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JUBA - 13 Feb 2024

Q&A: ‘Three-month extension and $100m needed for census’ -Dr Ting

Dr. Augustino Ting Mayai, the newly-appointed Chairperson of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), emphasized the crucial need for a minimum three-month extension to the roadmap and comprehensive resource support for a census.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Dr. Ting underscored that without these measures, conducting a census for the December general elections would be deemed unfeasible.

Below are edited excerpts.

Question: Dr. Ting, can you provide insights into the functions and significance of the National Bureau of Statistics in South Sudan?

Answer: The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in South Sudan plays a crucial role as the official repository of national statistics, governed by legal mandates. Essentially, the planning, formulation of standards, coordination, and various aspects of governance, including business activities, are influenced by the data generated by the NBS. The bureau is tasked with producing statistics and data pertaining to the governance landscape of the country.

For instance, one of its key mandates is to conduct censuses every decade, monitor and evaluate investments made by both the government and the international community. Additionally, the NBS is responsible for overseeing and assessing various programs associated with the government at large, as well as conducting household surveys nationwide.

The data collected through these endeavours contribute significantly to the policymaking process in the country by facilitating in-depth analysis. In essence, the NBS serves as a vital source of information that informs national planning, decision-making processes, and overall governance in South Sudan.

Q: What are your immediate plans for the NBS as a new chairperson?

A: The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has been in existence since 1995, making it the second oldest institution in the country after the rehabilitation commission. While it holds historical significance, the bureau has faced challenges in fully executing its mandate. My primary focus now is to ensure that the government allocates the necessary resources to the bureau. First and foremost, this involves conducting a new census that will inform upcoming elections and guide policy planning based on government requirements.

The second priority is enhancing the effectiveness of the bureau in data generation and analysis. This entails improving the current human resources and recruiting additional staff, providing training as needed to fulfill our mandate. I plan to secure academic training resources from partners to send individuals for master’s level studies in statistics, economics, demography, and related fields.

The third priority is infrastructure. The current bureau offices are in a state of disrepair, and I aim to secure funding from partners and the government to improve these facilities. While there may be other areas of improvement, these three items are my immediate focus for the next few years.

Q: Your predecessor mentioned that the government doesn’t fund the bureau. How do you plan to address this funding issue?

A: I recently met with the ministerial committee on finance, where I presented the new budget for the census, and it was approved. The next step is to expedite the allocation of funds to commence the preparations for the census and address other bureau-related needs as we transition.

Efforts are underway to engage the government more actively to secure additional resources. I am also in discussions with international partners such as UNFPA, the World Bank, African Development Bank, and UNDP, who have expressed their willingness to provide resources. The key is to establish a transparent and accountable formula that fosters trust between the partners, ensuring a smooth progression in these matters.

Q: Dr. Ting, do you think there is enough time to conduct a census before the anticipated December general election?

A: Time is indeed a constraint. With the general elections scheduled for December 2024, even with the allocation of resources, conducting a census and obtaining the necessary information for the elections within this timeframe is challenging.

During a recent meeting with the ministerial committee on finance, I clarified that unless there is an extension of the roadmap by at least three months and full support in terms of resources, conducting a census for the elections in December is not feasible.

If the government considers extending the roadmap by 3 to 6 months, I am confident that with the necessary resources, we can expedite the arrangements to redesign the district representations at the geographical level to meet the government’s requirements.

Q: In the event that there is no extension of the election period, what criteria will the government employ to conduct the election?

A: If an extension is not possible, three options are considered. The first option involves conducting elections exclusively at the executive level. This means electing the president, governors, and county commissioners. However, elections for parliamentarians at both national and state levels would be deferred, as they require census data for district redesign. Presidential, gubernatorial, and commissioner elections, which do not hinge on geographical considerations, can proceed independently.

To implement the second option, a census would be promptly conducted concurrently with the executive elections. Although this would result in different terms for the executive and parliamentarians, it provides the necessary information for subsequent stages of the elections.

The third option entails utilizing the 2008 census data and adjusting for constituency changes. However, the challenge arises with the increased parliament size, requiring a new census unless reverting to the original 2010 constituencies.

A fourth, albeit tentative, option involves conducting a census-like exercise with biometric data. This would require a considerable time frame for citizen identification across the country, potentially taking months if adequate resources and equipment are available. The information gathered could then be used to establish districts, excluding citizens residing abroad.

Q: If given adequate time and resources, do you intend to provide accurate figures for the purpose of these elections?

A: Yes, with sufficient time and resources, I am confident in my ability to obtain the required information for the elections.

