Census may be put off for a few months, Senate told

Updated February 25, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa has hinted at postponement of the population census due to security concerns as the required numbers of troops are not available at the moment.

Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday, Mr Bajwa, who is also chief statistician at the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), said there was no constitutional requirement to get the Army’s support to conduct the census, but it was the need of the hour.

“When we require the Army’s protection to carry out polio vaccination, we can all understand the security situation,” he reasoned.

He told the committee that the best time to conduct the census was March/April or September/October, adding that it would not be possible in the next two months.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Saleem Mandviwalla, asked why the census could not be held in phases. In reply, Mr Bajwa quoted the United Nations guidelines which state that the census must be completed between 15 and 45 days to avoid movement of population.

He added that the PBS had proposed completion of the house-listing and population count in 19 days. In the first three days, the house listing would be carried out while the remaining days would be used to count the population, leaving one day to account for the homeless, including gypsies.

The committee members noted that Pakistan had conducted censuses in 1951, 1961, 1972 and 1981 through the civilian set-up, but the one in 1998 was conducted with the help of the Army.

The committee also discussed the $170 million loan default of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) in Bangladesh.

National Accountability Bureau DG Abdul Hafeez informed the committee that a formal reference would be filed in due time. The committee members, however, took exception to the fact that though the scam was carried out between 2004 and 2008, the NBP continued to show it on the balance sheet in 2013-14.

The NBP president replied that after he assumed charge, he had decided to carry out an external audit whose report was received in December 2014. It was after this report that the case was referred to NAB in May 2015.

The NAB official said there were foreign nationals involved in the scam and they would have to find a way to bring back the nine accused still living in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the committee’s first session on Eurobonds was held in-camera on the request of the finance ministry.

Later, some committee members told journalists that the finance secretary, Dr Waqar Masood, had denied that money was sent abroad to purchase Eurobonds.

However, as his briefing failed to satisfy the senators, it was decided that three financial advisers of foreign banks for Eurobonds would be summoned to obtain more details into the matter.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2016