“Cut off The Useless Census, Resume Next January” -Axed LISGIS D/DG Williams Warns

MONROVIA – As the country embarks on another round of census in fulfilment of constitutional provisions, the effectiveness of the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) to professionally conduct the ongoing national household and population census has been seriously challenged by the former Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Processing, J. Alex Williams, who was on Monday, November 14, 2022 sacked along with his boss, Acting Director General Wilmot Smith, by President Weah for “administrative reasons”.  As The Analyst reports, Mr. Williams is calling on the Government of Liberia to muster the courage and call off the census, as any data derived from the exercise will be useless, just as those who are conducting the census. Williams went further to outline a series of measures that the government of Liberia, the country’s partners and donors can take to salvage the census and prevent the wasting of scarce resources in a process that will not meet international standards.

 Lamenting his frustration over what he sees as deliberate attempts by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, former LISGIS Director General Wilmot Smith, among other LISGIS officials in cajoling the Liberian people and President Weah that the census is on course, and that everything is alright in terms of logistical arrangements and deployment of enumerators, Williams told the nation Monday when he appeared on Spoon Talk Show that the census is going to lack credibility and could be scrapped as was with the case in the Ivory Coast during their last census.

“This census is going to be a census of uselessness. The data is going to be useless, as the individuals conducting the census are useless. There is absolutely nothing you can do with this data. It is poor, and they must muster the courage to cut it off, because they are going to be wasting resources from the partners, the donors and the government,” Williams cautioned.

Expounding on the reasons why he believes that data from the National Census will be useless, Williams listed a plethora of mishaps from LISGIS that should have been avoided from the get-go when President Weah by proclamation designated Friday November 11, 2022 as National Census Day to be observed throughout the country.

“On the day of proclamation is the D-day when you are supposed to count not less than 50% of the population. If you miss out on it, the rest of the days are for a call back. The Liberian people are tired already. They know that it was a fiasco. Everywhere, nobody went to them on Census Day,” Williams stated.

Moreover, the former LISGIS Deputy Director General and National Census Project Coordinator averred that the census process will lack credibility because the system got flooded with over 3,000 individuals who never applied, were never shortlisted, nor trained; and they are the ones who are supposed to conduct the census.

“In Lofa, there are 23 persons who did not go through the training. They have received more than US$200, two times what others are receiving. They did not participate in the training, they are not on the final listing, but they are receiving. They just pay money to people they don’t even know. Even with the final listing that they put out today, there are over 3,000 people who did not apply, and who never sat the training. This thing is shameful. Muster the courage. Cut it off. Remove Wilmot Smith, Lawrence George, Francis Wreh. Bring in new people who have credibility, who know the subject matter. Let them preside over the institution and the census. Give Liberia hope. Conduct new training. Pay those people who are owed. And let’s have a census early next year, because we cannot have the census in December as that is the festive season and there will be huge migration and emigration trends during the season,” Williams advised.

Circumvention of a credible system

J. Alex Williams, who holds a double Master’s in Statistics from the University of Prague in the Czech Republic, saw under his watch, as National Census Coordinator, he worked with his team to build a credible, glitch-free system that got rave reviews from even neighboring Ghana.

Narrating how he and his team worked to set up a credible system for the census process that was wrecked by greed and arrogance from some key government officials, Williams said upon completion of his Master’s program, he returned to contribute his quota, but later decided to pursue a PhD.

“While I was in Ghana processing my residence permit, I got a call from Minister Tweah, that I should return to the country because the partners, the World Bank, The UNFPA and other people wanted me to come back as the census was having a lot of challenges, and they wanted me to help to solve those challenges.  

“I told Minister Tweah that if I am coming back to LISGIS, people should be willing to ensure that we have a transparent census, very professional and ethical, without any form of corruption and embarrassment. He agreed. In fact, Minister Tweah is on record for telling my boss that I was taking over the census and my boss should never interfere in anything that has to do with the census. I have the recording to that effect,” Williams said.

He further disclosed that upon his return to LISGIS to serve his country, the cartographic activity or the mapping exercise of the census was not on course, and that there were a lot of other challenges.

“I placed all of these challenges along with the team and we successfully mapped the entire country. We divided the country into smaller parts that we call enumeration areas. We had over 13,480 enumeration areas across the country. That’s the first phase of the census, which is the cartographic aspect. After that, we went and did the pilot census, in which we tested the methodology of the census, the questionnaire, the instruments, the logical arrangements, among others.

“During that period, we also calculated the length of time it takes for an interview. That is one of the reasons why we decided to transition from manual to digital for our census because when you are using computer-assisted data, on the basis of the pilot census, we can now estimate and say that it will take you one day or ten days to complete the entire census. These are things Wilmot Smith does not have any understanding of and does not even know. These are things that people like us who sacrificed for our country, left for studies and came back to work for our country, for which we are being bottlenecked and embarrassed.

