CENSUS DILEMMA -Partners, Steering Committee Put Weah on Notice -Say GoL On Its Own If Census Not Held This October

It is now 14 long years since the last national population and housing census was held in Liberia. As the Liberian Constitution requires population and housing update every ten years, this critical national event lags behind by four years, in part because the tenth year after the last coincides with the birth of a new political leadership and on other hand due to devastating pandemics of international proportion. Some critics are also adding low political will to the reasons for the delay. Now the country’s donor partners and a section of the government of Liberia constituting the Census Steering Committee are putting President George Manneh Weah on red notice, indicating that further delays, specifically beyond October this year, would engender donor fatigue or noncooperation and leave the whole costly burden with the government of Liberia. With the Senate tacitly dragging feet on the matter, it remains clear how the President would pull himself and the government out of the dilemma. The Analyst reports.   

The conduct of the National Population and Housing Census has suffered multiple of shocks and delays since 2018, the year it could have taken place after 2008 to meet the Constitutional ten years requirement.

But 2018 saw the birth of the George Weah administration, which claimed it met an empty national coffer and at a time some major donors of the country were adopting a wait-and-see on the new government. That followed a devastating pandemic, COVID-19, which mutated into equally deadly variants.

While other observers think the Government of President Weah has accorded the major national event a political cold-shoulders, it is also said most senators in the 54th Legislature are indifferent to the holding of the Census now. Reasons could not be immediately established by the Analyst.

While public anxiety looms over whether or not that the Census will take place and when, the international donor community in Liberia and its Liberian partners have registered what seems to be their misgivings over the continued delays, specifically October beyond 2022.

The Committee of the pending National Census has raised the red flag, indicating that it had learnt of the Liberian Senate’s intention to postpone the census date from October 2022 to March 2023, and that such an action if heeded would have unhealthy implications.

In a communication to President George Manneh Weah, the Census Steering Committee Meeting that includes the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Development Partners, LISGIS, United Nations, and civil society organizations, said it considered the possibility of further postponement from October 2022 would have far-reaching consequences for the census project.

According to the Committee, if the census is postponed to March 2023, the obligatory payments to census staff would be US$695,500, while cost would significantly reduce to US$139,100 if it were conducted October 2022; and if conducted in December 2022, the cost would be US$278,200.

The Committee also told President Weah that were the Census to be postponed, the Ghana-donated tablets and accessories which are to be returned at the end of October 2022 would be the responsibility of Government at the cost of US$5,355,000.

“The delay associated with the long procurement lead time would also constrain census implementation,” the Census Committee further told the Liberian leader, adding: “Financial commitments by donors may not be fulfilled if the census is not conducted in October. The balance ofUS$759,255 will not be disbursed as the agreement on the Census project ends in December 2022. This would necessitate additional resources to fill the budget gap, which would be challenging under the current global economic uncertainties.”

The Committee also made it known to President Weah that beyond the October date for the Census, the Government of Liberia would have to identify new donors to close the current US$2,000,000 gap, something it says will be constraining, if census enumeration is not conducted in October 2022.

“In view of the above considerations, US$8,809,000.00 would be lost if the Census is postponed,” said the Census Committee, informing the President that Liberia’s “current donor partners may also find it difficult to bridge this gap, if the census is held beyond October, which would jeopardize its conduct”.

The communication signed by the UN Resident Representative, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, and Representatives of the World Bank, Irish Aid, USAID, Irish Aid and Sweden amongst others, lectured President Weah that “the Census is a legacy project for the Government of Liberia, and its conduct will be a significant achievement for the citizens of Liberia.”

“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,” the Committee said further.

“We therefore seek your good office’s support for the conduct of the 2022 National Population and Housing Census in October 2022 as, with your support, the necessary financial, technical, logistical, and administrative arrangements have now been put in place,” the letter concluded.

It can be recalled that President Weah had requested an extra session of the national legislature to deliberate on crucial national issues among which is for the lawmakers to take a decision on setting a new date for the census which will be realistic with the plan put in place and the ensuing 2023 elections where new electoral districts are expected to be created based on the outcome of the census.

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