Statistics South Africa is not immune to the State capture project, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas said on Thursday.
The warning comes as Statistician-General Pali Lehohla is set to step down in October, after 17 years in charge of Stats SA.
If his replacement is part of the State capture project, Gordhan and Jonas said, then the country could see false statistics regarding the country’s inflation rate in a bid to reinforce specific viewpoints held by those in power.
They were speaking at the Morningstar Investment Conference in Cape Town.
Gordhan referred to an example where this occurred in South America, without naming the country.
In 2011, The Economist reported how Argentina began falsifying inflation figures in 2007. While the country said inflation was at 10%, it was in fact soaring at 25%. This cost inflation-linked bonds $2.3-billion in 2010.
“Those are distortions which South Africa is not known for and must not enter our scene,” said Gordhan.
“We seldom think it can be a problem,” added Jonas, “but imagine it pushes out stats that are false.”
However, Gordhan said Stats SA is not on “the top list” for those who are a part of the State capture project. “The Treasury business has just started,” he said, in a dig at his successor Malusi Gigaba.
“The Financial Intelligence Centre and the SA Reserve Bank are also higher up on the list.”
Regarding Gigaba’s announcement that he has asked Public Investment Corporation (PIC) chairperson Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi to conduct an inquiry into the State-owned investment body, Gordhan said: “Every step taken by Gigaba has to be watched very carefully. Keep asking, why is this happening?”
There are allegations that Buthelezi is aiming to remove PIC CEO Dan Matjila, which he denies. The former PIC chairperson, Jonas said the modus operandi of State capture includes removing management and board members so that those in power can place “compliant people” in these crucial roles.
“There needs to be a focus on the PIC CEO,” he said. “Vigilance is important.”