Why cen­sus is important

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE na­tional cen­sus, which the gov­ern­ment started on 10 April through the Bureau of Statistics, comes to an end on Satur­day. The ex­er­cise is con­ducted ev­ery 10 years and Bureau of Statistics Di­rec­tor, Lien­goane Le­fosa, ex­plains to Le­sotho Times (LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, why this pop­u­la­tion count is important to the na­tion.

LT: Le­sotho is in the mid­dle of a cen­sus and we un­der­stand your depart­ment has met with chal­lenges since the ex­er­cise be­gan. But be­fore we get into this, could you briefly tell us what a cen­sus is?

Le­fosa: A cen­sus is a com­plete count of the na­tional pop­u­la­tion and house­holds. The out­come is com­pared to the pre­vi­ous cen­sus to de­ter­mine if and how the pop­u­la­tion has grown over the last 10 years. The cen­sus also gives us data on the move­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. For in­stance, it has been found dur­ing the cur­rent cen­sus that in some ar­eas in Mafeteng, peo­ple have moved from their set­tle­ments.

Again, some ar­eas re­mained farm­lands with­out any hu­man set­tle­ments but to­day, those fields have be­come res­i­den­tial ar­eas. Public ser­vices have to be pro­vided to those ar­eas. The cen­sus, there­fore, helps in the plan­ning of the dis­tri­bu­tion of public ser­vices. All this in­for­ma­tion will be re­flected in the cen­sus out­come and help pol­i­cy­mak­ers plan ac­cord­ingly.

The cen­sus is also used to cap­ture data on the rate of deaths and births since the last count. It is also important for public ad­min­is­tra­tion; for the eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion and al­lo­ca­tion of gov­ern­ment funds to dif­fer­ent re­gions or dis­tricts. The pop­u­la­tion data is also used for plan­ning ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices as well as de­lin­eat­ing elec­toral bound­aries.

For in­stance, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing would like to know how many chil­dren will be en­ter­ing Early Child­hood Care Devel­op­ment (ECCD). If there is need to im­prove or in­crease such child­care cen­tres, it will be as a re­sult of what the statistics re­veal. The same goes for chil­dren who will be start­ing pri­mary and higher ed­u­ca­tion.

The Min­istry of Health, on the other hand, needs to know how many chil­dren need vac­ci­na­tion. Health work­ers should be able to stock ad­e­quate vac­cines so that all chil­dren are im­mu­nised. They can only do this if they have proper pop­u­la­tion statistics. Even where there is ab­ject poverty, the au­thor­i­ties are able to iden­tify the most vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas through data from the cen­sus.

We also use the cen­sus as a bench­mark for sta­tis­ti­cal com­pi­la­tion. We don’t only com­pile the to­tal num­ber of the pop­u­la­tion but also clas­sify that by age dis­tri­bu­tion. The data is pre­sented in cat­e­gories of age groups and sex.

The cen­sus is also important for research and anal­y­sis. Re­searchers from uni­ver­si­ties and other aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions need re­li­able sta­tis­ti­cal data. So you could say the cen­sus fa­cil­i­tates aca­demic ex­cel­lence and in­formed de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

LT: There have been com­plaints that some of the ques­tions you ask are sen­si­tive and that peo­ple don’t al­ways see their rel­e­vance…

Le­fosa: It is important for the peo­ple to un­der­stand we work un­der very strict con­fi­den­tial­ity. It is true we ask for the names of ev­ery in­di­vid­ual as we col­lect data from ev­ery house­hold but we don’t in­clude them in the fi­nal re­port. No­body will know who said what be­cause the cen­sus is ul­ti­mately about the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, not in­di­vid­u­als. So peo­ple should rest as­sured we are strictly pro­hib­ited from shar­ing in­di­vid­u­als’ in­for­ma­tion with any­body. We op­er­ate un­der a strict con­fi­den­tial­ity clause en­shrined in our Statistics Act.

The enu­mer­a­tor who gets into your house to col­lect data can­not di­vulge cer­tain in­for­ma­tion even to his or her im­me­di­ate su­per­vi­sor. That in­for­ma­tion re­mains con­fi­den­tial be­tween the enu­mer­a­tor and the head of the house­hold who shared it. The enu­mer­a­tor and su­per­vi­sor can only dis­cuss tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion in re­la­tion to the data col­lected from the house­holds.

