oa Journal of Development Perspectives - Official economic statistics in South Africa supply and demand a practitioner's assessment
South Africa has a well developed culture of economic policy research, particularly in the post apartheid era. The relevance and quality of this research has, however, been highly dependent on the quality and availability of official statistics. There has been considerable criticism, especially from the academic community, of the extent and consistency of official data. Particular concerns have related to time series inconsistency, lack of access to unit record data (at the level of the firm or enterprise), and omissions in important data formerly available, for example, through the economic censuses. In view of these concerns this paper provides a short history of the evolution of firm based statistics in South Africa from the time of economic census to the current practice of sampling. It also provides an explanation of what determines the priorities of official statistical collection. The thrust of the paper is to convey to users of data what is currently collected and why. The paper ends with an open challenge to the academic community on the grounds that despite limitations of data, a great deal of what is available is under-exploited.
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