the counterargument that the calculation was actually done to correct a problem that had been there for a very long time.
While all of this was taking place, the community of Greek statisticians has been caught in a war among themselves, all centred on the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Elstat. There were claims and counterclaims that it was socialist statisticians versus conservative statisticians; that it was about the size of the bailout and the scale of the pain, all occasioned by an intense debate around how large the deficit actually has been and still is. So, we must understand that statistical outputs are actually exceeding the political.
I'm saying that, frequently, we are cavalier in our treatment of statistics, thinking that when a release is put out, it is the man in his yellow suit who wrote on the back of a cigarette pack a few numbers, and then released them. If we treat statistics in that way, I think, we will come to pay a heavy price as a nation, as we are now seeing this Greek tragedy unfold.
The fundamental importance of accurate and independent statistics cannot be stressed enough, and so we must recognise the foresight of our leaders at this institution here in Parliament who ensured that the independence of Statistics SA was written into the legislation that governs the release of official government statistics.
Section 5 of the Statistics Act, Act 6 of 1999, only gives the Minister the power to prioritise the work of the agency on the recommendation of the Statistician-General and after having been advised by the Statistics Council. Sometimes I want to wring everybody's neck at SA Statistics SA and get them to produce different numbers, but I think that we are better served by the kind of legislation that we have.
As Minister I monitor performance and, after consultation with Cabinet, I have the power to appoint the Statistics Council. Section 5(3) of the Act very clearly indicates that the Minister may not interfere with the work of the SA Statistician-General, including how and when statistical information is gathered and released. The production of statistics in South Africa is therefore carefully regulated by the Act, which clearly defines the powers, duties and relationship between the Minister, the Statistician-General and the SA Statistics Council.
While the Act, in section 5, outlines the Minister's responsibilities, Section 6(2)(a) further strengthens the Statistician-General's professional independence. The importance of reiterating the legislative framework governing Statistics SA is essential because, while it is funded by the national Budget, it has an independence that we have to respect. If we are to have any confidence in the foundations of our economy and indications about the quality of life of our people and use this as a basis for evidenced-based policy-making, we must hold this independence dear.
We should recognise the value of quality legislation that creates independence for Statistics SA and appreciate the oversight role of Parliament, as well as the jealous protection by Parliament of this quality of legislation.
Statistics SA has to maintain the accuracy of the statistics being produced and it is important that the data on which it is based is an accurate reflection of reality. For this reason it needs to update its methodologies and surveys from time to time. A few years ago the consumer price index, CPI, was radically overhauled. The CPI is being improved again through the usual periodic update of the basket of goods and services that are priced each month, referred to as reweighting, as well as changing the reference period of the index, that is the rebasing of the consumer price index.
The revised CPI will be released in February next year. This revision of the CPI is being done to ensure that the relative expenditure weights in the CPI reflect the changing behaviour of households and remain relevant and accurate. The basket of items that form part of the CPI is derived from the income and expenditure survey in which a sample of 30 000 households are expected to maintain a diary of consumption for a period of 12 months.
Similarly, the producer price index is being re-engineered in a process that started in 2009. This will result in a parallel set of releases. The producer price index, PPI, for manufacturing will be separated into two different price indices. The first PPI for manufacturing of goods for further processing only includes goods in its basket that will be used again elsewhere in the manufacturing process, such as basic steel, that will be used again in the manufacture of motor vehicles, for instance. The second PPI for manufacturing of goods for final consumption will include goods that are destined for final consumption and will include food items. The PPI for final goods will therefore track the CPI much closer since the items in the basket will be more similar than the current situation. So, for example, an increase in fuel prices will be reflected in both the manufacturing price index, as well as in the agriculture price changes. The idea is to modernise the system so that price changes are tracked and reflected more accurately at the farm or factory gate.
