Officials axed in R3bn census drama
JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla yesterday revealed that two top Statistics SA officials involved in the R3,4 billion national Census have faced disciplinary charges over alleged irregularities which could have bungled the entire survey.
The admission comes amid months of criticism from some statisticians who question the validity of the final count and talk of behind-the-scenes drama over the Census survey which is critical to government policy making and budgeting.
Lehola confirmed to Media24 Investigations yesterday that a deputy director general at Statistics South Africa, Dr Jairo Arrow, had gone on early retirement last Friday after facing a disciplinary hearing for “dereliction of duty and gross incompetence”.
Another senior statistician who had been responsible for the results of the census post-enumeration survey, Marlize Pistorius, is also facing a disciplinary hearing which resumes next month, he said.
Jarrow and Pistorius have both declined to comment.
The post-enumeration survey is a second, smaller population count to determine the undercount – and therefore by how much the initial census results have to be adjusted – to arrive at the final count.
Lehohla said the root of the action against the two were “methodological and computational irregularities” which, left unaddressed, “would have provided wrong figures of the census by province as well as a wrong national total figure”.
Two independent statisticians from the University of Cape Town, Tom Moultrie and Rob Dorrington, have publicly raised questions over the integrity of the post-enumeration survey and question the reliability of the final count.
Lehohla denied, however, that the drama involving the two officials in any way compromised the integrity of the census results.
He said disciplinary notices were issued to them on 7 December last year.
Lehohla said: “As the Statistician-General, when Dr Arrow and Ms Pistorius presented me with the Census [post-enumeration survey] results in mid-July, after applying my mind, I immediately pointed to the incoherence of the algebraic behaviour in the results,” Lehohla said.
He said he also made the independent Statistics Council of South Africa and international experts aware of these anomalies.
He said he had “repeatedly” asked Arrow and Pistorius to get to the root of the problem, before identifying the problem himself on 3 August last year.
He then asked the two to “fix” it, “provid[ing] further resources to assist them, but more importantly to supervise them, given the gravity of the methodological and computational irregularities and their implications on a R3.4 billion project”.
“Ms Pistorius and Dr Arrow argued that the results they presented to me in July would not change,” he said.
He said he removed them and brought others into work on the project.
“The evidence is that the results they presented were totally wrong and there were methodological and computational errors in what they presented to me,” said Lehohla.
Sources claim that Arrow went over Lehohla’s head and asked Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to intervene.
Lehohla claimed Arrow had made “derogatory insinuations” of which he became aware later.
“As you may well be aware, the census results are critical for the management of democracy. They are used for the annual allocation of about R350 billion of the national fiscus. As such any one charged with this responsibility is conscious of the depth of responsibility for undertaking this task.”
Arrow was due to retire at the end of January and had presented Lehohla with a written apology before taking early retirement last Friday, he said.
Presented with Lehohla’s version of events, statistician Prof. Tom Moultrie said: “The timeline of events described speaks to the possibility – and our documented concern – that the results of the census were rushed, given that it is now revealed that the [post-enumeration survey] process was reopened some two months before the results were signed off by Statistics Council in October 2012…”
Moultrie said he and his colleague continued to have concerns about the plausibility of aspects of the Census relating, for example, to the age distribution in the population and fertility trends.