Liberia - Cummings to Sue Senate Over Census Dela

Alexander Cummings (file photo).

"This risk [of postponing the 2022 Census] will extend to calling into question the constitutionality of the elections in 2023, as well as ... the constitutionality of the entire government." -- Cummings

The Alternative National Congress has threatened to sue members of the Senate for infringing on the constitutional rights of Liberia for postponing the conduct of the census in violation of Article 39 of the Constitution.

The suit, which is yet to be filed, was prompted by a June 16 decision by the Senate plenary to postpone the census from October 2022 to March 2023 -- a move which is in violation of the Constitution, which mandates in Article 39: "The Legislature shall cause a census of the Republic to be undertaken every ten years.

Last week the Senate voted to defer the census to next year after a motion by Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, suggesting that if the census were to be held in October, the result would have no significant impact on next year's Legislative and Presidential Elections. As such, March would be the most suitable time.

The argument by Senator Dillon, a member of the opposition, was backed by other Senators, including those from River Cess and River Gee Counties, Jonathan Boye-Charles Sogbie, and Wellington Geevon-Smith, on grounds that the census being postponed to March 2023 would avoid the rainy season and the bad roads in most counties.

The lawsuit, if filed, according to ANC and its political leader Alexander Cummings, would aim to seek legal recourse as a means of compelling the Senate or the 54th Legislature, to cause a census to be undertaken this year, as required by the Constitution.

Cummings noted that the action by the Senate, which infringed on the constitutional rights of every Liberian, threatens the country's democracy and peace -- a situation which he would not condone.

"If these postponements did not represent a danger to our republican form of government and the development of our nation, it would be laughable," Cummings said in a statement yesterday. "The conduct of the census is not a trivial requirement which can be set aside without consequences for both the constitutional legitimacy of the elections and the fullness of constitutional authority to govern."

"The Liberian Constitution mandates the conduct of a census every 10 years, which amongst other important reasons, is needed for economic planning. The result of the census determines the size and demarcation of constituencies in the country, from which representation in the House of Representatives of the Legislature is important.

"It is also important because it is used to validate the number of registered voters at a precinct for elections. We will consult with our lawyers on the possible legal recourse available to compel the conduct of the Census, as required by the Liberian Constitution, in a timely manner."

This round of census, which has been postponed five times already, should have been held in 2018. For one reason or another -- including the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the availability of funding -- the 2018 Census kept being postponed up to March 2022. And just before the March deadline, it was announced by LISGIS (Liberia's statistics agency) that they would finally be ready to conduct the census in October 2022.

The first four modern censuses were held in 1962, 1974, 1984, and 2008 being the last ones, revealed a population of 3.5 million, the highest in the country's history. The first three reveal a population of t 1.1 million, 1.5, and 2.1 million people respectively.

And if the House of Representatives concurs with the Senate, through a joint resolution, the postponement of the October 2022 census will be the sixth deferment since the exercise was initially scheduled to take place in January 2018.

Currently, the lack of updated census data means Liberia has been operating on a population estimated at five million people -- missing out on data that would help policymakers more accurately understand the prevailing economic and social conditions, as well as cultural characteristics within the country.

As a democratic nation, Liberia needs census data to determine the total number of representatives to be elected from respective legislative districts, while politicians ahead of 2023 need it to formulate political strategy, while election registrars need said data to validate the number of registered voters per precinct.

But the lack of census since 2018, according to Cummings, is the result of President George Weah's government not appearing or having the intention to fulfill its constitutional obligation of realizing Article 39 of the constitution.

Cummings added that while the Constitution mandates the conduct of a census every 10 years, the Weah administration has been in the habit of postponing the country's fifth census repeatedly for reasons including lack of funding.

"Our last census in 2008 put our population at 3.5 million. Today, this administration can not accurately tell a prospective investor or donor, the total population of our country or a specific county, but continues to rely on a projected estimate of five (5) million.

"Without conducting the long-overdue census, we risk the members of the House of Representatives continuing to represent land areas and not the people, as mandated by the Constitution. This risk will extend to calling into question the constitutionality of the elections in 2023, as well as the constitutionality of the composition of the House of Representatives after the elections. This threatens the constitutionality of the entire government."

For Cummings, such a dangerous scenario should be avoided as it comes with consequences for Liberia's peace, security, and democracy.

The conduct of the census, according to him, is essential to know the economic, social, and political status of our country for development purposes, adding "Without such crucial data, we are left at the mercy of knee-jerk presidential projects that are politically motivated. This is wrong and unacceptable."

Meanwhile, LISGIS has said that census postponement from 2022 to 2023 will be a disregard to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), which is responsible to monitor and regularly report to the Statistical Commission on the implementation of the 2020 World Programme, having set the deadline to 2022.

The LISGIS source added that the postponed census would cost the country dearly because relevant data on the country will not be available for the UN to include Liberia in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aimed at ending all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people -- especially children -- have sufficient and nutritious food.

The source noted that the national sample frame, which is the key to all surveys including ad hoc, will be ready at the end of the month. Therefore, the census should be held in October. The source indicated that the Household Income Survey, the Agriculture Survey, and other surveys are behind schedule due to the previous extensions of the Census.

"Also, the borrowed 21,000 tablets and power banks have to be returned to Ghana by November of this year and would cost over US$5 million to purchase by the Government, coupled with the time [wasted]," the source said on June 16, the same day the Senate voted to postpone the census. "Further, the shift from October 2022 to March 2023 would clearly lead to donor fatigue and could cost an additional US$8 million to US$10 million if it were to move to March of next year."

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