PROFILE: Risenga Maluleke — a Number One SA can count on
The new statistician-general is widely respected for his experience and integrity, and is seen as responsible, focused on service and wary of political interference
At a time when state capture has hollowed out so many crucial state institutions — and Stats SA and the Reserve Bank remain among the few entities untouched — the appointment of the new statistician-general has been keenly watched.
SA’s official statistics are not faultless, but they are independent and credible. Significant steps have also been taken in recent years to improve the robustness of some of the most important indicators, including consumer inflation and gross domestic product.
So economists breathed a sigh of relief when Pali Lehohla, the previous statistician-general, said he was "distinctly pleased" by president Jacob Zuma’s choice of Risenga Maluleke as his replacement.
Maluleke was Stats SA’s deputy director-general for statistical collections and outreach. He has served within Stats SA for 20 years, having joined the agency as a manager at the Limpopo provincial office in 1997.
Lehohla describes Maluleke as "a well-tested professional" and a "servant-leader" who is fair and balanced in all his dealings. He also has "enduring strength" and is "ready to take on any adversity", says Lehohla, perhaps as a warning to those who might still think of trying to capture the institution.
Maluleke worked very closely with Lehohla and travelled regularly to the major international statistical gatherings. There is no question that he holds a deep appreciation of the need for a nation’s statistical agency to be free from political interference.
"He has a high degree of support and is independent," confirms Rashad Cassim, the Reserve Bank’s head of research and a former deputy director-general of economic statistics at Stats SA.
The key thing now is how Maluleke lives up to his challenges.
Given the stiff budget cuts that have been proposed, it will be important that Maluleke prioritises the limited resources at his disposal to ensure that Stats SA focuses on the compilation of quality statistics that matter the most for SA’s growth and development.
"We are in ongoing discussion and negotiation about the veracity of the budget cuts ... and we are confident that we will find a solution that will make it possible to continue to produce the kind of data that this country needs and expects from us," says Maluleke.
Since he has worked at the organisation for a long time and the rest of the executive leadership remains in place, Maluleke doesn’t expect the strategic orientation of the agency to change significantly under his leadership.
"We will, however, embark on a mid-term strategic review within the next two to three months wherein we will be reprioritising our deliverables given the fiscal constraints," Maluleke says. "A key strategic priority ... is to ensure that Stats SA will maintain the delivery and quality of its basic statistics."
In addition, the agency has embarked on a digital migration strategy. The first phase includes the transition from paper-based data collection to computer-assisted interviews. Maluleke is confident that this will bring about savings and greater efficiencies in the near future.
Maluleke’s qualifications include a BSc in mathematical statistics from the University of Limpopo and an MPhil in urban and regional science from the University of Stellenbosch.
He has also completed senior executive programmes with Wits and Harvard universities’ business schools.
His appointment took effect from November 1 and will run for five years.