27 september 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Alexander Surinov, head of the Federal Service for State Statistics

Discussions focused on the ongoing preparations for the October 2010 census. The head of the Federal Service for State Statistics told the prime minister that “at this moment in time, almost everything is ready”, and that the census was already underway in remote areas.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Mr Surinov, preparations for the population census, which is scheduled for October 14-25, have entered their final phase. The census is a very important event. We use the data obtained from every census in formulating our plans for the country's social and economic development. I would like to hear from you now about how the preparations for this year's census are going.

Alexander Surinov: At this moment in time, almost everything is ready. The census is already underway. We have already surveyed 260,000-270,000 people in remote locations in Dagestan, the mountainous areas of the Altai Republic, the Magadan Region and several more hard to reach areas elsewhere in the Russian Federation. People are being very understanding and cooperative, which is nice, of course. The technological support is almost ready, too. However, the delivery of branded bags has been delayed after the abnormally hot summer, and Moscow and the Moscow Region are still behind schedule. Although the heat wave did have an impact on these preparations, I am sure that everything will be ready by next week.

Work locating premises to house census offices is also drawing to a close; over 20,000 census office managers started working last week. These are some of the most important people working on the census. Next, we will start hiring instructor/controllers and more than 400,000 census takers. They will start work in October. They will have to be trained before they start working on the census, but we have it all in hand.

We will also have to carry out the census of the Russians in Baikonur. This was an unexpected problem, because we understood that the Kazakh officials would carry out the census there. However, they left the Russians out, only dealing with the Kazakh citizens.

Now we will have to mobilise our resources and rearrange things to make sure we include them in our census. But we are prepared for that.

We have begun our public information campaign. Our TV and radio ads are broadcast on a range of channels. We hired independent sociologists, not affiliated with the Federal Service for State Statistics, who report that 80% of Russians are aware of the planned census, while 90% - an even higher figure - are willing to participate in it. Now we just have to get through to those left out, so we will step up our awareness-raising efforts.

What are our concerns? First of all, people are concerned about the confidentiality of any information that they provide. Who will hear about themselves and their families? Thank God, Russian laws stipulate absolute confidentiality in this matter, and this information will be disclosed to no one. People should feel safe sharing this information because the law is on our side.

The second major concern is of course security. People are wary of impostors who could come to their homes disguised as census takers. The census takers' own security is also an issue because they might encounter hostility. We are working in close cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and we have a very specific and comprehensive action plan for all interior departments across the country. It should be fine and all should pass without incident. Our information indicates that regular crime levels usually fall during a national census. This is also a good thing.

What other concerns do people have? Issues related to ethnicity. Our policy is that no one can be forced to name their ethnicity. This right is enshrined in Article 26 of the Russian Constitution. The census form we have developed includes a box to tick for anyone who does not want to divulge their ethnicity. The census taker does not have the right to prompt or push the respondent on this issue. The last time we ran a census, the government instruction to the federal statistics committee to safeguard people's constitutional rights and prevent any undue influence being exerted during it helped us a great deal.

It is also important that people do not start campaigns to persuade people in any specific region to use this as an opportunity to change their recorded ethnicity.

The most important issue that worries both the Federal Service for State Statistics and the federal executive bodies is that the census is comprehensive. Meaning that we should include everyone, not leaving anyone out but also, on the other hand, not registering anyone twice. Our experience in remote areas has already shown that these things can happen. We are currently working on a set of measures involving federal district commissions and we are also asking chief federal inspectors to help us avoid any such mistakes. We need reliable results and correct figures to build upon for planning inter-budgetary funding. So overall everything is going well, and we have a good chance of completing the project successfully.

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