Red-faced South Africans seek statistical help

April 22, 2005

Statistics South Africa, the country's official data agency, is mounting a global search for staff after errors made in calculating economic figures undermined its credibility.

Pali Lehohla, the Statistician-General, blamed a 13-year hiatus in training statisticians since the end of apartheid and vowed to improve the quality of Statistics SA work. One measure is to recruit foreign statisticians to fill vacancies.

There are also plans to establish a statistical institute to improve statistician training.

Earlier this year, the agency published figures on manufacturing production that left out one industrial subcategory. Not long after that, it made an error in data-capturing that overstated by 50,000 the number of people employed in an economic subsector.

National pride is at stake as South Africa will host a Commonwealth statistical conference in September and the International Statistical Institute's 57th biennial session in 2009.

National universities and other countries are being trawled for statisticians -Statistics SA needs to recruit 60 people a year for several years to fill 300 staff vacancies. Mr Lehohla also searched in the UK, Canada and Australia for a retired statistician to become deputy director-general of Statistics SA.

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