The 2012 National Population and Housing Census will not take place in August as earlier planned, because the government can’t find the money required to facilitate the massive exercise, we can reveal.
The Observer has learnt that, as early as this week, the government could formally announce the postponement of the exercise and suggest a new date.
Technocrats in the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) are involved in negotiations to inform the minister’s communication.
“The reality is that the census will not take place this August. There are challenges with the funding but we are currently in discussion about the funding modalities to see the earliest and best time it will take place,” said a highly placed source in Ubos who declined to be named because he didn’t want to preempt the minister’s communication.
Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka could neither categorically deny nor confirm our information, when The Observer contacted her yesterday afternoon. She said the matter was under discussion but was being handled by the ministry’s permanent secretary. She added that a clearer picture would be available today. However, both our diplomatic and government sources said the exercise could not possibly be held this August.
Other sources in Ubos attributed the postponement to President Museveni who they say hasn’t been enthusiastic about the census in view of the many competing needs and promises he has to fulfill. Early this year, Ubos announced that it needed at least Shs 140 billion for the census. Our efforts to get a comment from the Ubos Executive Director, John Male Mukasa, were futile as he did not answer his phone.
However, Francis Mashate, the 2012 National Census Coordinator, confirmed to The Observer that the exercise had been called off because of lack of funds.
“To prepare adequately means you should have resources, which haven’t been forthcoming. It [census] has been postponed to next year  at a date to be communicated by the minister of Finance,” he said.
While admitting that there are cost implications to the postponement of the exercise, Mashate says they will be able to mitigate the losses.
“We are not totally putting it off; we are continuing with the preparations like procuring equipment, preparing questionnaires. It’s the actual enumeration that has been postponed,” he explained.
Dr John Ssekamatte, head of the School of Statistics and Applied Economics at Makerere University, told The Observer that failure to have the census as planned could disrupt a lot of things, like projections. He was, however, quick to add that the rescheduling is not new to Uganda, as the country has previously violated the ten-year interval of having a census.
He cites the 1991 census that was held a year after its scheduled time. In fact, although officially the Ugandan census is supposed to be held after ten years, it has been held after 11 years. In the post-independence era, there have been four censuses in 1969, 1980, 1991 and 2002. The postponement of this year’s census barely three months to the exercise disrupts many processes.
Earlier this year, Ubos’ Mashate told journalists that by February 2012, Shs 26bn had been spent on the mapping exercise and mock census, and that Ubos had asked for additional Shs 27 billion to fund recruitment and training of enumerators, to procure data processing equipment like computers, purchasing vehicles, printing questionnaires and publicity.
An additional Shs 76 billion, he said, would be expected in the next financial year to pay wages and salaries for the 85,000 enumerators that Ubos had planned to employ. Yet the cancellation of the census this year does not come as a surprise. With barely three months to the census, sensitisation campaigns hadn’t started.
According to information on its website, Ubos had planned to use various communication channels to disseminate the information in order to educate, inform and create a census knowledgeable society. The ministry of Finance, through which the census funding is channelled, is one of the ministries whose budgets are due to be reduced, according to the 2012/13 National Budget Framework Paper (BFP), which sets out how the government intends to use the budget to achieve its policy objectives.
The BFP shows that ministry of Finance funding will reduce from Shs 290.654bn last financial year to Shs 249.306 billion this coming financial year – although Ubos’ funding is actually projected to increase.
“The budget for Ubos will increase from Shs 50.737 billion to Shs 52.935 billion because of the population census which is to be carried out in August 2012,” reads the BFP.
Under the theme, ‘Together we Count’, the 2012 census preparatory activities were launched during the Africa Statistics Day on December 18, 2009 in Kapchorwa district by the then minister for ICT, Aggrey Awori.
Between August 25 and September 2, 2011, Ubos conducted a pilot census in 21 sample districts countrywide. It was not immediately clear how many of these processes will have to be repeated when the exercise is eventually held. The last census in 2002 discovered that the Ugandan population had risen to 23 million. Today it is estimated at 34 million.