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Census performance failure could result in profound financial implications

Online census planning has been tested on some members of the public, but it doesn't seem to have taken.

FILE: Statistician General Risenga Maluleke. Picture: @SAgovnews/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - Despite Stats SA’s optimism that its efforts to ensure the project went ahead as planned this could prove difficult to accomplish due to the unpredictability of the pandemic.

The census, which scheduled for this year, was already experiencing setbacks, with the institution saying it faced difficulties in its preparatory work.

The pressure on Stats SA to find avenues to ensure it can push ahead with the census this year is increasing, but questions are also being raised about whether conductors should not be among the first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Statistician General Risenga Maluleke told Eyewitness News on Thursday he was not of the view that, despite admitting they were already facing challenges in the preliminary stages of the data collection.

He said vaccinating the over 150,000 workers in the first round of the immunisations was not the solution to the challenges they face.

"If you vaccinate the field workers and then they go and work with a society they will not be able to reach, it's a lot more complex. We will be able to do our work when the situation in the country retains its ability to allow home visits."

Some countries such as the United States faced a similar challenge at the onset of the pandemic, leading to delays in the completion of its census.

However, unlike South Africa, they had the benefit of electronic data gathering. It’s an option that Maluleke told Eyewitness News failed to garner favour among locals.

“The completed web-assisted interviews has started recently, and it didn't seem to have quite an apetite from society. So I must say the census planning has been tested," Maluleke said.

But he did admit that not getting the Census under way and concluded on time would pose a challenge to the country. Maluleke added that this would not be a problem exclusive to Stats SA should the COVID-19 infections rates not ease.

The last census was conducted in 2011. Stats SA published estimates on the population and other indicators over the years.

Former statistician general Pali Lehohla told Eyewitness News on Thursday should stats SA fail to conduct a census this year due to COVID19, the implications could lead to skewed distribution of resources and long lasting effects.

Lehohla said the institution found itself in an unfortunate position, given pre-existing challenges such as access to households, a problem they would have to deal with nonetheless.

“The census is a great allocator of national resources [and] the national state. Knowing the number of people most of the time and its allocations are weighted largely on people like us - fiscal and financial commissions," Lehohla said.

The census is conducted every 10 years and gives government, academics and other key institutions responsible for planning a clear picture of the country’s population and its demographics, among other data.

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