Address by President Jacob Zuma at the 57th Session of the International Statistical Institute (ISI); Durban

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hon Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize;
Hon Minister of the National Planning Commission,
Mr Trevor Manuel;
The Mayor of eThekwini Mr Obed Mlaba;
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla;
The President of the ISI Denise Lievesley;
Chairperson of Statistics Council,
Mr Howard Gabriels;
President of South African Statistics Association,
(SASA) Dr Khangelani Zuma,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to interact with members of one of the oldest scientific organisations in the world.
We appreciate the fact that you have come to our shores.

Ladies and gentlemen, the country is mourning the passing on of Professor Thamsanqa Khambule, an outstanding mathematician and accomplished steward of Stats SA.
We extend our condolences to his family and to Stats SA and entire fraternity.

His contribution to the development of mathematics as a discipline in disadvantaged communities will be eternally appreciated.

Let me reiterate that we are truly pleased to host more than 2 500 elected members from more than 130 countries.

We do not take for granted the fact that in 2003 you decided to bring your biennial sitting to sub-Saharan Africa for the first time in the institute's 124-year history.

This indicates your commitment to African and world statistical progress and to supporting much-needed development in the world.

It is wonderful to see that this commitment is finding expression in that, for the first time, one-quarter of all delegates are from Africa.

The discussions around Africa's developmental agenda must provide a new direction in debates regarding statistical capacity-building on the African continent.

Esteemed delegates,

You are assembled here because you seek solutions to the challenges that affect the world today.

These include the global economic crisis, food insecurity, poverty, climate change and many others.

The solutions can be found through cooperation, global dialogue and, importantly, coordinated action, which is what this conference is about.

There are issues that affect people's daily lives that need to be measured.
These issues include broad demographic patterns, features of urbanisation and the implications for water, sanitation, energy, transport and so on.
The world economic meltdown, which began in developed economies, also dictates that statisticians search for solutions which will benefit all nations.

The economic crisis poses serious dangers to the development of low income countries, particularly in Africa.

Demand for African exports has dropped, investment flows have declined, the cost of borrowing has increased, and remittances from Africans abroad are expected to decrease.

Unless decisive action is taken, the crisis may set back recent economic and social progress on the continent, including progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Several African countries, including South Africa, have undertaken measures to minimise the impact of the crisis.

These include fiscal stimulus packages, revising expenditure, targeting assistance to key sectors, and strengthening financial regulation.

South Africa supports a global response to the crisis to restore stability. A sustainable, longer term response needs to be pursued through the United Nations, IMF, World Bank and other multilateral institutions.

In our view, the capacity of the multilateral financial institutions to respond to the crisis has been inadequate.

We have therefore called for a significant increase in resources for these institutions, and an increase in the representation of developing countries.

The increase in resources will enable these institutions to provide better forecasting, planning, monitoring and evaluation.

This will no doubt include efficient statistical data gathering and analysis to assist recovery, especially in the developing world.

Through professionals such as yourselves, we can ensure that the world never again finds itself with problems it should have foreseen.

The need for macro-economic and social information is more important than ever before.
These include details of economic growth, price stability, demographics, population dynamics, poverty employment and job creation.

Esteemed delegates,

The importance of statistics for development is a continental priority.

During the 12th Summit of African Heads of State and Government, member states were called upon to sign and ratify the African Charter on Statistics.

The Charter provides a regulatory framework for statistical development on the African continent.
Developing countries rely on statisticians to provide trends and information that will guide planning for socio-economic development.

The African Charter emphasises evidence-based decision making to guide the African Union in accelerating integration and to implement development programmes that combat poverty.
The AU notes that to meet the continental development challenges, member states require a robust statistical data system which provides reliable, comprehensive and harmonized statistical information on the continent.

At a regional level, the Southern African Development community (SADC) statistics programme aims to ensure the harmonization of statistics among member states as well as the coordination of regional statistics on many matters.

These include foreign trade, population, commodity prices, gender, agriculture, education, employment and development programmes.

