Statistics is considered a rather complex issue. This is largely due to its association with a lot of numbers and our history has shown that not many are too inclined to love, or be comfortable, with numbers.
However, statistics is much more than numbers. It actually presents not just data but one can make sense of it by attaching significance to it. Most of that significance is related to information about certain situations. Such situations are analysed based on what the statistics dictate. There is no doubt that one would want such statistics to be accurate and reliable.
The Namibia Statistics Agency has committed itself to provide timely, relevant, accurate and credible statistics. However, over the past few weeks doubts have been cast over this credibility after an analysis of the 2012/13 Youth Employment and Unemployment report was retracted.
Immediately on people’s minds were questions as to why this was done and what led to such. In many quarters people asked how credible our future and current statistics can be if we retract statistics provided. In some quarters there were even speculation over whether politicians had a hand in the retraction of such data. The insinuation is that the stats did not satisfy them and hence it should be rather retracted.
Besides the view on damaging the credibility of the institution and the data, the other views do no hold much water. The NSA was created for the very purpose of establishing independence between statistics and politics. The aim of this was to remove all potential suspicion that there is collaboration between the two.
On that matter, the public should rest assured that the NSA has nothing to benefit from producing wrong, inaccurate or cooked statistics. It does not do the agency any good and neither does it do any good to those that lead the country. If those that lead the country are happy to receive wrong statistics they do a great disservice to themselves and the public.
Wrong statistics bring about wrong planning, wrong allocation of resources, wrong visions and wrong diagnoses of the challenges that lie ahead. We at the agency hence rest assured that it is not in the interest of politicians to receive wrong statistics.
Wrong statistics are not even good for us. Who would we try to fool if we make concerted efforts to provide wrong statistics? Would we be fooling ourselves, or others? With regards to fooling oneself, that is the height of madness. Fooling others is not sustainable. You cannot fool all the people all the time, and your chances of being caught out are guaranteed. The NSA thus has no incentive to provide incorrect data.
Last week we had to retract a published report. Although not desirable, it was the correct thing to do and there is nothing wrong with that practice. Statistics are produced and when errors are detected these are corrected.
I will give an example of manufacturers of vehicles. We often hear that vehicles have been recalled, because they have a defect. Now, assuming those defects are created either on purpose or by accident, they are detrimental to the manufacturer.
It is not in their best interest to allow malfunctioning vehicles to roam the streets. The smart, wise and correct thing is to acknowledge the malfunction and address it, no matter how painful. At the end of the day it is the correct thing to do.
The nation should rest assured that the labour force data on employment and unemployment has never changed. It is contained in the Labour Force Survey released in March this year and the nation is encouraged to continue using it.
What was retracted is the analysis of the trends of youth employment and unemployment, where defects in the calculations were spotted.
The NSA remains committed to its mandate of producing accurate, reliable, timely and relevant statistics. That mandate remains unchanged. Let us continue using statistics. There is no need to fear them, as our statistics remain relevant and credible.
*Iipumbu Sakaria is the deputy director for Strategic Communications at the Namibia Statistics Agency.