Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Statistics Botswana should gather “suitable” data on joblessness

This week, Tuesday to be precise, the government statistics agency ÔÇô Statistics Botswana released its 2015/16 Multi topic Household Survey.

The agency Chief Executive, Anna Majelantle told journalists in the capital Gaborone that due to the extensive data that was collected and the need for detailed analysis, Statistics Botswana adopted a modular approach to the release of the survey results. As a result, on Tuesday the agency presented indicators relating to the country’s labour force, employment size, employment by occupation and industry, unemployment rates, employment levels by training and district among others. Of all the indicators presented as part of the outcome of the survey, much interest from the nation seems to be on the unemployment rate. This is expected given the fact that apart from poverty, unemployment has proven to be Batswana’s number one enemy. The dignity of our people has been lowered due to this monster. Perhaps that even explains why some of our people are suggesting that although numbers generally do not lie, this time around they have been made to lie. As it stands, all that the nation needs is an expert who would come up with evidence that shows that the recent official unemployment numbers are misleading. The numbers do not necessarily paint a perfect picture of what happened in 2015/16 or what could be happening now.

For her part, Majelantle, in the survey’s executive summary made it very clear that while carrying their research, her subordinates at Statistics Botswana were much interested on unemployed persons who did not do any work in the seven (7) days preceding the survey period. The survey period we have been told was between November 2015 and November 2016. This is a critical information that Majelantle should point everyone to. Majelantle and her team should come out and simplify the outcome of their survey to the nation. The figures contained in the 2015/16 Multi topic Household Survey ÔÇô Labour sector do not necessarily reflect what was on the ground then, and what the country feels now. To many of our people who desperately need to know the real numbers of unemployment, these new figures were just made to make government look like a hero.

The problem with this new record (estimated at 17.7 percent for population aged 15 years and above and 17.6 percent for population aged 18 years and above) is the agency’s definition of unemployment. Like it’s the case elsewhere in the world, Statistics Botswana’s definition of “unemployment” seems to be relying on a fiction that economists tell themselves about the nature of work. For decades, economists have agreed on an artificial definition of what unemployment means. Their argument is that people who are taking time off, or have given up looking for work, or work at home to look after their family, don’t count as part of the workforce. For Statisticians at the national agency it’s even worse because they even went as far as limiting respondents to seven days as the guideline of the period they did not do any work. This could only give a misleading interpretation and it creates a gap between what researchers at Statistics Botswana understand as “unemployment” and how ordinary people actually experience it in the real world. It is not helpful for a government agency to announce that we have low “unemployment” when in the real world actual unemployment may be double or three times as high as the official rate. It’s ridiculous to tell policy makers or even investors that there is improvement in employment rate when one out of every five people do not work, or three out of every 20 need jobs. What Statistics Botswana needs to do, as they rightfully announced on Tuesday, is to ensure that they speed up the process of making the unemployment rates updates very often, quarterly as done in other countries would do. This would make sense on why they were even made autonomous a few years back. After all what would have been the use of divorcing it from government when it is still operating like a government department?

The agency needs to move with times and give the people the kind of statistics they need. What we have been given this week was of no use to anyone, atleast in our view. I mean who exactly needs the information that only shows number of people who did not do any work for a short period preceding a survey? This is a kind of survey, conducted perhaps, as stated above to have the government look like a hero. It gives a wrong impression that the government is winning against the people’s umber one enemy – unemployment. We all know that is not true. The #Bottomline is that the nation needs to band together to arrest the unemployment problem. This can only be a success if key institutions like Statistics Botswana do not waste resources to collect unnecessary data but rather focus on giving timely and accurate statistics which could be of use to policy makers, business community and prospective investors. Numbers should not be made to lie.

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The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.