We won't solve the problem of finding census takers without planning ahead

Admittedly, it has a nice ring to it when the Government says that because of a labour shortage in the country Jamaicans are not rushing the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) to sign up as census takers, causing the exercise to miss two deadlines so far.

Indeed, which country does not wish to register zero unemployment?

Except that in the recent Statin case it is dangerous and short-sighted to pass off the fact that people are shunning the call for census takers as mere "labour shortage".

It's good public relations, but the process of gathering the census every 10 years is way too important not to be given the seriousness it deserves and demands.

A country will get nowhere if it cannot plan based on the size and composition of its population.

Statin threw out a net to catch and train 7,000 people to undertake the 2022 Population and Housing Census, which began in September last year. The islandwide exercise, covering 6,611 enumeration districts, was slated to be completed last December but missed that deadline.

Last week, we were again informed by Director General Ms Carol Coy that the coming March 31, 2023 deadline would not be met, after only 4,800 people had been recruited -- 2,200 short of the required number.

Ms Coy suggested that it was a problem of non-qualification and Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke added that the problem was one of labour shortage. Either way, we have a bad situation as a country; one that is not going to correct itself overnight.

Not unlike the difficulty we are experiencing of finding enough jurors for our courts, or enumerators for elections, the lack of census takers points to the unserious and unplanned approach we take to the issue.

There are reports that many people who have signed up did not receive a callback, for example.

In addition to the abysmally low remuneration offered, which, even at that, can be like pulling teeth getting paid, census-taking can be quite a trip.

Historically, citizens are hostile to or suspicious of census-takers. Moreover, it is not always safe to enter certain neighbourhoods and, where it is not a concern about security, the many gated communities which are multiplying by the minute are harder to access.

Do we expect people with degrees to walk up and down in the hot sun and face dog bites for pittance which is taxed?

We gather that, in some cases, no transportation is provided, work tablets are shutting off or painfully slow, and Jamaicans are impatient with filling out the lengthy questionnaires which bring in the bulk of the earning for the census takers.

Statin says it has offered to double the census takers' salaries, but doubling a pittance salary is still a pittance. There is some hope in applying technology to the exercise, such as electronic and other means of data collection.

The idea of deploying teams into enumeration districts, instead of one census taker to an enumeration district, holds out some promise, and we look forward to hearing if the initiative bears any fruit.

The offer of Members of Parliament to help out, presumably in their constituencies, could also be a winner.

But the crisis management approach must stop. If an institution like Statin operates without planning ahead, then Lord, help us!

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