FREETOWN (Reuters) – The World Bank has withdrawn its support for a population and housing census in Sierra Leone just days before it was due to begin, according to a letter from the Bank addressed to Sierra Leone’s finance minister.
President Julius Maada Bio last week announced that the national statistics office would launch a two-week mid-term census on Dec. 10 to correct “anomalies” from the last count in 2015, which the previous administration used to justify creating additional districts in its strongholds.
The former ruling party and current opposition have said they would boycott the exercise, calling it a political gimmick by Bio’s government to increase their own constituency count ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
The World Bank was to provide the bulk of the money for the census, using an unspecified portion of a $30 million grant earmarked for Sierra Leone last year to strengthen its statistical system.
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In a letter to Sierra Leone Finance Minister Dennis Vandi that was seen by Reuters, the World Bank’s country director, Pierre Laporte, said the government had failed to meet the necessary conditions for the funds to be disbursed.
“The Bank experts had previously communicated to the Government that this funding would be disbursed upon the satisfactory completion of several critical actions,” the letter said.
It went on to say that the funds could still be released if certain conditions were met ahead of the exercise, including ensuring that those conducting the census are adequately trained.
Statistician General Osman Sankoh told Reuters that the government had already trained more than 15,000 staff for the operation, and that the census would go ahead as planned.
“A census is a government’s responsibility, supported by development partners,” Sankoh said. “We are extremely grateful to the World Bank for the support… (but) there are other donors and partners.”
(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Cooper Inveen and Bill Berkrot)
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