More needs to be done for face-to-face census-taking, says MP

DAP’s Bangi MP, Ong Kian Ming, says the extension of the e-census deadline from Sept 30 to Dec 21 is also a good move.

PETALING JAYA: A DAP MP has welcomed the postponement of the second phase of the 2020 Census in view of the Covid-19 situation, but said more needs to be done to prepare for face-to-face interviews in 2021.

Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming said the extension of the e-census deadline from Sept 30 to Dec 21 was also a good move.

On Oct 5, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Economic Affairs Mustapa Mohamed and chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin announced that the face-to-face interviews, originally scheduled for Oct 7 to 24, will now be held from Jan 20 to Feb 6.

In a statement, Ong said the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), which is in charge of the census, needs to do more to prepare for the face-to-face interviews, adding that only 3.25 million of the population, or about 10%, had taken part in the e-census as of Oct 4.

He said the poor response could have been caused by several factors, including respondents not having received the DOSM “postcard” with the “invitation code”, those not knowing how to access the e-census website, and others not knowing how to fill in the form.

Saying he took more than half-an-hour to answer the 100-plus questions, he added:
“Those who have not filled in the form are likely to be from groups which are less IT savvy, from the older generation or those living in the rural areas.

“While it is a positive move to encourage more people to fill in the census electronically, the reality is that the majority of the census-taking requirements will have to be completed via face-to-face interviews.”

Ong said that according to figures from the e-census website, many of the states with large rural populations have recorded a relatively low response rate, including Kelantan (4.1%), Sabah (4.3%), Terengganu (4.6%), Kedah (7.7%), Pahang (8.5%) and Sarawak (8.5%).

At the same time, Selangor, the state with the largest population (6.3 million or about 20% of the national total), and an urbanised state, only had a response rate of 11.2%.

“Even with the extension of the deadline for the e-census to Dec 21, it is likely that as much as 80% of the eight million households in Malaysia will have to fill in the 2020 Census using the face-to-face method,” he said.

“With a window of 17 days and perhaps as many as 6.4 million households to survey across the country, it is estimated that DOSM will require at least 38,000 census-takers or enumerators. For Sarawak alone, it is estimated that 8,000 census-takers are needed.”

He said census-takers need to be trained on how to help the respondents fill in the form, including in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia, if necessary, and they have to be mobilised to their designated areas.

“I am not sure if the quota for these census-takers has been reached, but I foresee a similar challenge for DOSM to recruit and fill these temporary positions in 2021.

“I call upon DOSM to work with the various agencies at the state and federal levels, including those who are searching for jobs, to fill these temporary positions. The recruitment drive should start earlier to avoid last-minute (requirements).

“Finally, DOSM should also consider increasing the length of time for the face-to-face census from 17 days to 24 days or even more, since the process may take a longer time because of Covid-19 related safety precautions and SOPs.”

Ong said the census, which takes place once every 10 years, is an important data-collecting exercise for the country. The feedback will be used by government agencies at the federal, state and local levels for planning purposes and allocation of resources.

The private sector will also use the census for various purposes, including planning for future housing development and retail areas.

As such, he said, it is important to ensure the results of the 2020 Census are as accurate as possible. “Unfortunately, the Covid-19 virus has the potential to disrupt the collection of information.”