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Census shapes way forward

Thursday, August 09, 2007

As part of the President's Mandate, the Bureau of Statistics has been tasked with carrying out a Census before the next general election.

Census Commissioner Ratu Timoci Bainimarama talks to senior writer Verenaisi Raicola about the exercise and the importance of providing accurate information to enumerators.

Times: How much money has the Bureau of Statistics received for the Census exercise and when will it start?

Bainimarama: We have received $4.06m so far and the remainder will be released to us in the fourth quarter.

Census night is September 16. Enumerators will visit households from September 17 for the next 10 days to gather data.

Times: What does this $4.06m cover. I understand it is a tight budget compared to the $6.2m you had asked for from the ousted government last year to carry out this census?

Bainimarama: The funds allocated will ensure an excellent census enumeration, which is important.

The United Nations Population Fund has provided $190,000 worth of help in the form of equipment and finance for Global Positioning System related work. We are excited with the new dimension GPS technology affords data users as it will enhance census data.

This allows us to identify the household location of vulnerable groups in society and ensures a targeted response to their needs.

With GPS location data, disaster management can be improved. We will be signing a substantial sum of AusAID assistance this week, so we should be comfortable. However, there may be unforeseen circumstances that will require the diversion of funds and which will impact on our ability to process the data as planned.

Times: Will Fiji be able to meet the EU deadline for elections?

Bainimarama: We will play our part in providing updated information on the voter population distribution and we will help the Constituency Boundaries Commission and the Elections Office in whatever way we can.

Times: How will a census help with free and fair elections as many criticised the last one, saying there was no census then and that it could have affected the results?

Bainimarama: The Constitution requires that constituency boundaries are revised after every census. It has to do with ensuring parity in the distribution of voters. We all know that there has been a lot of internal migration since the last census and it was reflected in the disparity of voter numbers in some open seats in the last general election.

Times: In June you said the main preparatory work for the 2007 Census was almost complete. Please elaborate on what has been completed so far and what is left?

Bainimarama: We are now preparing for the training of enumerators and supervisors. The Enumeration Area (EA) boundary maps and descriptions have been prepared and digitised.

The Enumeration Area Revision exercise is the main preparatory work for the 2007 Population and Housing Census.

With the census objective of gathering information on every person in the country, EAs are the smallest geographical collection unit that allows us to relate information to the places from which it was collected.

It allows us to classify areas by their socio-economic background, making it easier for planners to have in place development programs that will be more focused.

With major changes taking place in urban and rural areas, EA boundaries need to be changed so that the criteria for their delineation remain intact.

Criteria such as the ease of identification, size and homogeneity are important in order to ensure the census operation is well controlled and data gathered reliably reflects the situation on the ground.

At a User Conference last September attended by a good cross section of stakeholders, a committee was formed to look at the needs of users of these data.

The pilot census carried out last October was designed to test census planning and those who would be responsible for the enumeration. So far these are the stages of work:

Questionnaire finalised;

Data edit programs in advanced stage of development;

GPS technology tested;

Detailed small area plans in place;

Training materials prepared.

Times: How many enumerators, supervisors and support staff will you need for the census period, what are their qualifications and how much will this exercise cost?

Bainimarama: The data collection phase involves significant manpower mobilisation and coordination given that it is conducted simultaneously over the country. Data collection will involve the deployment of 40 superintendents, 90 area coordinators, 1920 enumerators, 475 supervisors and 200 GPS waypoint collection staff, as well as 20 support staff to gather information from households in their assigned areas over a two-week period. The cost of wages and allowances of the area coordinators, enumerators, supervisors and GPS operators alone is around $1.7m.

Times: How will abuse be minimised during this exercise?

Bainimarama: Our planning and budgeting goes down to the enumeration area level and costs are based on the experiences of our field staff. This is to ensure firm control of the allocated funds. We have control measures in place to guard against slipshod work.

Times: What kind of questions should people expect from enumerators?

Bainimarama: Important information gathered from a census includes the following:

Number of people, where they live and population trends;

Population characteristics, such as age, sex, educational attainment and ethnicity;

Economic activities people are engaged in, opportunities available and the informal sector;

Labour supply and demand with employment and unemployment details;

Status of children, youth and the elderly;

Health indicators such as infant mortality rate and average life expectancy at birth;

Details of housing, household amenities, belongings and living conditions; and

Internal migration.

Times: How will you verify that the information given by people is the truth?

Bainimarama: Census results are important as a planning tool for making informed policy decisions and that is why we encourage people to be honest and transparent when answering the questionnaire.

People need to know that it is important to be honest because the data will be used for:

Formulation of policies impacting children, youths and the elderly;

Formulation of development plans for villages, settlements and other localities;

assessment of living standards today and identifying future needs such as safe water supply, hygienic toilet facilities, sanitary waste disposal, proper housing, electricity, secure land tenure and telecommunication;

Labour supply and demand information to put in place training programs and plans to meet the country's needs;

Formulation of policies and programs to develop the informal sector, alternative livelihood, and income generating opportunities, which are an effective means of reducing poverty;

Revision of the Election Constituency Boundaries, and

Information on internal migration to guide the formulation of development strategies in meeting the changing regional needs.

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