COVID-19 crisis blares the need for a realistic census

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COVID-19 crisis blares the need for a realistic census

BY Earle Lewis

Friday, April 24, 2020

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It is with a feeling of déjà vu that I write to reflect on the likely challenges with the Government's distribution of relief and stimulus benefits/support among the population and economy amid the ongoing challenges that have been brought on by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic both globally and locally.

With many Jamaicans likely to be negatively affected by the pandemic and in need of some form of public relief or support, I believe the Government is set to respond on a wide scale and at a level that has not been seen locally before. But, interestingly, many of the people who have been most significantly affected are unlikely to ultimately benefit from the public relief programme. Why?

For decades now, relatively scant attention has been paid to the pressing need to have realistic accounting for each and every Jamaican on The Rock, with proper registration of our citizens so that national planning can be in relation to realistic numbers, not what is captured in the national census over time — from which so many, for so many reasons, are not included.

Indeed, over the decades I can only recall one top politician locally — Mike Henry — stridently advocating for compulsory registration of citizens and proper naming of streets within communities across the country to develop a more accurate format to apply the process of national development to real population and its spread for the benefit of all, not just those in the formal system.

Now with the coronavirus challenges and the Government's relief programme, the relevance of real data on the overall population is obviously of significant concern, as it is the poorest and most challenged among us, with perhaps no formal names, no stable addresses, and no presence in the country's formal public system, who most need the support, but it will be difficult for them to get that based on the accountability requirements that will accompany the relief programmes.

Notably, in his 2013 publication, Many Rivers to Cross, Mike Henry indicated just how long he has been advocating for measures to be taken to embrace the entire population, as have since been generally proposed within the national identification system (NIDS), which has unfortunately become a political football between the Government and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP).

While Henry's foresight has ultimately come to the national agenda, with the move towards the NIDS, and despite setbacks on perhaps sound legal grounds, the programme is noticeably back on the Government's agenda.

For what it is worth, I place on record that there is no way that NIDS or something very close to it will become a reality in Jamaica in the near future.

Outside of that, the small-scale fisherman from Rocky Point in Clarendon; the home artisan in Buff Bay, Portland; the informal tour guides in Trelawny, St Ann or St James; and the farm hands in southern St Elizabeth, as examples, will not be actually included in public consideration for development and benefits like are now on the horizon in response to the coronavirus.

Without such a reality check, the development prospects for the country will continue to be stymied by the fact that such a wide gap exists between the actual population and its spread, and the non-realistic figures that are on the books.

Until each Jamaican, without option, is required to be registered and to bear an official national identification, with collective consequent inclusion in the national census figures, the process of effectively planning for development and for the welfare and interests of all our citizens will be a continued illusion in which those perhaps most vulnerable to the economic challenges will continue to be effectively shafted by the system.

That's my position on this matter. What says the rest of Jamaica?

 

Earle Lewis writes from Newport, Manchester. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lovefourlife54@gmail.com.


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