Now, we live in a situation in which PPI has kind of been out of date for some time. I've come to understand just how detailed the work is to overhaul an index like this, but we must get to a situation in which farm and factory-gate prices are actually a lead indicator of what happens in the economy - and it becomes fundamentally important that we get an index that truly is trusted, and we haven't quite had that with PPI in the same way as we have with CPI.
Every few years various data sets and registers have to undergo a fairly substantive review to ensure that the outputs are relevant. Hon members would be aware that the outputs of the quarterly employment statistics, QES, compiled from the results of an employer-based survey, and the quarterly labour force survey, QLFS, compiled from a survey at household level, show marked discrepancies. We desire a much higher level of correlation. This will be possible through the construction of a business register that remains current and has both integrity and accountability. To attain a business register such as this, a census of all businesses throughout the country will have to be conducted, and a register compiled and then regularly updated.
This process, by its very nature, will be both intensive and costly. But, once such a high-integrity register exists, it will be possible to triangulate information by combining the efforts of Statistics SA with those of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, the CIPC, based at the Department of Trade and Industry, and the data available from the SA Revenue Service - a matter that was canvassed, to some extent, in the portfolio committee discussions of this Budget Vote. As of now, these data sets are not yet in alignment. In many ways, working for such alignment is a real test of the intragovernmental endeavours necessary for the construction of a national statistical system.
I now turn to this somewhat elusive platform. While the business register provides a key opportunity for intragovernmental co-ordination, Statistics SA is tasked, in section 14 of the Act, with the responsibility of co- ordinating statistics among organs of state. It is fundamentally important to note that the Act, in fact, requires the Statistician-General to certify the statistics being produced by Statistics SA, first and foremost, as official, in addition to that of other organs of state. This means that the quality of statistics produced by Statistics SA undergoes the same rigorous measurement against the SA Statistical Quality Assessment Framework, the so- called Sasqaf, as is expected from other partners.
In terms of co-ordination, major strides have been made with the SA Police Service by establishing a relationship to assist in the improvement of the crime statistics strategy. In addition, Statistics SA will conduct the second annual victims of crime survey in close collaboration with key role- players in the safety and security cluster in 2012. Is that why the hon Kohler-Barnard came? She just heard "crime" and she came. [Interjections.] Agreement has been reached to improve alignment of the definitions used before producing a joint publication.
Statistics SA is continuing to build partnerships with government departments by providing the technical support necessary to conduct self- assessments of the quality of statistics. In this regard, the Department of Science and Technology was amongst the first institutions to undertake self- assessment on their research and development survey, and has gone further to the second stage of being assessed by a joint team. The Department of Basic Education has applied the SA Statistical Quality Assessment Framework to develop standards specifically for education and is about to embark on the process of assessing education statistics against these standards. One of the questions that Statistics SA is asked on a regular basis when engaging with Parliament is whether they have a sense of migration patterns internally and across our borders. While a formal response will be provided to the report of the Standing Committee on Finance on this matter, it is important to say something about vital statistics.
In addition to releasing the monthly and annual statistical information on vital statistics, Statistics SA will be releasing a report on documented immigrants during 2012-13. The report will be published in June of this year and will provide information on the statistics on permanent and temporary residents, dating back to 2010. It will include information on the country of origin, the ages of the applicants and the types of permits. It is envisaged that in future this report will become an annual release.
We need to understand the importance of the issue, not only in terms of being able to use administrative records, but also in terms of initiatives undertaken on the continent. The African Ministers for home affairs have formally agreed to improve civil registration and vital statistics as a key priority over the next five years.
Last year during this debate I spoke about the importance of the census that was conducted later in the year. I will say more about what the current status of that massive undertaking is in a few minutes. I want, however, to reiterate the importance of those results for the many other statistical surveys conducted by Statistics SA.
In all probability sample surveys Statistics SA undertakes, selecting a percentage from the total, the sample selected would be around 30 000 households out of a total of about 14 million, because the permutations in random selection become fundamentally important in taking account of income distribution - urban and rural - types of households, etc.
