Senior census officials exposed

2013-01-27 10:00

2011 survey’s integrity could be compromised

Statistician-general Pali Lehohla yesterday revealed that two senior Stats SA officials involved in the R3.4 billion national census have faced disciplinary charges over alleged irregularities that could have bungled the entire survey.

The admission comes amid months of criticism from some statisticians who have been questioning the validity of the final count and talk of behind-the-scenes drama over the census survey done in 2011, which is critical to government policy making and budgeting.

Lehohla confirmed to Media24 Investigations that a deputy director-general at Stats SA, 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, said Lehohla.

Arrow 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, if 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 the reliability of the final count.

Lehohla denied, however, that the drama involving Jarrow and Pistorius in any way compromised the integrity of the census results, adding that disciplinary notices were issued to them on December 7.

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.”

He said he also made the independent Statistics Council of SA and international experts aware of these anomalies.

Lehohla said he had “repeatedly” asked Arrow and Pistorius to get to the root of the problem, before identifying the problem himself on August 3 last year.

He then asked the two to “fix” it, “providing 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, adding that he removed them from their positions and brought in other people to 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,” he added.

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 only became aware later on.

“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,” he said.

“As such, anyone charged with this responsibility is conscious of the depth of responsibility for

undertaking this task.”

Arrow was due to retire at the end of this month and had presented Lehohla with a written apology before taking early retirement last Friday, he said.

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