54th Legislature to postpone census to 2019?
Because the Liberian government cannot raise its share of 50 percent of the US$20 million needed to carry out the national census, the House of Representatives and the Senate of the 54th Legislature have decided to postpone the March 26, 2018 scheduled national census to an undetermined future date.
The House’s plenary in its 12th day sitting yesterday voted for the leadership to meet the Senate to draw-up a Joint Resolution to postpone the census; and at that time, a new date would be announced.
Article 29 of the 1986 Constitution states that, “The Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years.” The last census was conducted in 2008, recording the population as 3.5 million.
According to information from credible sources, Liberia’s development partners would provide 50 percent of the money and the Liberian government would provide the remaining 50 for the census.
A legislative source told the Daily Observer that members of the House of Representatives are expected to affix their signatures to the Joint Resolution, and at least 37 signatures are needed to have it transferred to the Senate, where 20 signatures are needed, to postpone the 2018 Census.
The rescheduling of the 2018 census through a Joint Resolution was prompted by a letter from Nimba County District #8 Representative Larry Younquoi.
At a press conference yesterday, Rep. Younquoi said even though the need for a valid national population and housing census cannot be overemphasized, since there is no funding, the legislature should, through a Joint Resolution, postpone the census to a future date that falls within the internationally accepted timeframe of between now and 2025.
It may be recalled that since 1847, Liberia has conducted four successive census exercises: the first was conducted in 1962, the second was held in 1974, and the third and fourth in 1984 and 2008 respectively. However, the results of the 2008 census were not used to determine new population thresholds for the delimitation of constituencies as required by Article 80 (c) of the Constitution.
Article 80 (c) reads: “Every Liberian shall have the right to be registered in a constituency and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot, provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.”
However, it can be recalled that certain provisions of the constitution were suspended by the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in order to facilitate the return to normalcy by the holding of elections in 2005 since the next census was due in 2008.
Although the census was held, the legislature failed to determine a new threshold for the delimitation of constituencies for the 2011 elections. Article 80 (d) of the Constitution reads: “Each constituency shall have an approximately equal population of 20,000 or such number of citizens as the Legislature shall prescribe in keeping with population growth and movements as revealed by a national census provided that the total number of electoral constituencies in the Republic shall not exceed on hundred.”
Political observers here hold the view that while the proposed postponement is necessary, the legislature may more likely than not maintain the current arrangements allowing for elections to be held on the basis of electoral districts, which is illegal under the constitution. They maintain that the use of electoral districts with no defined population threshold has led to a situation where voters are now being trucked from one area to the next during elections.
According to Article 80 (e), “Immediately following a national census and before the next elections, the Elections Commission shall reapportion the constituencies in accordance with the new population figures so that every constituency shall have as close to the same population as possible; provided however that a constituency must be solely within a county.”
The population data from the 2018 Census, if held, is expected to play a major role in the formulation of constituency boundaries for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections.
The data is also expected to be used for socioeconomic development planning, monitoring of government development programs, and international interventions.
Meanwhile the House is studying the National Security Reform and Intelligence Act of 2011 for the reactivation of the Ministry of National Security.
The Committee on Judiciary, Labor, National Security, Ways, Means and Finance, Claims and Petition are reviewing the Act and will report to plenary in two weeks.
The sponsor of the Act, Nimba County District #5 Rep. Samuel Kogar, said the Act will strengthen and effectively coordinate intelligence gathering and efficiently fight economic crimes.