Liberia: Senate Probes Census Postponement

The Liberian Senate has begun probing the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services, citing the agency’s conspicuous silence on the conduct of the country’s fifth national census, which has already been postponed numerous times.

The Senate’s action comes after LISGIS, citing financial constraints, once again postponed the much anticipated fifth National and Population Census, which was supposed to be held in 2018.

While LISGIS’ request in the past was approved by the legislature in violation of Article 39 of the 1986 Constitution, it appears that the recent decision by LISGIS, to postpone the census has angered members of the Senate, who believe that any further deferment puts the country at greater risk.

The deferral, according to LISGIS came as a result of a delay in completing the Census projected “Enumerated Areas”, due to inadequate funding — thus changing the agreed Census date from March 22 to June 19.

However, the decision, which Senators seem not to be aware of, has the august body to mandate its Committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies to launch an inquiry into the delay by LISGIS to conduct the National Census and report within one week for the Senate’s action.

The Senate’s decision followed a strong-worded communication from Senator Numene T.H. Bartekwa of Grand Kru County, in which he raised concerns about LISGIS’ conspicuous silence and delay to conduct the National Census, as was scheduled for March 2022. Since the last population Census in 2008, Liberia has not had another Census and had been regularly postponed on grounds that LISGIS was having financial issues and, as such, it needed more time.

Now, the March 22 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 an 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.

If the census had been held, the country would have had the needed data for comparisons and projections of demographic as well as social and economic characteristics of society -- helping 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 on the basis of area population size — so using the 2008 census data might not demonstrate the impact of the funds on the growing population growth.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bartekwa asserted that the importance of census in the developmental process of every country cannot be overemphasized, especially considering that Liberia is on the pathway to a critical period of presidential and legislative elections.

He added that the time of a National Census cannot be decided without the knowledge of the Legislature, adding: “If there is any further postponement for the conduct of the census, it must obtain the blessing of the Legislature.”

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.” In line with Chapter 5, Article 39 of the 1986 Constitution, the Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years.