South Africans are privileged to have an amazing Constitution, and statisticians have a key role to play in its implementation, Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission (NPC), Dr Trevor Manuel, told a Statistics SA gathering in Stellenbosch today.
“The Constitution asks of South Africans to recognise the injustices of the past, honour those who suffered for freedom, respect those who worked to build and develop the country, and believe that all South Africans are united in their diversity,” he said.
“The Constitution is justiciable. Judges and lawyers are responsible for interpreting policy intent. However, statisticians have to provide a measure to answer if the commitments of the Constitution are met.”
Manuel was the keynote speaker on day one of the first ISIbalo Symposium on Evidence-based Decision-making at Stellenbosch University (SU). The three-day event is a joint venture between Statistics SA and the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration (CRUISE) in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies of SU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Manuel said statisticians have an enormous responsibility: “It requires that official statistics be collected fearlessly and that they be of unimpeachable quality.”
He emphasised that statistics have to be presented in an easily understood format. Even outputs of the most esoteric research should be easily available in an easy to understand format so that the statistical community can easily engage with policy makers. Manuel said that he is proud of the format through which Statistics SA makes information available online.
“Available now are the results of Census 2011 broken down in amazing detail. I do not know of any other statistical agency in the world that releases even a fraction of this information in such a user-friendly format.”
Manuel also touched on the National Development Plan (NDP), a document that was produced by the NPC, which he chairs. He said the Commission had to rely on statistics when asked by the President to formulate the NDP.
Manuel criticised decision makers who “act as though they do not need statistics because they have the answers even before the question if formulated.”
He said, “This could be because of ignorance – people who are expected to have access to information simply do not and sometimes it may be decision-makers not caring because there are no consequences.”
Manuel received an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce from SU in 2001.