Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Stats SA ‘throttled’ by budget cuts, requires extra funding to combat brain drain

For years Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) has been trying to survive a “brain drain”. And on Wednesday, parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration cautioned the treasury about the effects its budget-saving recommendations would have on the body’s capacity to operate effectively.

After being briefed by the Statistics Council, the statistician general, and the treasury during the meeting, acting chairperson of the portfolio committee Mina Lesoma stated that it would call for additional funding for the organisation because Stats SA’s statistics are vital in informing evidence-based planning.

The treasury has advised Stats SA on budget-saving recommendations after the latest budget cuts to the organisation. These recommendations include reducing the number of district officers, outsourcing field services and reducing the number of vehicles for field workers.

However, according to the South African Statistics Council’s Professor David Everatt, the reduction of field services and workers will have a drastic effect on Stats SA’s operating ability. Stats SA cannot consider small sample sizes in surveys, because this would result in official statistical results being regarded as unreliable, Everatt told the portfolio committee meeting.

The committee cautioned against the treasury’s recommendation to Stats SA to outsource fieldwork services after Stats SA told the committee that, if it were to outsource its fieldwork, “it would be cutting off its legs as outsourcing will cost more to pay consultants”.

Last year, Everatt issued a statement on behalf of the council that spoke to the importance of statistical results, and the detrimental effects of the brain drain at Stats SA. He stated that if the government does not provide the funding needed, the council would have to withdraw its official statistics support.  

The council said it will not be able to endorse untrustworthy data. “This is the very worst option for everyone in South Africa, but the council either endorses the release of data everyone can trust, or the council stops because we cannot endorse data we mistrust,” Everatt said in the statement. 

Stats SA is the only source of official statistics in South Africa. If the organisation is inadequately funded, it cannot produce official statistics, which will discourage international investors and hamper reliable planning data for domestic businesses. 

Last year, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian, statistician general Risenga Maluleke said democracy would flounder without accurate statistics. He said a significant amount of resources go into collecting information for surveys, including the hiring and training of field workers, and providing them with equipment such as vehicles and telephones.


On Wednesday, Maluleke told the portfolio committee that “in the last four years, Stats SA could not appoint or promote staff”. Employees of Stats SA also lacked sufficient compensation during that time, leading to a high staff turnover because of the department’s lack of prospects and promotions. This leaves Stats SA sitting at a 20% vacancy rate. “Stats SA is losing well-experienced employees,” said Maluleke.

Stats SA has experienced budget cuts since the 2015-16 financial year. The budget cuts have also affected the continuation of specific critical surveys. 

Treasury deputy director general for public finance Mampho Modise told the portfolio committee that cuts are necessary given the country’s budgetary constraints. She did, however, say that R3-billion had been set aside for the 2021 census survey, but the portfolio committee noted that this was insufficient for the entire project. 

Data in the census, which is the most significant undertaking of the organisation, is used to ensure government funds and services are distributed fairly, delineate electoral districts and measure the effects of industrial development. The data contained in the census is also used to determine the unemployment rate.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Aliyah Price
A University of Cape Town social science graduate, who is in the process of completing the ASRI Futures Leaders programme and an externship programme through the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

Zambia should commit to tackling toxic lead mine’s legacy

Residents of Kabwe have been poisoned for decades and now UN experts have called for an urgent clean-up

Government proclaims 27 October for local elections, but supports...

The IEC has accepted former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke’s recommendation to postpone the vote to February, but still needs Constitutional Court approval to do so

ANC Free State endorses three names for Mangaung mayor

The three candidates the province has put forward are said to be Ramaphosa supporters, who will further alienate Magashule from his power base

ANC’s provincial executive committee endorses three candidates for Joburg mayor...

Sources say that the PEC gave the nod to the three names put forward by the Johannesburg regional executive committee

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…