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Stats SA forced to overspend to keep the wheels turning, Statistician General Maluleke tells Parly

Statistician-General of South Africa, Risenga Maluleke at a media briefing held at the Ronnie Mamoepa Media Centre, Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria.

Statistician-General of South Africa, Risenga Maluleke at a media briefing held at the Ronnie Mamoepa Media Centre, Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria.

  • Statistics South Africa spent a total of R243 million on compensation of employees and had 186 critical vacancies.
  • National Treasury told Parliament that it gave Stats SA as much as it could, but the body maintains it can barely cover salaries.
  • Stats SA has said the financial constraints could jeopardise its surveys, including the National Census.

The ongoing jostling between National Treasury and Statistics South Africa over much-needed financial resources made a pitstop at the legislature when the two institutions hashed out their grievances before members of Parliament.

At issue has been a series of allocations to Stats SA from National Treasury, which the former says are not sufficient to support institution in its critical work, including surveys and the compilation of economic, household and social data which government uses to make informed policy decisions.

However, since taking the helm at National Treasury, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has maintained that there is not enough money in the fiscus to go around and that South Africa is in financial dire straits.

In his Budget Speech in February, Mboweni announced statistical coordination and legislative reform allocation of R126.6 million to Stats SA over the medium-term, with R93.1 million earmarked for spending on compensation of employees. 

Mboweni said this expenditure was also expected to assist in “developing a national statistics  strategy, enhancing statistical coordination and the provision of statistical support”.  

The result has been contentious operations amid dwindling resources for Stats SA which the organisation blames on insufficient allocation, while National Treasury continues to insist that that Stats SA continue cutting costs to free up enough resources to do its work. Stats SA currently has about 186 critical vacancies.

National Treasury deputy director general for public finance Mampho Modise told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration that in the 2019 medium-term expenditure framework R105.8 million was allocated to statistics for the Continuous Population Survey to be carried out in the 2021-22 financial year.

She said in the 2020 medium-term expenditure framework, R154.4 million was allocated to deal with compensation pressures and fill critical positions, while R150 million in 2020-21, R60 million in 2021-22 and R109 million in 2022-23 were allocated to run the poverty surveys and R3.5 billion was allocated in 2020-21 and 2021-22 for activities relating to the National Census 2021.

“The National Treasury and Stats SA have been engaging over the years in an effort to find an appropriate solution for the budget challenges within the department. We have made additional allocations to Stats SA over time,” said Modise.

Modise said due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the surveys that the department had scheduled for 2020-21, such as the pilot for Census 2021 and the Income and Expenditure Survey, have had to be postponed to future dates.

“Although the department indicates to still have critical positions that it needs to fill, it has been able to advertise senior positions in 2020/21. The budget challenges in the department also necessitated the National Treasury to conduct a spending review of the department’s compensation of employees spending,” Modise said.

Modise said possible savings could be derived from strictly implementing the Department of Public Works’ prescribed norms for the use of office space to the tune of R42 million per annum. She said the cost of vehicle and fleet services could be halved if the ratio of four fieldworkers per vehicle was implemented in the use of its vehicles for all household surveys conducted in provinces.

Deputy Minister in the Presidency Thembi Siweya said it was critical to give Stats SA as much support as possible as it remained committed to ensuring that the institution stayed independent and able to continue doing its work.

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke said Stats SA’s unauthorised expenditure balance increased to R172 million, mainly as a result of overspending on the earmarked compensation of employees’ budget, was not a purchase of extravagance as Stats SA needed all the staff it had and then some.

“We overspend without even getting to fill critical vacancies because the money that we get is not enough to pay salaries for staff that are already in the organisation. That is why we spend on overcompensation of employees,” said Maluleke.

According to the 2019-20 annual report of Stats SA, the total expenditure spent on the compensation of employees amounted of R243 million. Maluleke said the consequences of a Stats SA that could not perform its 58 main surveys at optimal levels would be dire for the institution and government’s capacity to respond to statistics with informed policy.

“If we demobilise staff we cannot afford, it will cause instability in the public service. As of now we have staff who have been with Stats SA for the last 10 to 30 years. Come April, we do not have enough to pay their salaries so when the new year kicks in we will start it overpaying on salaries,” Maluleke said.

Stats SA deputy director general of corporate services Bruce Jooste said Stats SA had already returned scores of vehicles to service providers to cut costs on motor vehicle expenses and renegotiating property use at various offices to reduced footage in order to save money.

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