Time to legislate statistics says South Africa’s Statistician-General at SDMX conference

Addis Ababa, 2 October 2017 (ECA) – Statistics make a crucial contribution to good governance in modern democracy, assisting in the formulation and evaluation of policies, among others, hence safeguards should be put in place to protect statisticians, South Africa’s Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla, said Monday.

In a keynote address to the 6th Statistical Data and Metadata eXchange (SDMX) conference in Addis Ababa, Mr. Lehohla said statistics are part of the accountability framework and a late comer in joining the judiciary, legislature and auditors general, amongst others, so “safeguards that protect statisticians in similar fashion as the judiciary are crucial conditions for performing the tasks of statistics”.

Placing a statutory responsibility on statistics introduces direct reporting and accountability to parliaments, encouraging and informing debate and in the process ensuring high quality data, which is a key resource for communities, business and academia, is delivered.

Mr. Lehohla said the advent of the Sustainable Development Goals have imposed on statisticians the inevitable need to advance the global agenda even further following the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). He said the responsibilities were enormous.

“They suggest a new era for the development of statistics as an undisputed system of evidence; statistics as a fundamental conduit of trust; an interlocutor of discourse amongst families, communities and nations,” Mr. Lehohla said.

“Indeed the most sought after currency for trade, discovery, travel and establishing the essence of humanity and its interconnectedness with planet in pursuit for peace and prosperity.  Statistics is both the prime driver of the SDGs but also it constitutes the intrinsic value of the SDGs.”  

He said the essence of the SMDX, an international initiative that aims to standardize and modernize mechanisms and processes for the exchange of statistical data and metadata among international organisations and their member countries, and its significant contribution to the statistical value chain need not be overemphasized. 

“We need to be aware of the new challenges that lie ahead and those that are lurking below the surface in pursuit of the SDGs.  We need to be vigilant and remain willing to learn and collaborate as we weave and feel our way through these difficult moments,” added Mr. Lehohla.

He said the SDMX explicates the need for hierarchical designs in statistical value chains and indicators.  This, said Mr. Lehohla, will ensure that concerns about quantities of indicators do not lead to distortions in the architecture of statistics systems. 

For his part, Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the United Nations Statistics Division in the department of Economic and Social Affairs, said SDMX started as an initiative by the seven sponsor agencies in 2001 and the first SDMX specification was released in 2004.

The sponsor agencies, he said, have built the standard, guidelines, and tools supporting it, and promoted its use for data and metadata exchange among both national and international statistical agencies.

“By now SDMX is a mature ISO standard and every day and every hour SDMX messages are traveling between central banks, statistical offices and international organisations around the world,” said Mr. Schweinfest, adding this has also increased the expectations of users.

“SDMX is also a rigorous standard, which makes it possible to impose strict requirements on the data in terms of quality and consistency. Implementation of SDMX has in many organisations and countries often spurred a cleanup exercise, which dramatically improved the quality and usability of disseminated data,” he continued.

Over 300 experts from National Statistical Offices, Central Banks, government institutions, international agencies, and the private sector are attending the SDMX conference.

Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826
E-mail: ecainfo@uneca.org