The Population and Housing Census is a vital source of social and demographic information on Jamaica. It provides data on the population, including the demographic structure, socio-economic conditions and details on the housing stock. Every person who is usually resident in Jamaica must be covered in the census.
This exercise requires thousands of field workers to visit every household and administer the census questionnaires to people living in these households and the institutionalised population. The census is more than a count of the population. It is a core basis for the production of official statistics which is critical for decision-making on matters that affect every person on this great island. Therefore, considerable care must be taken by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) in executing the census, to ensure it yields technically sound results.
A census is typically conducted every 10 years. For any country, the census is one of the largest projects undertaken. It is a logistically complex project with an extended planning horizon and the recruitment of a very large number of persons.
Projects of this scale and complexity are often impacted by many external shocks. Several factors have adversely impacted this current round of the census. While some of these challenges were anticipated and measures implemented to mitigate their impact, a pandemic was unforeseen. The pandemic, for instance, led to significant delays in the procurement of tablets due to global supply chain issues. Based on the original timeline, the census was scheduled to be executed in April 2021. However, with the onset of the pandemic, the census was postponed to 2022. This was to facilitate the development and implementation of strategies in response to the global crisis. Such strategies included introducing virtual training and procuring personal protective equipment, among other services and equipment.
Despite the institute's best efforts, there were some delays in implementing these responses. Some of the effects being experienced now can be attributed to these factors. The institute was also adversely impacted by internal resource constraints, including some turnover in key posts prior to the start of data collection. These constraints resulted in delays in the recruitment, training and onboarding of census takers and supervisors. As such, there was a phased approach to the start of data collection. We acknowledge that this may have led to some frustration among census workers, and we continue to work assiduously to resolve the issues.
The recruitment of census fieldworkers also faced challenges ranging from low to no applicants from some communities, applicants who did not pass the screening process, high drop-out rates during training, and low take-up post-training. The employment target of approximately 7,000 census fieldworkers was therefore not met.
Attrition is also a factor affecting the data collection for the census. Several census workers have opted out of the job for varying reasons, including unavailability to work on the census, given the delays in data collection and other commitments, the low remuneration for data collection, and the level of difficulty in collecting data. In addition to the low compensation, the withholding of taxes aggrieved some trainees.
However, in accordance with the relevant legislative provisions, Statin has a legal obligation to withhold and remit the statutory deductions (taxes and contributions). As prescribed, all applicable taxes are withheld from the payments made to census takers and census supervisors. We have, however, advised the census workers that for those people who fall below the income tax threshold, there is a process through which the withheld tax can be recovered. Statin will provide a copy of the P24 on request to census workers to facilitate this process.
Currently, there are approximately 4,000 people deployed across Jamaica as census fieldworkers. The parishes most affected by the shortfall in field staff are St James, Hanover, Clarendon, Manchester, St Catherine, and St Andrew. To make the compensation more competitive, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service has approved an increase in the compensation payable (travelling allowance and salary) to census supervisors and census takers. This payment will be made on the successful completion of assigned duties.
Before the increased rates can be implemented, however, amendments to the Census Regulations 2022 are required. This regulation is a subsidiary legislation with a defined approval process. We are pleased, however, to report that the amendment process has been completed.
There were also some administrative issues that adversely impacted the project during the first four rounds of training. Among the issues experienced were delays in payment to trainees and in the onboarding of census workers including the time it took to distribute identification cards (IDs) and contracts. In subsequent rounds, however, these issues have been addressed, and effective solutions have been implemented, mitigating the recurrence in subsequent rounds.
Improvement in administrative processes has reduced the lag between the end of training and payment of the training allowance. The first payment to trainees is now made approximately two weeks after completion. This is the shortest period required to perform the necessary reviews and audits of payments and meet the payroll cycle. Additionally, successful candidates are now being contacted within two weeks of completing the training for onboarding. Contracts and IDs are being distributed within one week after the end of training. We continue to monitor the situation and will make the necessary adjustments should new issues arise.
Data collection for the 2022 Census was scheduled to be conducted between September 13 and December 31, 2022. However, significant delays were experienced in some major activities, as previously outlined. This ultimately resulted in an extension of data collection, initially into the first quarter of 2023, to ensure maximum coverage of the Jamaican population. New approaches have also been introduced and expanded to improve the rate of data collection. This includes expanding the modes of data collection to include teams of experienced and efficient data collectors targeting communities currently without census workers, among others.
As we approach the March 31 deadline, we continue to assess the situation and adjust accordingly. We have also obtained assistance and support from our development partners in ensuring the technical soundness of the census process is preserved. Statin has also redoubled its efforts with targeted recruitment of census workers for communities with shortfalls. As we seek to identify candidates best suited to perform the tasks required, candidates will be required to undergo training and assessment before being employed to the census.
It is critical that a responsive approach is adopted and that adjustments are made in response to issues that arise. With every project, especially of this magnitude, it is important to continuously monitor and assess the various activities and processes and that solutions are implemented successfully. As the executing agency for the census, Statin has employed a responsive approach, and has deployed solutions in response to the challenges that have come up. There are several moving parts which must be carefully and painstakingly aligned in order to achieve a successful outcome.
We all have a role to play in executing the census in the best interest of Jamaica. The focus of Statin at this time is to ensure maximum coverage of the Jamaican population. As such, data collection will continue. Once data collection is completed, the information will be reviewed, processed, and analysed, and a final population count will be provided, along with other thematic reports.
Statin thanks all householders who have participated in the census. The public is being reminded that the census is of critical importance for the development of Jamaica. It provides much-needed information to inform policy and decision-making. Census takers are deployed islandwide, so if you have not yet been counted, a census taker will visit shortly. Please cooperate with the census takers, and be assured that the information you provide will be treated with the strictest confidence.
Carol Coy is director general, Statistical Institute of Jamaica.
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