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Law gives Cabinet powers to cancel, alter census data

General Kihara Kariuki
Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

The Cabinet now has the power to cancel data collected by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), including the recent census, following changes to the law just days before the August 24 population count.

The amended law, which President Kenyatta signed on August 14, allows the Cabinet Secretary for Planning to vary or cancel the results of official data that ranges from census to economic growth data and monthly inflation numbers.

The law change, which was debated in July but received presidential assent mid last month, just before Parliament went on recess, is set to be published this week after the Attorney-General gave the all-clear.

It is likely to stoke debate in a country where population data is crucial in influencing the creation of political constituencies and also an important tool for planning and allocation of national resources.

"Upon request by the Board, the Cabinet Secretary may with the approval of the Cabinet, cause any official statistical data collected, analysed and disseminated by the bureau to be cancelled, revised or adjusted after ascertaining that the data is not accurate," reads a new clause in the Statistics (Amendment) Act, 2019.

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"The Cabinet Secretary shall within fourteen days of approval by the Cabinet, publish the official data that has been cancelled, revised or adjusted under sub-section (3), in the Gazette."

The timing has led analysts to believe that the law change was triggered by the anticipation of the August population census whose preliminary results will be released by the end of November.

Politicians will be keen on the results given that the population count’s outcome will influence the envisaged review of electoral boundaries.

The census prompted politicians to mobilise the public to return to their ancestral homes for fear that a low count would hurt the chances of some regions getting their rightful share of State resources and that some constituencies may be scrapped or merged for failing to meet the required population threshold. This reflects the political nature of the population census and signals debate that could emerge should the data be varied or cancelled.

Yesterday, the KNBS moved to assuage fears the implications of the change in the law.

"We have not amended this for Census numbers. Amendments are normally for all statistics. This (amendment) now gives the bureau a wider kind of a leeway within the legal framework so that we ensure we have accurate statistics," KNBS director-general Zachary Mwangi said in a telephone interview yesterday.

We have methods of ascertaining data is accurate or not accurate. If it’s not accurate, then we can advise. There are many parameters."

The law change also seeks to solve the legal lacuna that made it difficult for the State to cancel the 2009 population census results from certain zones in northern Kenya. Results from counties bordering war-torn Somalia and South Sudan were disputed, prompting then Planning minister Wycliffe Oparanya (now Kakamega governor) to cancel results from eight districts. At the centre of the controversy was the population of the Somali community which had surged by 139 percent to nearly 2.39 million in 2009 from 962,143 a decade earlier.

Mandera County was the worst-affected with claims that its population results had been inflated by about 40 percent. Other former districts whose census results were initially cancelled were Turkana Central, Turkana North and Turkana South, Wajir East and Lagdera (Garissa). The results were later upheld after a court judgment that followed a suit filed by politicians from northern Kenya.

Data on population plays a major role in influencing allocation of cash from the Treasury to the counties. The share of population, for example, carries a weight of 18 percent in the formula currently used by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) in determining allocations of Sh316 billion to the counties this financial year.

Other weightings that influence funds allocation to the counties include poverty levels (15 percent), agriculture (10 per cent), land area (eight percent), equal share (20 percent), water (three percent), urbanisation levels (three percent) and road network (three percent), among others.

KNBS routinely collects data on socio-economic development and these statistics are usually summarised in economic surveys published annually. Some of the data , however, is released monthly, like inflation and leading economic indicators, or on a quarterly basis like the GDP growth numbers. The amended law has expanded the scope of data that the bureau will collect, compile and publish to include new information such as affirmative action and food security.

Failure to give information sought by KNBS or giving false information on matters such as births and assets like property, housing and savings attracts up to a Sh500,000 fine or a maximum six months imprisonment under the new law.

"Any person who willfully fails to give any information or particular as required under this Act commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both."

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