An informal survey of the usability of the statistical data produced by the South African authorities was conducted by IMF staff among key users of economic statistics. The survey was conducted by personal interview and mail sample survey. In general, users were satisfied with the quality of statistics and the availability of topical areas of statistics. Users viewed the coverage, periodicity and timeliness of statistics to be appropriate for economic analysis. Users also indicated that significant improvements had been made in terms of availability of statistics during the past few years. Overall, users’ views were consistent with the findings of the mission, and the main areas for improvement are broadly in line with the proposals suggested by the IMF staff as well as with the statistical data development program being put in place by the authorities, based on earlier users’ feed back.
Specific questions were asked regarding the quality of balance of payments, monetary, fiscal, national accounts, price, and labor market statistics. In this connection, respondents mentioned, in particular, national accounts, labor market, and external trade as areas that could be improved.
In national accounts, some users indicated a requirement for regional estimates of GDP, preferably on an annual basis. (It should be mentioned that the Stats SA work program calls for the development of provincial GDP estimates, and Stats SA conducted a workshop in March 2001 on this and other national accounts issues.)
Criticisms were expressed on labor market statistics regarding coverage and accuracy. Coverage of employment statistics should be expanded to include data for business services, and the household-based labor force survey program should ensure the availability of information on the informal sector and the self-employed. (In this connection, as noted above, Stats SA is conducting a new labor force survey of households that should help improve labor market statistics.) Users, while recognizing the scientific design of the household survey, questioned the reliability of survey results mainly because of the professionalism of the field workers employed in survey data collection.
Regarding external trade statistics, users expressed the view that customs data should be improved to reflect more accurate information. Some users questioned the coverage of trade statistics, considering (i) the size of the unclassified items category, and (ii) the procedures of customs clearance, resulting possibly in serious smuggling problems (especially in Durban). The system of customs documents should be improved in order to reduce the large unclassified category.
On fiscal data, users would like coverage to be expanded from general government to the nonfinancial public sector.
While users found the analytical and conceptual frameworks on which statistical aggregates and data categories were based to be expressed clearly, some felt that would be desirable to present more detail on data analysis and assessment for professional statisticians and economists in official publications, including the SARB’s Quarterly Bulletin. Some users would like to have better access to, and more details on, methodology, including that used for seasonal adjustments and revisions of data.
The mission team was led by Wipada Soonthornsima, and comprised Natalia Ivanik, Teresa Villacres (all of the IMF’s Statistics Department), and Anna Ansmits (expert). Charles Enoch (Senior Advisor of the IMF’s Statistics Department) joined the mission from May 12, 2001.
A detailed description of the SDDS can be found on the IMF’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board on the Internet at http://dsbb.imf.org.
The SDDS allows subscribers the use of two flexibility options in recognition of differences in economic structures and institutional arrangements across countries, i.e., for up to two data categories, a subscriber may avail itself of flexibility provisions with respect to periodicity and timeliness.
These data categories are national accounts on a production basis, production index, labor market indicators, consumer and producer price indices, central government debt, and merchandise trade.
As of September 2001, all summary methodology statements submitted by the authorities have been posted on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board.
Monitoring is carried out against the release dates stated in the advance release calendars and the metadata, i.e., to verify not only that the data are released according to the calendar but also that the data disseminated correspond to the metadata posted on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board. Other elements of the SDDS are on a self-disclosure basis by subscribers, that is, the subscribers are asked to confirm on a quarterly basis that their descriptions of their practices are accurate.
Information on data quality could be found at the IMF web site on the “Data Quality Reference Site” (http://dsbb.imf.org/dqrs.index.htm).