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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

When will the 2021 mid-tern census come to an end?

By Alhaji Haruna Sani                   

The question as to when the 2021 mid-term population and housing census  will come to end is one that is lingering in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans. Even staff and some hierarchies of Statistics Sierra Leone could hardly tell Sierra Leoneans when the census will exactly come to an end.

In fact, the question of the coming to end of the mid-census is not as significant as the question of the credibility of the data, which have been collected during the census amidst series controversies. The beginning of the 2021 mid-term census was marred with controversies. Opposition political parties largely objected to the census, questioning it legality and the intention behind it, further claiming that it was for gerrymandering purposes.

The Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) which is made up of 13 political parties including the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party, the National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, has earlier boycotted the census, urging their supporters not to participate in the process.

The European Union Election Follow-up Mission had also earlier objected to the mid-term census, referring to it as unprecedented. The National Elections Watch (NEW) had also condemned the mid-term population and housing census, questioning the timeliness of it. As if that was not enough, the World Bank which was the major donor of the mid-term census made a dramatic withdrawal of their support in less than 72 hours to the commencement of the enumeration process as declared by President Bio.

The withdrawal of the World Bank support was premised on the unpreparedness and untimeliness of the census. An excerpt of the letter written by World Bank on 7th December 2021 to justify their withdrawal reads:

“To date, while work on most actions points is underway with some completed, several critical action points require further technical work to be satisfactorily addressed including evaluation of the pilot census, the field operation plan for the enumeration, and ensuring enumerators are adequately trained. All these outstanding actions are necessary and must be addressed prior to commencing data collection to minimize the risk of inadequate and poor data quality. There is insufficient time between now and December 10, 2021 to satisfactorily address all pending actions”.

The mid-term population and housing census was initially slated to be held on the 4th December 2020 and later rescheduled to 19thApril 2021 before it was finally postponed to 10th December 2021.

In December, 2021, Statistics Sierra Leone informed the general populace that the main enumeration starts 10th December 2021 and will last for 14 days until 23rd December 2021.  The Statistician General stated in in a letter that, “There will always be possibility for mopping up activities after the official 2-week period, as it has been done for previous censuses.”

The first 14 days of the census was largely unsuccessful. Enumerators and other recruited staff were not paid on time and quite a significant number of people especially from opposition strongholds dishonored the process and the challenges continue to date.

Of course, after the 14 days census, a mopping up was done which lasted till the end of December 2021. After the first mopping up, the entire January was also declared for another mopping up. Following the census and the two mopping up sessions, arguable up to 50 percent of the populace is yet to be counted. Again, Statistics Sierra Leone is now preparing to conduct what they called a winning down session after the census and the two mopping up sessions.

Prior to the census night, Statistician General, Professor Osman Sankoh aka Mallam O. also assured the people of a credible data. “To get to where we are today, marking the night of the first digital census in Sierra Leone, we have had to enjoy the technical and financial support from several development partners, including the World Bank, UNFPA etc”.

He said with the training they had conducted over the past weeks, they will ensure giving the people of Sierra Leone a credible data, which Statistics Sierra Leone stands for as an institution.

He said they have more than twenty thousand tablets that they have bought for the census and that the institution has trained its workers to use the gadgets properly.

He added that all the tablets have been configured and that they will be using them throughout the census.

He noted that with the tablets, they will be able to collect all data as quick as possible, adding that in terms of their IT capacity they have one of the best in Africa. 

After World Bank’s withdrawal, Statics Sierra Leone had also boasted that the government of Sierra Leone has promised to fund the census in full, noting that the census will go on without any delay.

Just as I earlier submitted in my write up, I am to a large extent sure that the question of credibility of the data that will be collected during  the census is by far important to how soon will the census come to an end. There are already huge indications that there is going to be an unavoidable problem with the data because numerous technical, financial and participation problem with the census.

In order to gauge some of the ramifications of the ongoing census, I conducted a kind of mini survey using a small sample limited to Freetown so as to actually get the reality on ground.  I randomly interviewed 20 people from different parts of Freetown.

My questions to the randomly selected people were as follow: Q1. Are you aware of the ongoing mid-term census? Q2. Do you want to be count? Q3. Have you been counted? Q4. What is you general opinion about the census? Q5.Are you aware as to whether you were counted in absence?

For question 1, all 20 answered yes to the question. For question 2, 11 people said yes, and 10 people said no. For question 3, only six people said yes and 4 other said they were counted in absentia while 10 people said yes. For question 4, 5 people said the census was a step in the right direction, 7 people did not give their opinions at all, and 8 people said the census was unprecedented and a waste of taxpayer’s money. For question 5, 4 people said they were counted in absence.

I have come across a lot of people who told me they have never seen an enumerator on duty since the beginning of the census. Others complained of calling the 881 toll free line without having the adequate attention.

The World Bank withdrawal had unarguable brought huge backlash to the census process. It is but obvious that Statistics Sierra Leone have not only suffered technical problems but also financial deficiencies. Sources at Statistics Sierra Leone including enumerators have revealed that immediately after the World Bank withdrawal Statistics slashed the initial payment of enumerators and supervisors.

Statistics Sierra Leone is also facing huge technical and financial constraints. Supervisors and enumerators are yet to be paid in full because there is no money available for their payment.

Outcome of the survey conducted have clearly indicated that nearly half of people in Freetown have not been counted which shows that the census is yet to be successful. Therefore, Statistics Sierra Leone needs to back to the drawing board do the needful irrespective of what it will cost them.

If Statistics fail to go back to the drawing board and do the needful, then we may end up having a data which may be far from being credible than the much criticized 2015 population and housing census.

Nevertheless, government should also consider engaging the oppositions for a deliberation to have a common ground on the conduct of the 2021 mid-term population and housing census.

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