LT: What is the point of ask­ing for such pri­vate in­for­ma­tion then?

Le­fosa: I will give an ex­am­ple to il­lus­trate the point. There are peo­ple who are on med­i­ca­tion for chronic ill­nesses and we can ask them about the sup­ply of that med­i­ca­tion. Is it al­ways avail­able and does it meet de­mand? This will as­sist health-prac­ti­tion­ers who will know how to make use of the in­for­ma­tion. They will be able to stock the med­i­ca­tion in the right quan­ti­ties where it’s needed.

We can even ask if peo­ple are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties us­ing stairs. This way, we will be in­form­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers they should con­sider ramps and el­e­va­tors be­cause there are some peo­ple who can­not use stairs with ease even if they are not wheel­chair-bound. Such build­ings should be struc­tured on the ba­sis of the needs of the pop­u­la­tion not the ar­chi­tects.

LT: We no­ticed there is a sec­tion on al­binism in the ques­tion­naire. Have you al­ways done this and if not, why now?

Le­fosa: That sec­tion has been in­cluded for the first time in this cen­sus and that’s be­cause there was a re­quest from al­bi­nos. They said while they wanted to be treated like ev­ery­body else, it was important for them to be reg­is­tered as al­bi­nos. They said this was be­cause of the ex­clu­sive chal­lenges and needs they have in re­la­tion to skin-pig­men­ta­tion. They ex­plained their skin is very sen­si­tive to sun­light and as a re­sult, need very ex­pen­sive lo­tions.

They don’t just use any body-creams found on the shop shelves. Some suf­fer from skin can­cer but un­like other can­cer pa­tients in the coun­try, al­bi­nos can’t be re­ferred to hos­pi­tals in Bloem­fontein for chemo­ther­apy. They said such ser­vices are not avail­able in Bloem­fontein but else­where in South Africa where they are very ex­pen­sive.

Al­binism af­fects al­most ev­ery house­hold, even the poor­est fam­i­lies. This is why they are say­ing to us ‘ you must know our num­bers and where we are so that gov­ern­ment will cater for us when craft­ing na­tional poli­cies’. They said there is no shame in be­ing an al­bino. This will also help par­ents who have been pre­vent­ing their chil­dren from play­ing with oth­ers in or­der to save them from em­bar­rass­ment and the as­so­ci­ated stigma of be­ing an al­bino. Al­bi­nos are now of­fi­cially our part­ners. They even par­tic­i­pated in pre-cen­sus public aware­ness cam­paigns at district level.

LT: Apart from al­binism, what other new is­sues have been in­cluded?

Le­fosa: The other is­sue we have in­cluded for the first time in this cen­sus re­lates to gases used in dif­fer­ent house­hold re­frig­er­a­tors. We check the num­bers in those fridges and th­ese tell us what type of gas each fridge uses.

We are do­ing this be­cause some of th­ese gases are not en­vi­ron­ment-friendly. Some fridges emit gases that lead to the de­ple­tion of the ozone layer and harm the en­vi­ron­ment. We have a new divi­sion called the En­vi­ron­ment and Energy Statistics Divi­sion that scru­ti­nises the is­sue of energy con­sump­tion.

We have also re­vised some of the ques­tions we used to ask on is­sues of dis­abil­ity. The aim is to build an archive of mean­ing­ful in­for­ma­tion. We have, there­fore, based our ques­tions on the Wash­ing­ton Group on Dis­abil­ity for Newly Re­vised Ques­tions for con­duct­ing the cen­sus.

We were also ap­proached by LNFOD (Le­sotho Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Or­gan­i­sa­tions of the Dis­abled) who ques­tioned find­ings of the 2006 cen­sus re­sults, that only three-per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion were peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­ity.

They chal­lenged the fig­ure, say­ing it was a gross un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties in the coun­try. So for this cen­sus, we had to go back and look at the man­ner in which we had asked the ques­tions. And in­deed when the ques­tions were re­vised, we felt we had left out a lot of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in the last cen­sus. We had only con­cen­trated on peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity. The num­ber of our dis­abled pop­u­la­tion is def­i­nitely go­ing to in­crease this time around due to the re­vised ques­tions.

LT: There are re­ports of enu­mer­a­tors fac­ing se­ri­ous chal­lenges while con­duct­ing the cen­sus. How has this af­fected the process?