Q: Considering the prevalent insecurity and the difficulty many citizens face in obtaining their identity cards, how do you plan to ensure accurate data collection?

A: Addressing insecurity is crucial, especially in conflict zones like Warrap and Western Bahr El Ghazal states. There are ongoing conflicts, such as the Twic and Ngok conflict in Warrap, lasting for about two years. Other conflict areas include Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, and various parts of the country. These conflicts pose a threat, but I believe political leaders at both national and state levels can play a pivotal role in convincing all parties that accurate data collection is essential for service delivery, regardless of the area’s political affiliation.

If such convincing efforts succeed, and I receive the necessary approval to proceed, we can extend data collection to more areas. In cases where convincing is not feasible, utilizing available security measures becomes imperative. Strengthening unified forces to protect enumerators going door-to-door is essential, though there may still be some gaps. Nevertheless, having some data is better than none, and the available information can still be beneficial to the country.

Q: Is there an indication that the government may soon task you with conducting a census?

A: We are in discussions, and I have been engaging with the government. I recently submitted a budget memo, and discussions are ongoing. There is a clear interest from the government to conduct elections and fund the census. However, whether the necessary resources are readily available remains uncertain due to the country’s prolonged war and economic challenges. It ultimately depends on the government’s prioritization and allocation of resources.

Q: What estimated budget do you require to conduct the census?

A: A comprehensive census would necessitate a budget of at least $100 million.

Q: There were doubts about the accuracy of the NBS-produced population estimate a few months ago, particularly the claim that Warrap has the highest population among the ten states. What is your perspective on this?

A: I still harbor doubts about the accuracy of that estimate. The reported population growth across the board seems abnormal, and I expressed my reservations even in my previous role. While it is a government product, as a researcher and scientist, I cannot endorse its use. Despite being in my current position, I stand by my opinion, and I would not recommend its utilization to the government.

Q: The lack of recent census and large-scale surveys has raised concerns about the governments basis for decision-making. How has the government been making decisions without up-to-date data?

A: I recently assumed this position, but I have been involved in providing technical support since 2011. The outdated data has been a significant issue, leading to decisions being made without sufficient information. My appointment aims to address this gap and enhance the government’s ability to make informed decisions based on current and accurate data.

Q: If you provide accurate figures, does the government have the resources for development?

A: Planning is crucial, and the availability of statistics is essential for informed planning. The government is aware of this, and while the country faces resource constraints, effective planning can optimize the use of available resources for national development.

Q: Has the government effectively utilized data generated by the bureau in the past?

A: The issue lies in the lack of availability of information for use. Data is collected but rarely analysed. Since the last census in 2010, NGOs have primarily conducted data collection and analysis. Access to quality data for decision-making has been limited, emphasizing the need for updated and comprehensive data.

Q: What resources do you need to strengthen the bureau, train personnel, and recruit additional staff?

A: I just assumed office, and I will conduct an institutional capacity mapping to determine the required resources, including human, financial, and physical capital. Planning will be essential before providing specific resource figures.

Q: How has the delay in receiving salaries affected NBS employees?

A: Like other government institutions, we face delays in receiving our salaries. It is a common reality across the board, and we are no exception.

Q: Dr. Ting. do you still believe the election will take place in December this year?

A: The decision on the election lies with the cabinet. However, if my input is sought to inform the election using statistics, adequate resources will be essential. An extension of the roadmap would be crucial to incorporate census data into the transition and election process. I stand ready to fulfill my role as the statistical head of the country.

Q: How much time would you need for this extension?

A: With resources provided today, I can deliver everything by March next year, requiring a three to six-month extension.

Q: Will the allocated resources include assisting citizens in states and administrative areas struggling to obtain national identity cards?

A: Civil registry falls under the Ministry of Interior’s mandate, and they are responsible for citizens’ documentation. However, our role involves providing support, particularly in the 13 areas where we operate, to ensure comprehensive data collection for census purposes.

Q: What are the significant challenges the bureau faces since you assumed office?

A: The primary challenges include the need for resources, infrastructure improvement, human resource development, and access to technical tools. These challenges are common across various institutions, and addressing them is a priority for effective functioning.

Q: What message would you like to convey to the public?

A: I want to clarify the role of the Bureau of Statistics, emphasizing that it goes beyond conducting the census. The bureau plays a vital role in data collection and analysis, contributing to informed policy-making for the country’s development in education, health, and the economy. Understanding this role is crucial to dispel misconceptions about the bureau's function and ensure its adequate resourcing for long-term benefits.