Despite World Bank Discontinued Support… Mid-Term Census Commences Today

By Amin Kef Sesay

In a letter dated the 7th December, 2021 and written by Pierre Laporte,
the World Bank Country Director,  addressed to the Minister of Finance,  Dennis K. Vandi and the Minister of Economic and Development Planning, Francis Kaikai, he stated that the World Bank earmarked financial support to help prepare and implement a Mid-Term population census in Sierra Leone—under the Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa (HISWA) Project (P169265) IDA Grant No. D584-SL—because those data are critical to inform economic development policy, planning and programs and the 2015 population census exercise resulted in data of insufficient quality to do so.

He further raised in the letter that since September 2020 the World Bank task team has been providing technical support to help prepare Statistics SL to implement a mid-term population census that would result in good quality data.

Stated also was that much progress was made by Statistics SL in recent months and preparatory efforts further intensified recently.

The Country Director continued that to that end a roadmap laying out the final remaining steps, actions and technical verifications required was prepared and multilaterally agreed (between Statistics SL, UNFPA and the World Bank task team) during the first week of November 2021.

“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,” Pierre Laporte underscored adding how all the outstanding actions are necessary and must be addressed prior to commencing data collection to minimize the risk of inadequate and poor data quality.

It was stated that there is insufficient time between now and December 10, 2021 to satisfactorily address all pending actions and so
therefore, while the World Bank technical team remains available to provide continued preparatory support, regretfully they will be unable to provide further technical assistance nor disburse any further funds.

The World Bank Country Director continued that the undisbursed balance of funds earmarked to support the mid-term population census could be reallocated to other activities supported under the HISWA project following consultations with the task team.

Copies of the letter were sent to Jacob Jusu Saffa, the  Chief Minister, Prof. Osman Sankoh, Statistician General, Statistics Sierra Leone, and Taufilia Nyamadzabo,the  Executive Director of the World Bank.

Preceding the World Bank Country Director’s letter were concerns raised, on the 6th December 2021, with the World Bank and UNFPA role in promoting the 2021 mid-term census by Femi Claudius Cole, the Chairperson of the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (CoPPP).

Among the concerns raised were the project is fraught with so many irregularities that most opposition parties and civil society organizations have expressed reservations about the timing and true motives behind this census.

That the census, which was to have started on 4th December 2020 was postponed to 19th April 2021. But rather than start, it was on that date that it was presented to Parliament for approval amid dramatic scenes of violent clashes between the Government side and the opposition MPs. The latter insist until this day that the Bill was not properly laid before Parliament; however, Government has now declared that the census will effectively begin on 10th December 2021.

That the real purpose behind the mid-term census and Government’s determination to implement it by any means necessary is to use it as an excuse to alter the electoral boundaries and create new political districts and constituencies that will give the ruling party more seats in Parliament and therefore victory over the opposition.

Opposition parties have always maintained that there is a hidden agenda behind this unusual census and now they are learning from some internal memo leaks about an intention to expand the ruling SLPP party strongholds in the South and East by adding new districts and more constituencies based on anticipated population increases. This is a far cry from the touted economic development rationale initially ascribed to the mid-term census.

That, the Government, keeps pronouncing that the purpose of the census is for economic development when it is clearly meant to be a tool for gerrymandering.

That this mid-term census has brought too much controversy into the country, causing violent confrontation in Parliament, rejection by substantial sections of civil society and political parties and grave suspicion by members of the public. Already, political parties have started indicating their intention to boycott the census.

Femi said it is in the circumstances extremely difficult to accept that the missions of the World Bank and UNFPA are not aware of this situation, and that their continued support to this particular project of the current Government is likely to have negative consequences. International organizations cannot be seen to be financing future conflict in democracies as fragile as ours.

She continued that COPPP would therefore like to request clarification from both the World Bank and UNFPA on the status of their support to the mid-term census and ask that they distance themselves from such a project that does not have nation-wide buy-in and is therefore not likely to yield any good results.

Despite all those criticisms, Statistics Sierra Leone in a Press Release dated 9th December 2021 declared the 9th December 2021 as  Census Night.

It continued that the main enumeration starts today, 10th December 2021 and will last for 14 days until 23rd December 2021 adding how there will always be possibility for mopping up activities after the official 2-week period, as it has been done for previous censuses.

According to the Statistician General, Osman Sankoh, the significance of the Census Night celebration is for the public to remember this Night as a reference point for enumeration.

“All enumerators will be asking questions on the census to get the data they need and will refer to where you slept tonight,” he stated admonishing all to act wise by taking part and put the country Sierra Leone among countries that have embraced the digital census.


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