Liberia: U.S.$8 Million Loss If Census Is Postponed

… Leaked letter from Census Steering Committee to President Weah suggests there is too much at stake to further postpone the national headcount.

The action by the Senate to postpone this year’s census would cost the government US$8.8 million if the House of Representatives agrees.

The Senate had in June voted to postpone the October 2022 national housing and population census to March 2023. However, the Senate’s actions await approval from the House concurrence before coming into effect. If this happens, the Liberian government will not just lose US$8.8 million but also the support of donor partners who are heavily funding the conduct of this year’s census.

This is according to a June 25 letter from the Census Steering Committee to President George Weah, warning that the government stands to lose if the legislature goes ahead and postpones the census despite the fact that the necessary financial, technical, logistical, and administrative arrangements have now been put in place for the conduct of the census as scheduled.

The donors include Sweden, Irish Aid, the World Bank, ECOWAS, and the United Nations. They, along with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, as well as Civil Society Organizations, constitute the committee.

“US$8,809,000 would be lost if the Census is postponed, Current donor partners may also find it difficult to bridge this gap if the census is held beyond October, which would jeopardize its conduct,” reads the leaked letter, which the Daily Observer has confirmed is authentic. “The Steering Committee observed that further postponement from October 2022, would have far-reaching consequences for the census project.”

“If the census is postponed to March 2023, the obligatory payments to census staff would be US$695,500. If the census is conducted in November 2022, staff costs would be significantly reduced to US$139,100, and if conducted in December 2022, the cost would be USS278,200.”

“Also, the Government of Ghana loaned Liberia 21,000 electronic data collection tablets and accessories, which are to be returned at the end of October 2022,” the letter said. “If the census is not conducted in October, Liberia would have to purchase its own electronic tablets at US$5,355,000. The delay associated with the long procurement lead time would also constrain census implementation.”

The Committee’s letter also warned that financial commitments by donors may not be fulfilled if the census is not conducted in October and the balance of US$759,255 will not be disbursed as the agreement on the Census project ends in December 2022.

This, the Committee said, would necessitate additional resources to fill the budget gap, which would be challenging under the current global economic uncertainties, and that identifying new donors to close the current US$2 million gap will be constraining, if census enumeration is not conducted in October 2022.

The Senate’s action, which was already in violation of the Liberia Constitution, particularly Article 39, comes as the country has failed to have another round of census since the last one was held in 2008.

Article 39 of the Constitution mandates that: “The Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years… ” But since 2018, the Census has been postponed in violation of the constitution for one reason or another. This round of the census, which the Senate voted to postpone was originally slated to take place in 2018, but due to a number of delays, it has been moved to October of this year.

Historically, Liberia has only held a census four times in its history: the first in 1962, 1974, 1984, and 2008. The 2008 census revealed a population of 3.5 million. However, it is estimated that the country’s current population, in the absence of updated census data, stands at 5.058 million people.

“The Census is a legacy project for the Government of Liberia, and its conduct will be a significant achievement for the citizens of Liberia,” the Committee said in the letter to Weah, outlining the importance of the census being held on its schedule as lots of gains have been made. “If conducted in October 2022, the census will be a milestone for Liberia to celebrate as it would: a) provide the much-needed reliable data for development planning, b) enable measurement of progress on national development, and c) inform the world in November 2022 of Liberia’s contribution to the global population of eight billion.”

“[And] despite significant delays, occasioned by the Covid pandemic and other reasons, the census is now on course as logistical equipment and supplies have been procured and enumeration staff are in place; substantial financial resources to conduct the census are available; geographical mapping has been completed and that the Pilot Census (Pretest Census) has been conducted with results informing the preparation for the actual Census,” the letter added.

Meanwhile, the Committee has disclosed that according to its plan, census field staff training is scheduled for mid-September to early October 2022, and deployment is planned for October 15. It added that preliminary results “will be available on November 11 and the final results by November 25 as this is a digital census, where all field data will be immediately transmitted to the data center, once collected.”

As a democratic nation, Liberia needs census data to determine the total number of representatives to be elected from respective legislative districts, and to define and create administrative areas according to the number of inhabitants.

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