The SADC Human Development Indicators show that the region is characterised by medium human development levels and falling levels of human progress, with poverty constraining the quality of life.

Reliable information is therefore needed to enable us to implement strategies towards achieving the ideals of the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the Millennium Development goals.

These include investing in African human capital, which embrace capacity building and reversing the so-called "Brain Drain".

The overarching Millennium Development goal, as most of us know, is halving poverty by 2014 and we need accurate facts.

We all know that your field is fraught with controversy and intellectual wars. Everyone has their own view of what the figures should show on any topic be it education, crime or health.
South Africans will tell you about ongoing quarrels over crime statistics, infant or mother mortality rates and other contentious issues.

Governments and politicians rely heavily on official statistics to make informed decisions.
On the other hand, opposition parties and various pressure groups and non-governmental organisations normally use the statistics to attack governments.

This makes the work of statisticians very difficult as their output will always be questioned.
A solution should be possible. Improved communication and cooperation between the various role-players will help to build confidence in both statistics and policy-making.

In our view, there is nothing that stops statisticians in academia and other areas from working with government statisticians to advance methods of collection, compilation and interpretation of statistics.

This would be done for the good of the country concerned.

In this way, official statistics would not be questioned by pressure groups in a manner that challenges their credibility and hampers their use.

Another point to ponder is the fact that information in the world is moving at a very fast pace.
Questions continue to be asked about whether statisticians can measure up to the pace at which demand for information manifests itself.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are meeting during Women's Month in our country.
Last week we commemorated an important milestone in our history. On the 9th of August 1956, about 20 000 women marched to the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Tshwane, Pretoria.

They marched in protest against the then hated system of pass laws.
As a country we continue to work tirelessly to improve the status of women in our society.
This conference reminds us of an area we must still work on much more vociferously, that of promoting mathematics and statistics among girl children in schools from a very early age.
It is important therefore to make the subject attractive to the youth.

The manner in which you, as statisticians, illuminate and communicate the complex subject of statistics should be simplified.

This would help us all to interest young people in studying this subject and related ones such as mathematics, geography, economics, science and technology. We therefore urge you not to frighten children!

We are pleased that ISI 2009 will serve as a springboard for leaving a lasting legacy of statistical development on the African continent.

It is thus significant that more than 300 promising young delegates from the statistical community in developing countries have been funded to attend ISI 2009.

We also commend your contribution through the work of the International Association for Statistics Education in organising the ISIbalo International Statistical Literacy Competition.
This will help to promote and increase the interest of the youth in statistics education.

We are already encouraged by the fact that more than 7 000 South African pupils from 126 schools, comprising of primary and secondary schools, sat for the first phase of the ISLP competition in July 2008.

It was equally significant to see more than 2 000 young people from 17 high schools from six countries, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Swaziland, in the SADC region participate in this competition.

Such developments will boost the new interest in statistical development by African countries.
You have quite an intensive programme ahead of you. You will generate mountains of information, as 1600 papers will be presented on more than 300 themes.

Your areas of focus are very crucial at this time in the world - from Statistics in Finance; to Statistical issues relating to climate change; Biostatistics in Health; Sport Statistics and Statistics in Africa.

It is not surprising that you will be running 60 different sessions a day, in order to cover all these very important issues.

We are confident that this conference will respond positively to the needs of the peoples of the world.

It will make a significant contribution to the fight against poverty and hunger, and the ongoing struggle for peace, stability and development.

At this juncture, I should perhaps take the liberty to remind you that this city is one of the proud hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament.

Your host province, KwaZulu-Natal, is the first in South Africa to launch a provincial 2010 FIFA soccer tournament website, which will be most useful to you for information on provincial attractions.

We look forward to welcoming you back in the country next year to enjoy one of the best soccer World Cup tournaments the world has ever seen.

Esteemed delegates,

It is my pleasure and honour to declare the 57th Session of the ISI open.
Let me also take this opportunity to wish Ireland well as it takes over the baton as host for 58Th Session to be held in Dublin.

I wish you successful deliberations.

I thank you.