Le­fosa: We struc­tured our process in such a way that where the enu­mer­a­tors en­counter se­ri­ous prob­lems, there will be su­per­vi­sors to as­sist. For ev­ery four enu­mer­a­tors, we have one su­per­vi­sor as­sist­ing. So the enu­mer­a­tor im­me­di­ately re­ports to the su­per­vi­sor any chal­lenges en­coun­tered. In ad­di­tion, we have con­stituency su­per­vi­sors or­di­nary su­per­vi­sors re­port to if they can­not han­dle the chal­lenge.

This struc­ture has en­abled us to deal with al­most ev­ery chal­lenge so far. So far we have not reached a stage where the chal­lenges are such that I, as Di­rec­tor, had to in­ter­vene. In some cases, we have en­gaged area chiefs. I want to thank the chiefs be­cause they solved ev­ery prob­lem that was brought to them. They have been with us from the be­gin­ning.

LT: How true are re­ports that some of the chal­lenges are due to the fact the process was run along po­lit­i­cal party lines.

Le­fosa: Some peo­ple ar­gued that the process was con­ducted on po­lit­i­cal lines but we ex­plained that this is not a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise. This is a na­tional ex­er­cise and ev­ery­body is obliged to par­tic­i­pate. Ev­ery coun­try needs a cen­sus for devel­op­ment plan­ning. It is not a mat­ter of which po­lit­i­cal party is in gov­ern­ment.

It is un­for­tu­nate that some peo­ple re­fused to be counted, ar­gu­ing their party lead­ers were in ex­ile. The cen­sus has al­ways been con­ducted from as far back as 1966 and we have al­ways had peo­ple in ex­ile. That should not hin­der the ex­er­cise.

LT: What is the next stage af­ter the com­ple­tion of the enu­mer­a­tion process this weekend?

Le­fosa: The next stage is the post-enu­mer­a­tion sur­vey. This is where the va­lid­ity of the cen­sus is tested. This can be called the au- dit of the cen­sus. We ex­am­ine the mag­ni­tude of er­rors. We have again em­ployed 210 new enu­mer­a­tors for this ex­er­cise. Their su­per­vi­sors are cur­rently un­der­go­ing train­ing. We have se­lected a few enu­mer­a­tion ar­eas from each district for this process. The ques­tion­naire for this stage is not as com­pre­hen­sive as the one used in the enu­mer­a­tion stage. This is just a sur­vey where we will sam­ple a few house­holds. It will run from 15 to 30 May. Af­ter that, there will be the match­ing ex­er­cise where we take data from the main cen­sus and com­pare it with re­sponses from the sur­vey.

LT: When can we ex­pect the fi­nal re­port?

Le­fosa: We an­tic­i­pate the fi­nal re­sults to be re­leased be­fore the end of July. How­ever, I’m not com­mit­ting my­self to a spe­cific month and date be­cause if we fail to de­liver, I will come un­der fire. We de­cided on elec­tronic data-col­lec­tion to speed-up the process but we still have to go the extra mile and as­sure our­selves that the data is in­deed ac­cu­rate and re­li­able. First we will re­lease pre­lim­i­nary re­sults with a few vari­ables.

LT: How much has this process cost gov­ern­ment? Are there any part­ners?

Le­fosa: This process started as far back as the 2014/2015 fi­nan­cial year. We started with car­tog­ra­phy. In the 2015/2016 year, we were al­lo­cated M45 mil­lion by the gov­ern­ment. That money was used for pre-cen­sus ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing the pro­cure­ment of most of the equip­ment for the cen­sus. In the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, gov­ern­ment al­lo­cated M59 mil­lion. We also have part­ners like UNFPA (United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund) who pro­vided tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance. They sent an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy (IT) spe­cial­ist to help us. UNFPA also paid con­sul­tants who trained our enu­mer­a­tors. The other donor was USAID (United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment) that fi­nanced peo­ple who came to help us with an ap­pli­ca­tion to be used in the cen­sus. There is also UNICEF (United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Emer­gency Fund) who bought some of the cen­sus equip­ment. They ac­tu­ally gave us $100 000 and we used it to buy lap­tops and other IT equip­ment. We have 50 IT co­or­di­na­tors dis­trib­uted around the coun­try to work with enu­mer­a­tors.

Bureau of Statistics Di­rec­tor Lien­goane Le­fosa.

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