Economic census gets cold shoulder

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

An economic census that kicked off nationwide Tuesday was not well received by residents in Medan, North Sumatra, with many shutting their doors and refusing to answer questions.

The monthlong census, which aims to compile detailed data of the country's business sector, is a follow-up to last year's census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS). It is expected to wrap up June 15.

Owner of Bintang Jaya Abadi electronics store, Aying, left two census takers waiting in her store as she continued serving customers.

Even though she was clearly busy, the census takers continued to ask her questions. Aying ignored most of their questions, and instead asked one of her own.

"Sorry, but what is a census? I don't even know what a census is," she said, claiming it was the first time she had ever been approached by census takers.

Questioner Lily Nurdi explained the census and her job description before asking the shop owner more questions.

However, Aying only responded to certain questions, such as those querying the origins of her merchandise and number of staff employed. She declined to answer questions regarding her income and capital, claiming she did not know.

"It's virtually impossible that she can run her business without knowing her income and capital. We have experienced this type of response many times before. People are afraid to give details of their financial situation," said Lily.

She said people were not giving satisfactory responses to the census, with many shutting their doors and assuming the census takers were seeking donations.

"It's funny. The residents are afraid and think we are coming to ask for donations, although we are only conducting a census," Lily said. She has worked for BPS since 1996, earning Rp 1,500 (16 US cents) for each business surveyed.

Head of BPS in North Sumatra, Nasir Syarbaini, said Tuesday residents who provided false answers or declined to answer census questions were in violation of the 1997 law on statistics.

If a person is proven guilty of intentionally violating the law, they may face a jail sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to Rp 25 million.

He said based on BPS data, there are around one million small and 9,170 big businesses in North Sumatra.

"We will limit the census of small businesses to around 60,000 in order to get an overview of the sector, while all big businesses will be surveyed," Nasir told The Jakarta Post.

The census, which aims to map the weaknesses and strengths of the country's business activities, covers almost all business sectors, including mining; power generation; manufacturing; construction; retailers; and wholesalers.

Service activities related to transportation, finance, accommodation and restaurants also will be targets of the census.
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