Liberia: National Census Deferred for 5th Time

Wilmot F. Smith, Jr, Acting Director-General of LISGIS

The 2022 Population and Housing Census (PHC) will be held in October instead of June 19, the Liberia Institute for Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) has announced. 

The latest extension, according to LISGIS, was triggered by their inability to complete the much-needed geographical mappings of all enumerator areas (EAs) in the 15 counties. 

A large part of the preparatory work has been completed by the expected deadlines, including the procurement of 21,000 tablets and power banks, but the selection of the 21,000 plus enumerators is yet to be completed with shortlisting expected in August.

Since the last population Census in 2008, Liberia has not had another Census. The 2018 National Population and Housing Census was delayed to March 2022, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the coronavirus, the census was regularly postponed on grounds that LISGIS was having financial issues and, as such, it needed more time.

Now, the June postponement will be the fourth deferment since the exercise was initially scheduled to take place in January 2018.

The first four modern censuses were held in 1962, 1974, 1984, and 2008 and revealed how the population had increased differently beginning at 1.1 million, 1.5, 2.1, and 3.5 million, respectively.

The lack of updated census data means Liberia has been operating on a population estimated at five million people — missing out on data that would help policymakers more accurately understand the prevailing economic and social conditions, as well as cultural characteristics within the country.

Wilmot F. Smith, Jr, the Deputy Director-General for Information & Coordination at LISGIS, the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview on May 8, said President George M. Weah has been informed of the change of date of the National Census. The President is expected to write to the Legislature to officially inform them about the postponement. 

Smith added that the census has been extended owing to technical adjustments which became necessary during the planning process. 

Off-loading of the 21,000 tablets and power banks for the census on Sunday, May 9, 2022

This round of census, which should have been held in 2018, continues to be postponed in violation of the Constitution, which mandates in Article 39: “The Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years.”

The latest census postponement means Liberia does not have the needed data for comparisons and projections of demographic as well as the social and economic characteristics of society — a data that would help with the equitable distribution of public funds, for things like educational programs, healthcare, and law enforcement.

As a democratic nation, Liberia needs census data to determine the total number of representatives to be elected from respective legislative districts, while politicians ahead of 2023 need it to formulate political strategy, while election registrars need it to validate the number of registered voters per precinct.

Also, legislators need census data to define and create administrative areas according to the number of inhabitants. National services and national revenues, as well as permits, are also allotted based on area population size — so using the 2008 census data might not demonstrate the impact of the funds on the growing population growth.

Meanwhile, Smith has indicated that though LISGIS has been performing its statutory function such as conducting surveys, there remain constraints when it comes to collecting, processing, analyzing, and disseminating timely and accurate data.

“LISGIS from time to time has been performing some of its key statutory responsibilities, but there have been some challenges posed to the institution as the hub of the repository of data in the country. Besides funding, there is a lack of coordination and cooperation from other government institutions that collect their data, which makes it impossible to have accurate and synchronized data. Even at that, we need to train their personnel on how to collect, process, analyze and present the data for public consumption,” Smith said.

He furthered that there is also the need to explore strategies on how census can be utilized to develop ways of generating revenue for the country through the sale of data for research or marketing but that there must be a high degree of reliability of the data.