Open Letter to President Bio Regarding The Mid-Term Census
Your Excellency, I have chosen to write you this open letter because I know your office would and should debrief you on national issues on newspapers, and this one such important brief that I hope you will receive in good faith and possibly act upon immediately to deescalate the already tense atmosphere that the unprecedented midterm census has created. This unnecessary tension could be avoided and therefore bring to an end to a possible future commotion as the outcome of the midterm census will not be accepted as it has already manifested in several fronts.
Your Excellency, I am a citizen of our great nation Sierra Leone. I am particularly concerned about the peace, stability, and growth of our nation. I am a proud member of the All People’s Congress (APC), and I am not your friend, nor am I considering you as an enemy-but we are political opponents. This is a fact. In fact, you said something similar about our Party’s Chairman and Leader, Ernest Bai Koroma.
The point at issue here is not about our personal relationship, but it is about a national concern of the country wherein you and I are both citizens, and as at now, you are the President of the nation. I am obliged as a citizen to tell you some facts so as to keep our country peaceful and to also avoid any form of potential confusion and conflict which seem to be evident particularly pertaining the ongoing unprecedented, controversial, and non-agreeable midterm census.
Mr President, do not be deceived by anyone that tells you that you will succeed in imposing a midterm census on us at this point in time. It will not work!!! As a wise person, you should be in a position to see the writing on the wall that a forceful (i.e. paopa) midterm census will not hold. People are resisting it, International players are backing off and as well as warning against its imposition. Certainly you know of all of that, too.
And as a result of the people’s determination to resist the midterm census with non-participatory actions, your government through the police has invited, interrogated and detained scores of party leaders and stakeholders to make statements on their position not to participate in this unprecedented census.
And despite the intimidation by the police, the parties and their leaders plus the people still stand their grounds that they and their followership would continue to resist this unpopular midterm census.
Except you choose to be in denial, Mr President, you know that the resistance is no mere platitude but a fact. Must Gallup polls so far conducted show that enumerators are not allowed to do the counting, and as a matter of fact, the enumerators do not even show up in most places.
The videos and pictorial evidence are everywhere to prove thus. In fact, enumerators are evidently scared of doing their jobs, and this is why they do not put on their census T-shirts in disguise to avoid confrontation. And such acts of fear demonstrated by the enumerators is an anomaly.
Mr President, your officials who are responsible for advising you on this census have fallen short of their duties and have misadvised you. First, let us take for instance what the law says about census, in the Census Act N0.14 of 2002; Section 2 of this Act states: “The President may from time to time, on the advice of the Minister, by order made by statutory instrument, direct a census to be taken of the population of Sierra Leone.”
Mr President, you first made your proclamation on the census in July 2020 wherein you stated that the census night should be on December 4, 2020. You had to change the time at about December 2020 for logistical challenges. The delay to make the change also had to do with the controversial Statistician General who made false representation of the readiness of Statistics Sierra Leone to conduct the said midterm census.
The Minister of Development and Economic Planning and the Statistician General failed to do what the law requires of a statutory instrument as stated in section 170(7) of the 1991 Constitution Act No.6. Mr President, you again came up with a shorter notice at the end of March 2021 to conduct a midterm census in April wherein you announced that April 19, 2021, should be the census night. Again, you did this announcement without taking the statutory instrument of census to Parliament.
I personally challenged the proclaimed census on constitutional basis on a radio simulcast interview on April 3, 2021. In your wisdom, you withdrew your position on census on Friday, April 16, 2021, and at the same time, you invoked section 86(1) of the 1991 Constitution calling the members of Parliament who were already on recess for the laying of the statutory instrument of the census in Parliament on April 19, 2021. The parliamentary session was televised, and we saw it and how ended in fiasco.
In fact, during the controversial approval of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Western Area Commissioner, Honourable Hassan ‘Priest’ Sesay said it in the Well of Parliament that the census statutory instrument was not properly laid, and therefore his statement was recorded in the Hansards. My point here is that the Minister of Development and Economic Planning together with the Statistician General and the Chairman of the Board of Statistics Council plus the Attorney General have all failed to advise you accordingly for a long time and such inaction is tantamount to misadvise.
This inaction has a far reaching ramification that may lead to lawsuits in International Arena against other countries and International reputable organisations like Kenya and the World Bank for example, for aiding and abetting unconstitutionality in our country.
There are evidence of facts that can be proven that some of the named bodies contributed towards the unpopular census even long before the attempt of laying the statutory instrument in Parliament on April 19, 2021. Secondly, the Statistics Act No. 13 of 2002, in Section 10(2) (a) reads: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), it shall be the responsibility of Statistics Sierra Leone to-
supervise and manage a national population census to be conducted every ten years or at such shorter interval as may be determined by the President”
Again, Mr President, the above quoted Section has two limbs to it in relation to the timing of the conduct of a census determined by you. The first limb clearly stipulates that censuses are to be conducted every ten years. This situation of 10 years timing assumes the principle of ‘ceteris paribus’ wherein other conditions being the same, and where there is no serious situation or condition warranting serious number of unaccountable loss of lives; no serious situation has led to a huge movement of unaccountable people in and out of the country; or where there is no evidence of an astronomical growth in terms of housing and property development. Under such conditions, it is expected that censuses are held every ten years.
However, the second limb of the aforementioned Section states “or at such shorter interval as may be determined by the President.” This limb caters for abnormal situations or conditions whereby a serious situation occurs in the country that has the tendency to alter significantly the overall population growth figures. This can happen under a pandemic situation wherein a huge number of many lives cannot be accounted for; or a deadly outbreak of war that significantly resulted to an untold loss of lives and properties; or disaster such as earthquakes or tsunamis with major magnitude leading to a massive unaccountable loss of lives and properties. For these kinds of situations, it is justifiable to call for census before the ten years specified time.
