NATIONAL Development Planning Permanent Secretary Chola Chabala says preparations for the 2020 national census amid the COVID-19 pandemic are almost complete.

In an interview, Chabala explained that the 2020 census had been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but stressed that that government was strategising on an appropriate mechanism to conduct the exercise before exposing the enumerators to the pandemic, which included timely payment of salaries for enumerators.

“There was a pronouncement that was made by the Minister of Finance (Dr Bwalya Ng’andu) to the effect that the census has been postponed to next year. There are just too many circumstances… [that have led to the postponement]. The preparation has been affected by: (1) we had those gassing incidences. That also took a lot of time because we had to stop the activities. So, a number of activities were affected. Then, after the gassing, we have now COVID-19. And the decision we had to take was that do we have to expose more than 45,000 enumerators to gassing or do we wait for circumstances to change?” Chabala asked.

He, however, said the government remained ready to conduct the exercise, and that funds to pay salaries for the enumerators were almost ready.

“So, basically, those are the main factors that have affected the preparation of the census. But in terms of being ready, the mapping has been concluded. And we have a very strong commitment from the government to financing the activities. We have also prepared salaries for the team, which is about to be completed. As a government, I think now we can just say that the main activity, which is scheduled to be rolled out throughout the country, we need to strategise how it will be undertaken amid COVID-19,” said Chabala.

“Census activities have got a lot of components. And I don’t remember any particular case where enumerators walk away without being paid. Even those that did the mapping were paid. Even the people that are going to do pilot census are going to be paid. In terms of the figures, I will need to get back to you and give you the breakdown of various components of the census activities.”

Last month, Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu announced during the 2021 national budget presentation that this year’s national census had been pushed to next year, citing gassing and COVID-19 as the reasons.