Monday, November 01, 2021, Kathmandu:
Nepal Policy Institute (NPI), established with the active involvement of the diaspora Nepalis as an international think tank, on October 31 organized a virtual policy dialogue session on the upcoming census exercise. The objective of the dialogue session was to underline the importance of the census in policymaking processes, in specific, and development in general. It also served to highlight the need for quality and completeness of the census.
For the past four years, NPI, with its more than 1,050 experts and researchers, has been actively involved in organizing policy dialogue sessions on topics of national interest, and in engaging with relevant government entities, such as National Planning Commission. In this regard, this Policy Dialogue session brought together officials and experts from across a range of organizations and entities, including from government, civil society, marginalized groups, and policy networks.
The current national census exercise (the 12th in this series) will commence on Kartik 25 and end on Mangshir 5. The census has a rich history, with the first such exercise carried out during the reign of Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher in 1968 BS, and this latest one adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the Policy Dialogue session, the Chair of the Board of Directors of NPI, Mr. Khagendra Dhakal, said the census exercise offers an opportunity to generate useful information and data that will help in broader policy analysis and research. For example, in seeking to get information on the number of missing people from households or those that have migrated for overseas work, the Government will be able to base its policies on ground-level data that is generated by the census. Calling for support from those across all walks of life, Mr. Dhakal focused on a whole-of-society approach that would involve government entities, civil society, political parties, and the general population to ensure that the census was a meaningful exercise. This, he said, also calls for a greater degree of collaboration and coordination among the different levels of government.
Mr. Dhakal pointed out that the 2068 census had shown a total of 1.9 million Nepalis that were residing abroad; this number will most likely increase during this particular census. Not being able to get relevant information on, and of, these people will adversely impact national development efforts, he said. He further called on the Central Bureau of Statistics to coordinate among entities outside Nepal so that the census will be able to accurately capture all relevant information on such people.
Member of the Board of Directors of NPI, Ms. Sharu Joshi, who also moderated the Policy Dialogue session, mentioned that NPI’s research had shown that almost 70% of Nepalis residing abroad had little to no knowledge of what is transpiring in the country. The fact that the census contains 80 questions, she opined, means that the government is very keen on capturing as much relevant information as possible. As this is the first census to be done after the introduction of the federal form of government, Ms. Joshi said this was an important milestone towards institutionalizing federalism in the country. She further said this was the right time to discuss the census and for everyone to provide what support they can. Finally, her view was that the census would shed more light on Nepal’s development goal of attaining a middle-income country status given that it seeks to measure the degree of multi-dimensional poverty.
Deputy Director General of the Central Bureau of Statistics, Dr. Hem Raj Regmi, said it was a challenge to carry out the census, particularly as the Bureau, with a staff size of 500 officials, will need to coordinate the work of over 500 enumerators and provide training to all of them and have them be ready to carry out the exercise in 15 days. Dr. Regmi compared this census to those done elsewhere where there are generally only 20 or 30 questions (compared to 80 in Nepal). But he indicated that this was needed since the census would valuable information on a range of variables, including, for example, revenue allocation to governments, and constituency demarcation for national and provincial elections.
He said privacy issues in the census have been taken into account, and urged everyone to provide information freely. As for guidance and coordination, Dr. Regmi said there were adequate provisions made across the different tiers of government for committees to closely monitor, and advise on, the census exercise. A total of 9,000 supervisors have also been trained, as have been the 40,000 indivduals who will be collecting the data (the latter have been trained in 339 different places). Given that the census contains 80 questions, it has been termed ‘weighty’ but as it contributes to a range of variables, as well as the SDG indicators, this was deemed appropriate.
Mr. Regmi explained in great detail how the census exercise would be carried out and what it would generally cover. These include: (i) use of technology to ensure no one was left behind in the census; (ii) seeking information on who was absent from home, where they had migrated to and are currently residing; (iii) asking census respondents about language, religion, caste, and other such variables, even though this was not necessarily international practice; and (iv) reaching out to all local government officials to get accurate information on welfare recipients, number of residents, level of government support received, and other such questions. He conceded that it was possible to miss out on those individuals who were residing abroad without any family members within Nepal during the time of the census.
Deputy Mayor of Nepalgunj Sub-Metropolitan City, Ms. Uma Thapa, said lack of information on the situation on the ground has meant that needed assistance to those affected by Covid-19 has not been fully disbursed. She questioned whether a four-day training program for census enumerators was sufficient. She further mentioned that the City government has been involved in coordinating among local level governments although there was a risk that relevant information on the marginalized populations may not be properly collected which would hinder their access to available assistance from the government.
Ms. Shanta Laxmi Shrestha, Asian Focal Point for CSOs Partnership for Development Effectiveness, opined that the degree of publicity needed to make the census exercise a success was not very substantial, particularly among women’s groups, and that in the remaining days before the census starts every effort needs to be made to remedy that situation.
Mr. Dharam KC, International Coordinator for MigWorks (based in Saudi Arabia), pointed out that the census should also seek definitive information on returnee migrants, such as from India. Even though the number of Nepalis residing abroad number in the millions, there is no official record of this. Mr. KC also pointed out that the results of the census would help in providing some information in this regard as well as on other questions, such as the duration of stay away from Nepal for these people.
Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration, Mr. Hem Raj Acharya, informed the participants that the Ministry has been providing all needed support to this exercise, including in coordination, and deputizing staff wherever necessary. He mentioned one of the reasons for the lengthy process for the exercise was also the fact that the census questionnaire contained many general questions.
One of the main items of discussion was the need to enhance effective coordination among the three tiers of government in this exercise. There was also guidance from CBS to the relevant bodies, particularly at local level, to ensure effective utilization of resources, including active participation local government officials. In response, the Deputy Mayor of Nepalgunj sub-metropolitan city, Ms. Thapa, affirmed that her team, and indeed all local government bodies in the city, were prepared to make the exercise a success.
NPI’s Executive Director, Dr. Gambhir Bhatta, in summarizing the discussions of the session exhorted everyone to participate in this important exercise, and extended an offer of assistance the Central Bureau of Statistics, as may be needed, for data analysis once the census exercise is complete.
The program was attended by representatives from organizations of a cross-section of society, including marginalized groups, civil society, SDG Forums, human rights organizations, as well as from groups that are based outside Nepal, particularly from the Middle East, Malaysia, India, and elsewhere. The Engagement Manager for NPI, Avinash Jha, informed the participants that the program was being directly transmitted to numerous marginalized groups.
NPI is convinced that the census exercise will meaningfully contribute to achievement of the objectives of sustainable development contained in the Fifteenth National Plan of the Government of Nepal. The policy dialogue session concluded that effective coordination among all three tiers of government in the country is critical for a successful census exercise, and that all organizations, national as well as international, can play an important role in demonstrating collective leadership to ensure success.
(The video of the policy dialogue is accessible in Facebook and YouTube through link here:)