Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 December 2021:
On Tuesday, 7th December 2021, Mr. Pierre Laporte, World Bank Country Director for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Africa West and Central Region, wrote a letter to Sierra Leone’s minister of finance – Denis Vandy and minister of economic development – Francis Kaikai, copied to Jacob Jusu Saffa – chief minister and Osman Sankoh – statistician general of Statistics Sierra Leone, to inform the government that the World Bank will no longer support its midterm census. (Photo above: President Bio had a frosty meeting with the Head of World Bank in Africa yesterday).
Few weeks ago, President Bio announced on national television and radio that a mid-term census will be conducted, starting tonight – 9th December 2021. But since his announcement, there have been calls for the president not to go ahead due to technical difficulties and lack of preparedness.
“Our development partners and my government are firmly committed to ensuring objectivity, transparency, and professionalism throughout the census exercise. I therefore, urge every citizen to participate fully in this exercise.
“I therefore declare the night of 9th December 2021 as Census Night, and the 10th of December 2021, as the date for the start of electronic enumeration for the 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census for Sierra Leone,” President Bio said in November 2021.
So why is President Bio bent on having a midterm census?
“Fellow Sierra Leoneans, we are conducting this 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census for three key reasons: a. To correct the anomalies of the 2015 Population and Housing Census; b. To provide credible and reliable data that will help us plan, implement, and monitor development interventions by the Government of Sierra Leone and our development partners in respect of the current Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019-2023 and the follow up national Plan; c. To prepare us for the next Population and Housing Census,” President Bio told the people of Sierra Leone.
But opposition political parties are calling for the boycott of the census, accusing the government of using the census to redraw the country’s constituency boundaries in order to win party political advantage at the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Although the government has denied this accusation, claiming that it needs to take stock of how many people there are in the country so as to plan better for the development of the country, confidence in the government is in short supply.
What is even more alarming is that several opposition leaders in the country have been summoned or arrested by the police for speaking out against the midterm census and calling on their supporters to boycott the census.
Even the European Union has questioned the government’s midterm census, and now the World Bank has withdrawn its support, prompting questions as to whether President Bio will still go ahead.
In April this year, the World Bank was in no doubt about its support for producing quality data in Sierra Leone. This is what it said: “The World Bank is working with Sierra Leone to help produce quality and credible data that will contribute to the attainment of the national development goals of the country.
“Under the Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa Project (HISWA), a US$30 million grant was allocated to Sierra Leone to strengthen its statistical system. One of the activities supported by the project is the national Mid-Term Census, which will be implemented by Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats SL) and includes the roll out of a digital census for the first time in Sierra Leone, an important innovation that requires careful planning.
“The World Bank, Stats SL and representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, the Statistics Council, as well as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) have held several technical preparatory meetings and Stats SL is now ready to start the cartographic mapping of the entire country, the first phase of the census.
“While the census cartography phase is being implemented, the World Bank and other partners will support Stats SL in developing and finalizing the data capture application. The project will also support Stats SL to pilot the digital application developed as well as the enumeration process, before that second phase of the census.
“Beyond the Mid-Term Census, the World Bank—through the HIWSA Project—is committed to strengthening Sierra Leone’s national statistical system, so that development programs in support of the country’s Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023) can be better designed, efficiently targeted, and their impact effectively evaluated.”
This is what the World Bank letter addressed to Sierra Leone’s ministers of finance and economic development on Tuesday, says:
“The World Bank earmarked financial support to help prepare and implement a mid-term population census in Sierra Leone—under the Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa (HISWA) Project (P169265) IDA Grant No. D584-SL—because these data are critical to inform economic development policy, planning and programs, and the 2015 population census exercise resulted in data of insufficient quality to do so.
“Since September 2020 our task team has been providing technical support to help prepare Statistics SL to implement a mid-term population census that would result in good quality data. Much progress was made by Statistics SL in recent months and preparatory efforts further intensified recently. To that end a roadmap laying out the final remaining steps, actions and technical verifications required was prepared and multilaterally agreed (between Statistics SL, UNFPA and the World Bank task team) during the first week of November 2021.
“To date, while work on most actions points is underway with some completed, several critical action points require further technical work to be satisfactorily addressed including evaluation of the pilot census, the field operation plan for the enumeration, and ensuring enumerators are adequately trained. All these outstanding actions are necessary and must be addressed prior to commencing data collection to minimize the risk of inadequate and poor data quality.
“There is insufficient time between now and December 10, 2021 to satisfactorily address all pending actions.
“Therefore, while our technical team remains available to provide continued preparatory support, regretfully we will be unable to provide further technical assistance nor disburse any further funds under IDA Grant No. D584-SL to support the mid-term population census following the announced inception of data collection on December 10, 2021.
“The undisbursed balance of funds earmarked to support the mid-term population census could be reallocated to other activities supported under the HISWA project following consultations with the task team.
“Yours sincerely, Pierre Laporte, Country Director Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Africa West and Central Region.”
Yesterday, the Head of the World Bank in Africa held discussions with President Bio in State House, Freetown, where they discussed World Bank’s support for the country and what State House report described yesterday as “emerging challenges”, which no doubt included the controversial midterm census, the non-payment of $50 million owed for electricity supply by the government – leaving the capital in darkness, and the controversial suspension of the country’s Auditor General – Lara Taylor-Pearce.
Presidential and general elections are due in Sierra Leone in 2023, and there are suspicions the government of President Bio is trying to use the power of incumbency unfairly to win those elections, including the use of foreign aid meant for the development of the country to pay for political campaign.