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In Sierra Leone, even though there is Covid-19 pandemic, we know how many people have died from it for instance. Knowing what the law says about the conduct of census, it becomes really difficult to fathom why a full blown census should be conducted for an error of a mismatch of only three percent of the entire population.
It must be emphasized that everyone was counted but not all the counted people were located as per their section. Those who fall in this category are few and they constitute the Type 3 Enumeration Areas (EAs) which do not fit into the threshold of 80 to 120 households for an EA. In other words, the Type 3 EAs are rural localities found within a section of a chiefdom that are joined with other sections within the same chiefdom to form an EA.
The 2015 census has data for every region, district, chiefdom and most sections except for the few that fall under the Type 3 EAs. This is an error of mismatch which could have been easily corrected by matching up the villages of these Type 3 EAs to their correct sections within their chiefdoms. The real challenge of the mismatch stems from the facts that many villages have the same names even within their sections, but such challenges can be corrected and many of the Type 3 EAs had already been corrected, and or, where about to be corrected when the Statistician General insisted on a controversial full blown census claiming a structural error of 60% of the 2015 Census.
Mr President, the purported and much trumpeted 60% of structural error of the 2015 census is in reality a 60% of the Type 3 Enumeration Areas (EAs). These type 3 EAs only constitute 5% of the entire population and 60% of that figure is 3% of the entire population. This is an insignificant error to demand a full blown census.
The Statistician General has manifested his deceit in the entire process about his institution’s readiness to conduct a census, but we all have seen the ill-preparedness in many fronts. The reason for the World Bank’s withdrawal is an open secret that also attests to the facts of not meeting the criteria of international best practice standards. The failure to meet such standards and the public reproach and withdrawal of the World Bank are serious indictments of anomalies that are enough to discredit any outcome of the said unpopular midterm census.
Mr President, the primary reason you raised for the conduct of the midterm census was based on anomalies, but the anomalies in the current midterm census are hundredfold more than those in the 2015 census. This therefore will be an effort in futility to continue conducting a census which has been abandoned by the principal financier and sponsor for failing to meet the international best practice criteria. Much time was needed to look at the result of both the pilot census and the cartographic mapping.
But how much time was given and when were those results published for even the Census Advisory Committee to give its approval to go ahead with the main census? The mad rush into conducting this census is really worrisome and has actually heightened the suspicion of gerrymandering as its key objective. To this end, people and political parties will continue to resist this census that is marred with anomalies. And the ordering for the arrest of political leaders and ordinary people further manifests and suggests the irony of the theme of the unpopular census as the ‘People’s Census.’ This is just another desktop view that does not resonate in actuality.
Mr President, please be reminded that the detention of people for not participating in this controversial and unpopular census does not warrant their arrest and there is no need for detention as per the Census Act No. 14 of 2002. The Act is clear about its fines in both Sections 8 and 15 of same. Section 8 of the Census Act reads: “Any person holding a post of an enumerator or above who produces and identification card duly signed by the Chief Census Officer and who is employed in the execution of this Act, shall have authority to ask any person whom they have reasonable cause to believe to be able to afford the information desired, all such questions as may be necessary for obtaining any particulars required for the purposes of this Act, and every person refusing to answer or who knowingly gives a false answer to such questions, shall for every such refusal or false answer be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten thousand Leones.”
The law is very specific and therefore the question for detention does not arise, and it will be unlawful to do so under this circumstance. The law is clear that only fines should apply for such a situation and that fine should not exceed ten thousand Leones. Section 15 which deals with penalty for obstruction reads: “Any person who hinders or obstructs the Chief Census Officer or any of the persons employed in the execution of this Act in the lawful performance of any duties or in the lawful exercise of any powers imposed or conferred upon him by or under this Act shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand Leones.”
Again, the penalty did not state imprisonment and therefore any form of detention with regard this is unwarranted and the police should be more responsible or may risk litigation issues either locally or otherwise for the abuse of power.
Your Excellency, the purpose of this open letter is to appeal to your good sense of reasoning to stop the conduct of the census and focus on issues that will bring our fragile economy to a peaceful atmosphere. A peaceful atmosphere will usher in stability and confidence for the business and private sector to grow. A peaceful atmosphere will attract good governance policies to grow, but the reverse will happen in a tense atmosphere. Your Excellency, do not ignore my advice because we are not friends per se, but listen to the wise counsel of a good citizen.
The former President according to you is not your friend and never was but he listened to you when you called for the Ebola Audit. I am equally not your friend but we (you and I) are both citizens of Sierra Leone, the land we must love. For the love of mama Salone, I am once again pleading that you stop the conduct of the census and do a deep reflection of the advice of the Statistician General to conduct the census. Without an iota of doubt, the Statistician General is just a typical example of an egoist. He wants to go on record that he has conducted a census but there is more in that character than what meets the eyes. This is a food for thought.
Your Excellency, critics might want to ask why should such monies spent on the unpopular census be wasted by stopping it? It will be far better to let that money go than to continue with it and then fan the fires of resistance against your Government for imposing a census that has been widely criticized both by locals and International Bodies.
If the World Bank which has spent the biggest for the unpopular midterm census can back off almost on the eve of the unprecedented census night, there will be nothing wrong if you decide to stop the process now and maintain the much needed peace and stability that the nation wants. Without much ado, I wish you and every Sierra Leonean at home and abroad a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Sylvanus Fornah Koroma Jr.