By Dewald Van Rensburg
Simple statistical mistakes seemingly led one of the leading global experts on illicit financial flows to wrongly claim that billions of dollars worth of gold has been smuggled out of South Africa.
Similarly, new estimates of trade misinvoicing in the platinum sector produced by Léonce Ndikumana, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, seem to be based almost entirely on a glitch in the UN’s Comtrade database – not actual misinvoicing.
Ndikumana is one of a handful of influential researchers into illicit financial flows producing widely cited estimates of the apparently enormous contribution to capital flight by companies that understate their exports.
The Chamber of Mines and Statistician-General Pali Lehohla have reacted with outrage to his latest report, released this month with backing and supervision from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).
The SA Revenue Service (Sars), which is implicitly being ciritcised for not cottoning on to this enormous “smuggling”, also slammed the report in an emailed statement on Friday afternoon.
The numbers “touted” by the report are due to classifcation anomalies and easily refuted, said Sars.
“This matter was already raised with the UN statistics department way before the release of this report”, it said.
The report estimates underinvoicing of commodity exports for a handful of countries, including South Africa. It makes the shocking conclusion that almost all South African gold is smuggled out of the country.
About $113 billion (R1.6 trillion) – in 2014 terms – worth of gold was exported between 2000 and 2014 to major trading partners without being recorded, the report concludes.
It also finds significant historical misinvoicing of platinum exports to the tune of $19 billion. In both cases, the estimates are seemingly the result of basic statistical errors that City Press was able to uncover without difficulty.