At certain times that number is increased to 300 000, as was the case with the community survey. In other surveys repeat visits are implemented, as is the case in the income and expenditure survey and the living conditions survey. All of these samples are a reflection of the total number, which makes it imperative that the census against which they are measured has to be an accurate and reliable reflection.
Through these sample surveys, we can glean a steady supply of information about where South Africans live, work and play. Amongst these is the quarterly labour force survey, mentioned earlier, through which 30 000 households are sampled each quarter out of this labour market information, including the levels and rates of change in employment and unemployment. Statistics SA will be introducing new modules in the QLFS questionnaire to collect information on migrant work, as well as to improve the questionnaire to ensure that it is more gender responsive. A time use survey was conducted in 2011 and this information will be released in the second quarter of 2012.
The general household survey, GHS, is another annual survey that reaches out to a sample of 30 000 households and asks about living conditions of residents and, more importantly, focuses on service delivery quality indicators, such as the availability and adequacy of services including water, health care provision, etc. Using the GHS results, Statistics SA will release three additional reports that include one on food security and agriculture by August of this year, a report on the social profile of South Africa by December, and a report on social development indicators by March of next year.
Another ground-breaking survey is the living conditions survey, which will be applied in building poverty measures and poverty lines, including subjective poverty, for South Africa. This arsenal of statistical data and information will continue to be provided as indicated in the Statistics SA work programme.
It was during this debate last year that I made the appeal to Members of Parliament to become census ambassadors and to go into communities and constituencies and address the fears. It is thanks to the efforts of Members of Parliament in general and members of the Standing Committee on Finance in particular that I can say that the 2011 Census field operations have been successfully concluded, with more than 14 million dwellings or households visited in 103 000 enumeration areas.
Statistics SA is currently processing the 14 million returns in an operation that continues nonstop 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The purpose of having the 1 200 staffers working shifts to complete this incredible undertaking is to ensure that the data is available for use sooner rather than later. It is obviously important that in completing this task we are assured of the quality of the data collected and collated. In this regard, the SA Statistics Council, that has the legal responsibility to manage the quality of the statistics being produced, has appointed both local and international experts to undertake the evaluation.
I observed - not having been party to the appointments myself that these experts are not - are not very gender friendly. The experts, who have already received a 5% sample and have started the evaluation, include Prof Rob Dorrington, Prof Tom Moultrie, Dr Kenneth Hill, Prof Eric Udjo, Prof Carel van Aardt, Dr Griffith Feeney, Prof Julian May, Dr Jeremiah Banda and Prof Charles Simkins.
As part of the quality assurance process, an independent post-enumeration survey was conducted, where a representative sample of the country was sampled using a shorter questionnaire. The variables of this survey will be compared to the census to assist with the evaluation of any possible under- or overcounting. Current indications are that the results will be released by the end of September this year. In order to ensure that the data gathered in this massive operation is easily available, information will be released using a wide range of platforms, such as hard copies - mind you - electronically, on social networking sites, and through the media more generally.
I urge members to examine the census results in detail once the census has been released because it should be an invaluable asset to every Member of Parliament. The idea would be, of course, to bring it down to ward level at municipalities, and every constituency should be well covered. This should be your weapon for holding the executive to account, because you should have the ammunition to back any claims that you make. Using the census data, you should have proof in terms of numbers to be able to demand better services. Whilst we are cognisant of the importance of census results for government and business to plan, it is, equally, up to members of this House to ensure that the planning is appropriate and that it meets the needs of the communities and constituencies that you convinced to participate in the census.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Standing Committee on Finance, ably chaired by the hon - not the horrible - Thaba Mufamadi, for consistently providing thoughtful insights and challenges to Statistics SA. I want to express our appreciation to the SA Statistician-General, Mr Pali Lehohla, and his team, and the team at Statistics Council, which is chaired by Mr Howard Gabriels - he is not here today, but is represented by Mr Mphahlele - for their advice and hard work. We commend the Budget Vote of Statistics SA to this House. Ndza khensa. [Thank you.] [Applause.]