Greek statistician finally gets justice after more than a decade

Greek Statistician Andreas Georgiou.

Greek Statistician Andreas Georgiou.

Published May 6, 2024


There are many statistical skeletons of statisticians strewn around at the hands of politicians. One remarkable example is the Greek statistician – my brother and friend – Andreas Georgiou, about whom I have written no less than six articles over the 14 years since his persecution began.

You may recall the plight of this persecuted chief statistician of the Greek statistics office.

Statistics is a conduit of trust. Only those who are trusted can acquit themselves well in this calling.

Georgiou had written to us that the Greek Supreme Court had decided, in spring 2023, to accept his request to annul the conviction decision of the Civil Appeals Court in the case of “simple slander” for his defending the corrected fiscal statistics of 2006-2009.

Simple slander means making true statements that happen to damage the reputation of the plaintiff. This is when you see value in Morena Mohlomi’s Corporate Code of Governance.

Mohlomi, a Mosotho intellectual of the 18th century, established the Mohlomi Leadership Academy in Ngolile in Lesotho, an area that settler colonialism annexed into South Africa. He certainly inspired Georgiou with his words: “A person's conscience, rather than the pressure of the community or norms imposed by others, should be their only guide. Fate will be your friend if you treat other people, especially the weak and unfortunate, with compassion and generosity.”

Almost, and just almost, free at last, Georgiou, formerly of his country’s statistics office, has had the sword of Damocles hanging over his head for nearly 15 years. His sin was doing the right thing in terms of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, which in the period even became global law as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the European Code of Practice and the International Monetary Fund’s Special Data Dissemination Standards.

In the field of official statistics there are also political victims – because statistics is the science of statecraft, which places the national bean counter in the line of the foul breath of politics.

In Russia, Stalin executed his chief statistician for returning a census count less than what Stalin expected, after the peasantry had died of starvation under Stalin’s hand. It baffles the mind that they could have survived and be in the count. Their fate was determined - death by starvation.

Munir Sheikh, Canada’s former chief statistician, resigned in 2010 after the minister he reported to decided on the methods of statistical practice, turning the practice into a political football. It took the Canadian statistician emeritus Ivan Fellegi, who served for 55 years in office, 25 of which he was the head of the organisation, to restore professional integrity to the census of Canada that the minister had chosen to defile.

Graciela Bevacqua of Argentina’s National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC), whom I invited to South Africa in 2014 to share her gruesome persecution by politicians over the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is another skeletal exhibit at the hands of politics. She was driven out of her office in 2011 by Argentinian politician Guillermo Moreno, with golf clubs.

She informed me last month that, after 12 years, she is taking the stand against her tormentor Moreno in a Court of Justice case as a witness in the then minister Moreno’s fanatical manipulation of the CPI.

Georgiou, who at the time was working for the IMF, was invited by the Greek government in 2010 to head that country’s statistics office, ELSTAT. We liked each other from the very beginning, I suppose because of the unsettling and questioning character we both possessed. While we used to take no nonsense, we also used to be peace builders at the UN Statistics Commission. Little did I know that Georgiou would be my comrade in statistics for longer than I expected.

When he left office much earlier than expected, I found myself having to mention and raise his case at the United Nations Statistics Commission, just as I took on the cases of Argentina and Canada, very much in the face of protestations from both countries.

In one meeting, the Argentinians walked out of my presentation and went to protest at the South African permanent mission. I said to the ambassador: “Let them come; I am ready.”

Interestingly enough, on the eve from my office in 2017, a communique through our ambassador in Argentina sent greetings and a message of deep appreciation through our South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs to me for standing on the right side of history of official statistics in the case of Argentina.

The Canadian Chief Statistician also tried to protest about my critique of the conduct of his minister, but Canadian society, especially the Statistician Emeritus, Fellegi, dealt with the minister duly and directly.

Ironically, the chief statistician that was protesting to my misgivings of what Canada did in the 2010 round of censuses as unacceptable ultimately decided to resign not over the issue of the census, but on another relating to Statistics Canada being forced into shared services.

Georgiou, according to the latest note he wrote to us, might be free at last after 14 years of persecution. I sent him the following message, which I also sent to our community of statisticians:

“Your daughter is now 18 years old today. Her trauma throughout this ordeal of 13 years should be the new standard through which we measure in our profession. Demos means a mob. Demos is derived from the word democracy. I am sure Socrates will be comforted by this progress that points to why politics must be informed by facts. The greatest threat to democracy is the mob and mob thinking.

“As we consider the agenda for the board as proposed by the United Nations Statistics Commission, your tribulations provide us a veritable test case. While you faced a fate similar to Socrates, your bravery and path of fight preserved you to tell the story. You took the cross on our collective behalf and official statistics is now in... a much better place today. The goal of ensuring that not only Greece does the right thing remains as relevant as it was 13 years ago.

“Bevaqua of Argentina, INDEC , who was unceremoniously thrown out of office, informed me that two weeks ago she was a witness in a case against Moreno's company for manipulating statistics in INDEC. The wheels are turning. Thank you for not objecting to writing the stories about your person in statistics,” I wrote.

Dr Pali Lehohla is a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa