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Liberian Census Plods Ahead


Liberia's much-heralded and awaited census is plodding ahead amid problems with workers who want more money and Liberians who are not staying home to be counted. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from our regional bureau in Dakar with some reporting by Prince Collins.

Census takers, who are locally called enumerators, have been starting slowly on some mornings, gathering at census headquarters in the Liberian capital, demanding more money before they get started.

One of them, Augustine Weh, says she deserves more than the $10 she is being promised to gather information at 50 houses a day.

"They said that the enumerator will be paid $10 per day," said Weh. "If you see the labor that we are doing, and each day, we are covering 50 houses. So you see that the job is very hard. It is tedious. We are underpaid and so we are not deployed yet."

But the director-general of the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information services, Edward Liberty, says there is no way their pay is going up.

"The question is what you pay the employee," he said. "It is the employer that determines that. What we have is what we offer. And we made it clear. We do not have anything more than that. So I mean I do not know. It is their choice."

The process started last Friday, which upset some religious leaders, since it coincided with the widely-observed Christian holiday Good Friday.

It is supposed to end this Friday, but Liberty, says it could last longer.

"It is possible, especially the Monrovia area, because we had some hurdles in starting," he said.

As the process drags on, fewer and fewer people are staying home as they should, so enumerators have to keep going to the same houses, sometimes traveling long distances by foot.

This is the country's first census since 1984, following years of government neglect and conflict.

Schools across the country have been closed since March 10, as students and teachers make up many of the thousands of enumerators and supervisors.

The census form records everything from number of household members to religious beliefs, tribal group, occupation and recent deaths in the family.

Questions such as, 'Do you have a refrigerator, television, radio, or motorbike?', or 'Is your roof made up of zinc, mud or asbestos?' are used to estimate income.

Age is one of the hardest questions, as many Liberians have no idea when exactly they were born. So enumerators ask respondents which key historical event they remember as a child.

Social worker Alphonse Armah says despite the difficulties, he believes the census is a valuable effort by all.

"It will also help the government to be able to know the people who live below the poverty line," said Armah. "It will also help government to direct development so it is a good process. No matter what setback it may suffer. If we are to succeed, then it will be for the betterment of the Liberian people."

Some residents thought the census was to ask for taxes, while others thought they would be getting assistance. Instead they are being counted, in an exercise the government says is part of the slow reconstruction process.

Estimates of the population vary widely from two to four million people. Preliminary census results have been promised for May this year. Final numbers are due in April next year.

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