Most important count of all

Editorial, Normal

The National – Friday, December 10, 2010

PARLIAMENT last month approved K40 million for the national census to be carried out next year.
The census, normally held every 10 years, was this year differed for the first time due to a number of reasons, but mostly attributable to bureaucratic inefficiency and political complacency.
Next year, when the population count takes place, another important head counting process will also be conducted.
This will be the upgrading of the common roll for the general election in 2012.
Parliament has allocated a similar amount for that purpose.
The census counts every single individual living within the boundaries of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, the common roll update actually takes into account all citizens who are over the age of 18.
As can be expected, the census must always have more people counted than those registered on the common roll.
The result over the years has been surprising.
In many areas of the country, there have been more people on the common roll than have been counted in the national census.
While the manner in which both processes are carried out are different, they are really quite similar.
They are about counting people in this country.
In the past, the results of both exercises had shown significant discrepancies.
The common roll has tended to include more people in certain parts of the country, principally the highlands region, than the national census.
The excuse has always been that the population had increased since the last national census.
It will, therefore, be most interesting next year to see the result of each counting exercise.
It is our recommendation that the two exercises be merged into a single counting event next year.
In that way, there will a need to double the amount of money available as well as double the number of personnel to carry out the enumeration exercise.
It would be a matter of designing enumeration forms that contain a few extra details to the normal census forms.
The format for the census is far more elaborate and detailed than is the common roll, but is less likely to be manipulated as all counting is done in a single day.
Common roll updating is spread out over months and, so, it gives time for populations to be moved and provide time and opportunity for foul play.
Both processes are not simple, so a bit of thought needs to be put to it but we do not think it is an impossible idea to implement.
One process counts everybody living in the country, including non-nationals, while the other process counts only adult citizens.
Both processes ought to be amalgamated so that the census is updated every five years rather than every 10 years as is the present practice.
With the population growing at more than 3%, it is essential to keep track of the number of people living in the country.
All decisions, including those which relate to distribution of funds and goods and services, require up-to-date data on the number of people living in a certain area of the country.
Local government councillors, or church elders in each village, should be asked to maintain accurate village records of births and deaths and the movement of people which can be used during the census exercise and updating the common roll and the civil registry.
Accurate numbers are fundamental to the principle of democratic government.
It is fundamental to economic planning and for the distribution of goods and services.
It must be pursued with a vengeance.
Donor agencies and nations ought to be drafted in to assist on this.