“And so, when I returned and started the census, it all went smoothly. During the pretest or during the pilot census, lists started to come from here and there, before even the census could start. We went to Ghana, I and Professor Francis Wreh, and others in July 2021 because Ghana was conducting her census. We spent ten days in Ghana to understand how they were conducting their census.

“One of the things we even realized is that the cartographic mapping exercise we did in Liberia was far more sophisticated than Ghana, and they were even asking how we succeeded in doing these things. The model that we used today is now being used by IGIS around the world. People are even wanting to learn from Liberia how we did this for the very first time.

“When we came back, what I saw in Ghana that I thought we could replicate in Liberia was to have an exclusive census website. On that census website they had an e-portal or what you call an e-recruitment site. I have a receipt in my possession. When we returned to Liberia, they agreed that we should do a digital recruitment exercise, because this was a fully digital census. I have a  communication where I requested resources for the payment of domain and SSL for the domain, and hosting account for the census website. I personally paid with my own cash. We set up the census website. We set up the e-recruitment portal. When we launched the pilot census phase, Minister Tweah was there, the Swedish Ambassador, and other dignitaries were there. They were very impressed with the e-recruitment portal. We demonstrated it and people were excited. For the very first time in the country’s history, we were going to recruit people in a transparent process, and people were going to apply, and we will know who they are, and where they are applying from.

“We decided that all those who were selected for the process must go through the e-recruitment exercise. After the e-recruitment exercise application was completed, when we were about to shortlist, then we started seeing names from all over. I have tons of emails in my possession to show you what I said, this cannot be the order of the day. This is an e-recruitment portal. If you are not in this e-recruitment portal, you cannot be shortlisted, no matter who you are, no matter where the list is coming from. Because this is what you guys promised me. Besides, we cannot shortlist someone who did not apply,” he disclosed further, but said, to his surprise, Wilmot Smith and others had their way by flooding the system with people that did not even take training.

“Many people don’t know, but for instance, in Ivory Coast, the last census was never accepted because of the similar pattern. Statistics all around the world hinge on international comparability.   We cannot be different from the rest of the world,” Williams cautioned.

“So, when I said no, people thought I was recalcitrant, they felt that I didn’t want to listen and they started to do all manner of things. We were back and forth just on the list for over two weeks. We needed only 266 people. Wilmot Smith brought a listing of over 186 names that did not apply.   I have it in my possession. We set up a committee to review the list, and weed out all those who did not apply. We defined a methodology for selection. We shortlisted those who should be in the portal and sent it to them. They refused to accept that listing. At the end of the day, the Acting Director General Wilmot Smith and the rest of the people decided that they would publish a listing that they wanted to publish that had a lot of names of people who did not apply.

“When they went together in their office and told the Director General that he is the head of the entity, and that Alex Williams is just one person, so you can go ahead and publish the listing, when in fact the Director General is aware that as census project coordinator, I must be a signatory to the listing, they went ahead and published the listing. All I did was to write and document them that I am not part of this list. That the processes leading to this list are erroneous.

“My boss went and sent that fishy list to even the UNFPA and other partners. I have an email in my possession that the partners wrote that this is wrong. But we had to even manage that situation to successfully conduct the pilot census. Minister Tweah is aware. We went in Mr. Tweah’s office on this very listing, and Mr. Tweah was supportive. That is why tonight, I am not going to mince my words for Minister Tweah, because Minister Tweah is a C-Square liar, meaning he is a certified career liar. He lied to the Liberian people, he came on the Spoon Network and said all kinds of things. Tomorrow I am going to unveil who Minister Tweah actually is; how embarrassing he is to this government and this country; and how insincere he is. What I say, I say with facts.

“And so, that was how the pilot census went, and we successfully conducted the pilot census. The pilot census was to be used to inform us on the conduct of the actual census. They ignored everything. When Lawrence George and the rest of other people came, they decided they would alter the entire pilot census document. Lawrence George was only interested in buying logistics, when in fact, the project census document is very clear that the census has a census steering committee, a census commission, a census management team, and all of those various organs.

“And so that is how they started to behave; and because I refused to bend to the whims and caprices of these corrupt individuals, we went to a meeting on February 10 and Minister Tweah and myself attended that meeting. I was online because that very day I went to the 14 Military Hospital for which I have the medical report. Because of that, I told my bosses prior to the meeting that I will not be in-person because I am going to the 14 Military Hospital, but I will join the meeting online.

“The meeting started at 2:00pm. I was online at 2:00pm. Minister Tweah came online at 2:05. By 2:30 the LISGIS folks were never in the UN headquarters for the meeting. So Mr. Tweah asked, but where are the LISGIS people, and I answered Minister Tweah that I am online, and that I did ask my bosses that I won’t be in-person for the meeting because I just came from the 14 Military Hospital, and in fact, I was still driving. After that meeting becauses they already wanted to get at me, my boss wrote a communication on February 17, suspending me indefinitely as census project coordinator. How can you suspend me, when you are not the one who appointed me?

