Can Official Statistics Deliver in Times of Rapid Change: Risks and Prospects
Pali Jobo Lehohla
Statistics South Africa, Statistics South Africa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

History suggests that rapid changes have always occured. Rapid changes are those that are visible and causing fundamental changes in the patterns of life. The wave of rapid change can be looked at in terms of the number of years or some measure of periodicity with which such changes occur before a period of normality sets in. In an area closer to official statistics, business cycles, busts and booms and collapse of stock exchange are well documented occurences. Periods such as the great depression gave birth to a fundamental innovation in the form of national accounts which became a raft supporting the programmes and activities of the United Nations Statistics Commission. The more recent financial and economic crisis promted world leaders to look for answers. Statistics offices have been cited as agencies that could possibly provide part of the answers since they are a disinterested party in financial and economic markets. The question is whether official statistics and official statistical infrastructure provide the possibility of measurement of fast moving phenomena. does this not represent a temptation that would cause offical statistics to loose their reputation. If official statistics and its underlying infrastructure is not capable of measuring at a real pace then of what use would be official statistics. This paper explores the risks and pitfalls of the need for near real time reporting in the realm of official statistics and also discusses the obvious demise of official statistics should they fail to respond. The paper shall draw from more recent examples of initiatives by several institutions including one by the the UN Secretary General on GIVAS, which in my assessment remains a risk to the practice of official statistics and to the United Nations Statistics Commission yet if statisticians do not up their act someone else will.

Keywords: Official statistics infrastructure, risks, economic crisis

Biography: Statistician-General of South Africa since 2000 to date. brought about innovation and leadership in official statistics on the African continent, through innovations like the African Symposia for Statistical Development and demography book projects, such as The Demography of South Africa. His focus is in the development of statistics and the possibility and prospect of HG Wells that one day statistics will be as important to society as is the ability to read and write. Through the ISIbalo initiative a legacy programme of the 57th Session of the ISI, advances statistical competency in South Africa. The key pillar to this is the Young African Statistics rogramme (YAS)which has held two YAS in South Africa. He has chaired the UN Statistics Commission, he chaired PARIS21, he chairs Statistics Commission Africa, he chairs Africa Symposia for Statistical Development and he is a memebr of the Health Metric Network (HMN) Board.