Population census encounters roadblocks

In what was anticipated to be a meticulous and comprehensive data-gathering operation to inform future planning and research, the Population Census of 2023 in the British Virgin Islands has encountered a series of roadblocks, which affected its ability to meet the December 31st deadline.

During a presentation to the Standing Finance Committee (SFC), Raymond Phillips, the Director of the Central Statistics Office (DCSO) [pictured here], underscored the vital role the Census plays in collecting extensive housing, social, and economic data that surveys typically do not capture. This data, essential for both public and private sector planning, sheds light on the living conditions and economic standing of households and serves as a primary source for poverty and living condition analysis.

The Census, conducted every ten years worldwide, boasts an extensive database encompassing numerous variables. This wealth of information allows for precise targeting of vulnerable populations and the allocation of limited resources to areas where they are most needed. It also informs decisions about the redrawing of electoral district boundaries based on population growth in specific regions. Furthermore, by comparing consecutive censuses, governments can gauge their social and economic progress or regression over time, making it an invaluable resource for research and long-term planning.

However, despite its critical importance, the Census has faced a slew of setbacks. Initially scheduled to commence on 15 June, the fieldwork was delayed until mid-July due to technical challenges. Over 80 enumerators were assigned to various enumeration districts throughout the British Virgin Islands. Yet, Phillips expressed growing concern that not all enumerators are actively conducting interviews, and some have yet to initiate fieldwork despite receiving repeated reminders.

Enumerators have encountered a host of difficulties in their efforts to collect crucial data. These challenges range from unresponsive residents and encounters with unfriendly dogs to outright refusals, skepticism about the legitimacy of the exercise, intimidations, and even threats. Some enumerators have felt compelled to request police escorts when visiting certain households due to safety concerns. These numerous and often disheartening challenges have taken a toll on the morale of many enumerators. Some have reduced the frequency of interviews, while others have promised to quit or have already returned their census equipment.

The Director emphasized that despite the Census’s significant government investment and extensive awareness campaigns, there appears to be a notable lack of appreciation for the exercise among segments of the population. He firmly asserted that non-cooperation without valid reasons should not be tolerated, as it jeopardizes the successful completion of the Census—a substantial government undertaking.

Eighth District Representative Hon. Marlon Penn, while acknowledging concerns about the Census questionnaire being intrusive, called for innovative solutions to address cooperation issues. He suggested enlisting persuasive family members for households with large families and harnessing the influence of various associations to reach different segments of the community effectively. He stressed the importance of finding individuals who can establish a genuine rapport with the community, particularly young men, to gather essential data, such as unemployment rates.

The process to commence the census started in early 2020 with a call for enumerators.  However, the call for an updated census began in 2015. It became even more urgent following the 2017 hurricanes. At that time it was explained that the Territory’s population which stood at 36,000 before September 2017 was reduced to 32,000. It is unclear what the current population number is.

In late 2017 the household surveys were delayed because of the state of most homes as a result of damages sustained. It was reported that people were uncomfortable with the state of their homes and would not welcome enumerators; so it was decided that the survey would be conducted in the last quarter of 2018

 The 2010 census report was not laid on the table of the House of Assembly until 2014. The report stated that there were a total of 10,830 households and 28,054 persons residing in the British Virgin Islands at that time.