“Census is a Process, Not Event” – LISGIS -Clarifies on Public Perception; But Backlash Abound on LISGIS “Inefficiency”
MONROVIA – In the wake of the Government of Liberia declaring Friday, November 11, 2022 “National Census Day” to be observed through the length and breadth of the country as a National Holiday, with the understanding that the 2022 National Population and Housing Census would have officially commenced on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 as Census Night to enable the enumerators begin the household listing, Liberians, far and wide, are waxing mad over what they say is a complete lack of preparedness on the part of the 2022 national census conducting authority, the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), to carry out its statutory mandate, especially when the citizenry decided to stay at home for three days awaiting the census to begin without any enumerator showing up. But as The Analyst reports, LISGIS is now calling on the Liberian public to exercise restraint because a national census is a process and not an event, and should not be politicized.
According to LISGIS Director for Communications and Advocacy Justina Harris-Page, who appeared on a local radio talk show Monday, November 14, 2022 to represent her boss Wilmot Smith and explain among other things why the census did not commence on schedule as has been perceived, LISGIS has always been prepared to conduct censuses and surveys in Liberia, as opposed to the widespread perception that the census conducting agency is not prepared for the monumental task that not only sets the basis for future elections, but provides data for a myriad of development interventions.
“The census is not an event; it is a process. We have had four censuses in Liberia, and all of those censuses were paper-based. The 2022 National Population and Housing Census is the 5th census and the first digital census. As such, we are following all of the standards and processes in conducting a census.
“We started with the national geographical planning where we had people in the field marking all of the houses to inform the technical team of the census on the number of enumerators we would have to hire for the conduct of the census. That process also gave us over 19,800 enumeration areas from the mapping. Those are areas that the enumerators are going to enter into to count the population.
“We also carried out a pre-test with a sample size of 260 across the 15 counties of Liberia, and that was done to test our gadgets, like the tablets, the questionnaires, and the methodology for the census. After the pretest, we had to do the training at various levels – the master training, training of trainers and the training for enumerators. We had the masters training in August of this year; we had the TOT in September, and the enumerators’ training in October,” Madam Page stated, in providing clarity on the level of preparedness that LISGIS had undergone to conduct the 2022 National Population and Housing Census.
Providing more clarity on the glitches that occasioned the commencement of the Census on Friday, November 11, 2022, Page attributed the lapse to logistics movement from the LISGIS main office to other enumeration areas (EAs).
“The holiday was part of the process, but let me make you understand. The holiday was meant for the start of the population count. What happened in Montserrado County is that the process went at a slow pace. It was slow because we had all of our materials stored at the LISGIS head office in Monrovia, and our counting officers who are responsible to carry those materials to the various EAs had difficulties in taking them to our enumerators to begin the work. So, it will take time because people have to come to the head office and get those materials and get them to the various districts in Montserrado,” Page said.
Asked as to why LISGIS did not factor such logistical constraints and the toll such delays would take on the already crippled economy, the LISGIS Director of Communications and Advocacy further pleaded with the public to give her organization the needed chance to do its work.
“We will have the result that we want. We should be given the chance to conduct this census devoid of politics,” Madam Page enjoined.
One of the contending issues raised during the interview was whether LISGIS was prepared to conduct the census within the course of timeline mandate, to which Madam Page firmly confirmed that her agency will deliver within the 10 days’ timeline set aside to complete the nationwide census.
“But if we cannot make it within the 10 days’ timeframe, we have an extension up to January 2023,” she averred..
When questioned about why enumerators keep protesting over payment issues, Madam Page cryptically responded that the LISGIS payment to the enumerators is ongoing, noting however that life itself is a rhythm, and that the enumerators must adjust to the rhythm, to which the interviewer wondered: “Must someone dance buka to receive their money?”
Madam Page furthered that about 17,000 individuals sat for the training, but 13,835 persons were selected, and out of that number, LISGIS has commenced payment of training fees and a portion of their contract fees.
The LISGIS communications director also disclosed that President George Weah was counted before he left the country recently, a revelation which the interviewer and many callers took exception to.
“Do you know how we defeated Ebola? Because our national leader was physically involved in the process,” the talk show host stated in a near outburst.
Maddening Public Reaction
“It’s so unfortunate for Justina to sit in the studio and justify when Wilmot Smith should be the one to come and explain. The president should come back and take action against Wilmot Smith,” said one caller.
Remarked another caller: “This is quite embarrassing for Liberia. I am sorry for the young lady in the studio, we should stop embarrassing ourselves. They damage the system and send the young people out to defend them. Wilmot Smith and Samuel Tweah should be held accountable. The damage at LISGIS, Samuel Tweah is aware.”
“This lady is acting smart, but she is forgetting to know other people are smarter. Where is Wilmot Smith? You are lying to the public,” another caller responded angrily.
“I blame the government of Liberia for the poor planning. How credible will this process be?” another called blasted.
“They did not count the president. That’s a black lie,” a caller from the United States fumed.
It can be recalled that President George Manneh Weah by Proclamation declared Friday, November 11, 2022, as “National Census Day” and is to be observed throughout the Republic as a National Holiday.
According to a Foreign Ministry release, the 2022 National Population and Housing Census, which commences from Tuesday, November 8, 2022 to be declared as Census Night will enable the enumerators to begin the household listing.
The Proclamation called on all ministries and agencies of government, enterprises (Large or small), the patriotism and loyalty of every citizen and to the goodwill of every foreign national as well as local government officials to assist the census authorities in explaining, influencing, and endorsing the participation of everybody in this massive, national undertaking, given the advantages and usefulness of the Census to the overall national socio-economic development of the country.
The Proclamation further mentioned that the census shall be conducted and directed by the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) in the most expeditious manner, but its success shall be dependent upon the total involvement of all citizens and foreign residents within the borders as well as all Liberian citizens residing abroad to mobilize the resources and administrative machinery necessary for the implementation and execution of this project.
The Presidential Proclamation also stated that the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) shall undertake the National Population and Housing Census of the Republic of Liberia in accordance with Section 6, Chapter 50A.8 of the LISGIS Act to further amend the new Executive Law, Title 12, of the Liberian Code of Law Revised.
“The objectives of the 2022 Census are, among other things to; participate in the 2020 round of the World Population and Housing Censuses, provide up-to-date information of demographics, economic and social amenities, know the present size and structure of the population and its spatial distribution among counties, districts, clans, cities, townships, and localities, provide a benchmark on which monitoring and evaluation of various national and international development goals could be based (i.e. AfT, National Vision 2030, SDGs, AU Vision 2063, etc), construct an updated master sampling frame for future sample surveys and develop a geo-referenced spatial database on current statutory boundaries, localities, and social amenities”, the proclamation noted.
What many pundits are wondering is: how credible will a LISGIS-conducted national census be, given all of the attending operational glitches, as well as other issues of financial probity that have dogged the agency that is supposed to provide accurate data to enable the National Elections Commissions properly delineate political constituencies, and for development planners to properly apportion scare resources to the citizenry.