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National Assembly Gives Green Light to Statistics Amendment Bill for Enhanced Government Data Collection

Published February 29, 2024
4 months ago

The National Assembly of South Africa recently approved the Statistics Amendment Bill, a significant legislative move aiming to strengthen the arm of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in its data collection and analysis capabilities. This enhancement is designed to funnel credible and precise statistics to the government to aid policy-making and national development.

Stats SA's mission is to lead the development and coordination of the National Statistics System (NSS), which is central to the country's statistical service delivery. The NSS is a strategic system that one can envisage as the backbone for an information-driven society. In essence, it will create a coherent, reliable, and comprehensive suite of information resources, mapping the social, economic, and general landscape of South Africa.

The passing of this Bill comes at a crucial time when the integrity of data collection and the protection of private information are under increasing scrutiny. Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Itiseng Moroleng, addressed these concerns head-on, particularly those expressed by opposition parties. The opposition voiced their unease over the potential risks associated with data privacy in the collection process.

In a robust response, Moroleng highlighted the government's unwavering commitment to ensure the data collection process is secure and not susceptible to criminal activity. He stated: "We will not allow ourselves to be distracted from the responsibility of government by criminals and criminal behaviour, and if you believe that, we should not have access to private homes purely because of criminal activities, then you don't understand the burden of leadership in this country."

Moroleng's words resonate with a strong leadership stance and a clear intention to maintain the integrity of the national statistical system while also emphasizing the importance of statistics in responsible governance.

In December of the previous year, the nation was assured by Stats SA that the information gathered from any of its surveys would remain confidential and would not be shared with third parties. This declaration was in response to a noteworthy request from the Reserve Bank of South Africa for detailed information about private businesses—an inquiry that sparked a conversation about the limits of data sharing.

The Reserve Bank, notable for its written comment on the Bill, had raised important discussions about the necessity of access to comprehensive data for the functions of the central bank. Stats SA's denial to share survey-collected information has highlighted a tension between the requirements for data privacy and the needs of various state agencies for comprehensive data to fulfill their institutional roles.

Now approved, the Statistics Amendment Bill signifies an advancement in the government's approach to collecting and utilizing data. It anticipates an improved National Statistics System designed not just for today but for a future where data becomes increasingly crucial in decision-making processes.

The safeguarding of information remains a highly delicate area involving rigorous controls to balance the necessary openness with respect for individual privacy. Moving forward, Stats SA will likely continue to investigate and employ cutting-edge methods and technologies that both enhance data quality and protect data privacy.

To date, the implications of the Statistics Amendment Bill have been met with a mixture of hope for improved policy-making based on robust data, and concerns about privacy and the potential abuse of power. It remains critical for Stats SA and the government to maintain transparency about the means by which data will be collected, processed, and stored, to foster public trust and cooperation.

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