 “I have the communication from Minister Tweah that he wrote on June 29, 2021appointing me as Census Project Coordinator, sending the communication to the UNFPA Resident Representative, at the time, Dr. Bannet, who is now the Regional Director for Central Africa UNFPA Head office.

“You are also on record, Minister Tweah for telling this Director General to stay away from the census because the UNFPA and other partners are complaining. How can you now sit and this Director tells you that he suspends me and I go to you and you cannot take any action? Only because Wilmot Smith was the one who crafted the communication and Minister Tweah and Wilmot Smith know exactly what both of them are in, for which he cannot take action against Mr. Smith. But whatever the two of them are in should not be at the detriment of the state and the Liberian people.

“So, from that time up to August 25, 2022, I have been complaining and writing a series of communications before the Board decided to assemble. Minister Tweah came to the August 25 meeting with the intent to legitimize Mr. Smith as acting Director General of LISGIS, when the LISGIS Act is very clear that in the absence of the Director General, the Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Processing shall act. In the absence of both the Director General and the Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Processing, the Deputy for Information Coordination, which is the position Wilmot Smith occupies, shall act.

“It is in black and white. But Minister Tweah is supporting Wilmot Smith illegally and   criminally because he knows exactly what both of them are involved in.

“And so, when they reinstated me as census project coordinator, I wrote a technical note. The first thing they did was they misled the President that the census was ready to be conducted on October 24, 2022. Minister Tweah always has a way of engaging the partners and other people to write letters that are not in place. And so, the partners, along with Minister Tweah wrote a letter to the President informing him that everything was set, and that census would go on in October; and if census didn’t go on in October, that the people will take their tablets that we brought from Ghana, and that we will have to pay US$5 million for tablets, among other things that they wrote the President, which is complete thrash, because I was one of those who led the delegation from Liberia to negotiate for the 21,000 tablets and power banks we brought from Ghana. Ghana is not in need of the 21,000 tablets and power banks as we speak, because Ghana purchased over 40,000 tablets and power banks. Ghana is going to be conducting only inter-census surveys. Ten years from now, Ghana may not even need those tablets because technology might have improved, and things might have advanced.

“They went and lied to the president that everything was ok, and that this was on course, that no money was stolen. And so, I wrote the Board, and I wrote the Legislature a technical note, informing them that the census was not on course. When we went to the Legislature, the House invited us. The UNFPA team along with Wilmot Smith went there, along with me. The UNFPA team and Wilmot Smith told the leadership of the House that everything was ok, and that census was set for October 24, and that the Legislature should pass a Joint Resolution, because Article 39 of our Constitution clearly states that only the Legislature has the sole authority to cause a census by Joint Resolution.

“I spoke in that meeting. I told them nothing was ready, and that the Legislature should not pass a Joint Resolution for October 24 because it will be wasted, and that the census will not be held. After I spoke and the rest of the other colleagues spoke, the Deputy Speaker spoke, saying our international partners agree that the census is on course, and that I alone cannot say something to the contrary, so the census will go ahead.

 “And they went ahead and signed a Joint Resolution for the census to be conducted on October 24. Less than a week to October 24, my colleagues went back to the Legislature to say everything was not ok and that they wanted November 7. I was in that meeting and the Deputy Speaker got so angry that he walked out of the meeting. He was angry because the UNFPA and my colleagues lied to them that things were ok, but to the contrary, things were not ok, and they are coming back for the census to be extended to November 7.

“When I even asked them to allow me to explain to them that even the November 7 that my colleagues were asking for was not feasible, no one gave me the floor. That’s why I am very disappointed in Speaker Chambers. This is the same Speaker Chamber who I personally sent to him the LACC report indicting Wilmot Smith and others. On the same September 29, I sent Minister Tweah and all of the Board members copies of the LACC report. I even sent it to his Whatsapp messenger and it changed green to indicate that Minister Tweah saw it. But this is the deceptive and pathological liar, Minister Tweah, who will come on the radio and inform the Liberian people that he is not aware about a particular content or communication of the report. It is false,” Williams indicated.

He stated further that President Weah must muster the courage to weed out corrupt government officials, as he knew of everything that happened at LISGIS but decided not to act in time.

“The president is aware about everything that is happening at LISGIS. When Minister McGill and others were sanctioned by the US government, the president immediately suspended them. But if our own anti graft institution gave these people due process and the president is aware and has seen the report, but cannot muster the courage to suspend them or ask the Board because the rest of the people are appointed by the Board; if the Board cannot even suspend them, then we are not serious to fight corruption,” Williams lamented.

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