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PM calls for full citizen participation in Cambodia’s first self-funded census

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Crowds along Sothearos Boulevard during the 2018 water festival. The prime minister has called for full cooperation in the census. Hong Menea

PM calls for full citizen participation in Cambodia’s first self-funded census

With the Kingdom set to conduct a nationwide census on March 3-13, using its own funding for the first time, Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to the population to cooperate fully, insisting it does not involve politics.

Hun Sen said in a letter dated January 10 that the census is the first of its kind financed through the national budget, after Cambodia achieved lower-middle income country status. He urged all citizens to provide full and accurate information as is their obligation under the law.

“The census is a huge task for the country. It is very important in order to generate real statistics. Censuses are taken in all countries around the world,” the letter said.

Hun Sen said the census would provide reliable demographic data to enable the government to formulate policies and implement programmes to balance development throughout the country.

The census, he wrote, would provide useful indicators, monitor the achievements of the national strategic development plan and help towards achieving the UN’s 2016-2030 “leave no one behind” sustainable development goals.

“The national census does not involve politics and does not serve the interests of any political party. It does not cost citizens money, but instead it will lead to prosperity and development for the Cambodian people,” the letter said.

The census questionnaire will collect demographic, social and economic statistics. The data is set to also include births, deaths, migration, education and employment status, among other categories.

New information will also be gleaned from the 2019 census – for example, a new question will serve to determine the birth mortality rate.

Since the Khmer Rouge finally laid down its weapons in 1998, a census has been undertaken every decade, with the second in 2008.

In late 2017, Minister of Planning Chhay Than said the census will cost around $8 million.

Funding will come entirely from the national budget, he said, with the Chinese government providing equipment assistance, after some Western donors withdrew aid.

It will require some 47,000 officials to carry out the work, Than said.

Chinese assistance includes the provision of 52 cars, 300 motorbikes, 450 desktop computers, 50 laptops, 30 printers, 30 slide projectors, 10 photocopiers, 200 tablets and three internet servers.

Than estimated that the number of people in Cambodia will have increased to 16 million this year. The 2008 census showed a population of 13.4 million.

Than said the census was delayed from 2018 to 2019 as Cambodia was busy with national elections.

Social analyst Meas Nee said the information gathered from the census would be very important for national development if it is presented honestly.

He said previous censuses, conducted with support from other countries and the UNFPA, showed reliable results, but some information has not been disseminated widely.

He welcomed the use of the government budget and material aid from China. But he said he wanted to see what the government’s response would be to the census’ findings and the reality of the collected data.

“In the past, the government did not really like what the census discovered, and so sometimes they rejected the data by claiming it was not accurate,” he said.

He said there had been controversy over the findings of previous censuses, like the amount of people living under the poverty line, which the government said was low, while other experts disagreed.

If the data is exaggerated, Nee said, the first victim will be the government because they need accurate information to formulate development plans.

“That would cause more complications for socioeconomic and social development,” he said.

Nee said that, in general, the questionnaires covered all social aspects and were similar from one census to another.

However, he said questions in this census should look at land disputes and natural resource issues as Cambodia was constantly facing those two major problems, causing people to “lose trust in the government”.

According to a report from the Ministry of Interior, the 1998 census was entirely funded by the UNFPA. In 2008, Cambodia was jointly supported by the UNFPA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the German government.