The South African Statistics Council, an advisory body that endorses the releases of data by Stats SA, has threatened to resign as a measure of last resort if the national statistical agency does not receive more funding and fill frozen posts.
The council, which is appointed by the minister in the presidency, advises the minister and Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke on issues concerned with the production and use of official statistics. The council also endorses statistics produced by Stats SA.
"Stats SA right now is at a tipping point. The warning lights are flashing red, and government needs to act swiftly if South Africa is to retain a robust and innovative Stats SA," said Professor David Everatt, the council's chairperson, in a statement on behalf of the council.
Everatt said that in 2015 Stats SA had R160m stripped from its budget, while all its posts were frozen.
"Both have remained in place since that point. By early 2020, the situation has reached crisis point. The vacancy rate has climbed to almost 20% - that is, every 5th position is vacant, and many staff are thus taking on their own job and work that should be done by others."
He said that, due to staff shortages, working a 6 or 7 day week has become common.
"The South African Statistics Council unanimously call on government to heed our call and inject funds into Stats SA. If not, Council will withdraw our support for official statistics, and resign."
'Ambitious staff look outside Stats SA'
Everatt said the freeze on posts meant that no promotions were possible, and no vacancies were being filled.
"As a result, ambitious staff look outside Stats SA, and exciting young graduates no longer see Stats SA as employer of choice for their post-graduate training."
Stats SA was not a "state capture bail-out candidate," he said, noting that it receives regular clean audits.
"It is very difficult to understand why a respected, reliable and important institution, that plays by the rules and is praised by the Auditor-General, is in effect punished by government while those deeply implicated in state capture receive bail-outs of massive proportions," he said.
The chairperson said that, if Stats SA is not able to "fill posts with skilled people, keep sample sizes up, and innovate", the council will be "forced to withdraw support for official statistics".
"This is the very worst option for everyone in South Africa – but Council either endorses the release of data everyone can trust, or Council stops because we cannot endorse data we mistrust."
Fin24 approached the minister in the presidency for comment on Tuesday morning. This will be added to the article as soon as it is received.