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Ten Myths about the 2024 Population and Housing Census in Moldova

10 mituri despre Recensământul populației și locuințelor 2024 din Moldova

Population and Housing Census will take place in the Republic of Moldova between 8 April and 7 July 2024, during which data on the population numbers and demographic characteristics, as well as on residential buildings and living conditions will be collected. In this context, misinterpretations regarding the “true purposes” of the census and the data to be collected have started to appear in the press and social media. We gathered the most frequent census-related rumors and checked whether they were true or not.

Myth 1. Information about buildings and housing is gathered so that tax authorities are able to collect more property taxes or identify those who live in rented accommodations without formal agreements.

False. The census will NOT collect data on the value of the house or flat you live in, nor will you be asked whether you have a tenancy agreement or not. The list of questions to be asked in the census can be found on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The data collected on buildings will refer to the materials from which the walls and roof are made and the year of construction of the building. This data will be used for public policy purposes, for example, to determine the proportion of houses with slate roofs containing toxic substances and those vulnerable to natural disasters. The housing data will refer to the availability of main amenities, such as bath room or shower room, toilet, heating, kitchen, etc., as well as the floor area of the dwelling. This will tell us what conditions we live in and where we need to take action to improve living conditions.

According to the Law on Official Statistics, confidential data collected during the census may only be used for statistical or scientific purposes, by applying pseudonymisation or anonymisation methods. This means that the NBS does not have the right to pass on your individual data without anonymisation to any public authority or person. Only aggregated data (totals) will be disseminated to the public. Thus, the State Tax Service will never find out from the NBS that Marina Soloviova personally lives in city X, in an apartment of Y square meters with a bathroom, toilet, and kitchen. The only thing the tax authority and the public will find out is that in the city X a certain percentage of apartments have a bathroom, for example.

Myth 2. The census is done for the state to know how much “cannon fodder” is available for mobilisation in the context of the war in Ukraine.

False. The Population and Housing Census has nothing to do with foreign or domestic events. It is a statistical survey that is organised regularly, every 10 years. For example, previous censuses in Moldova were held in 2004 and 2014. Now we are in the year 2024, i.e. 10 years have passed since the previous census. That is why a new census is organised. Moreover, almost every country in the world organizes regular censuses, and this process is coordinated jointly with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in an effort to ensure that the main questions in the questionnaires are formulated in the same way in all countries. Thus, the 2024 Census in the Republic of Moldova is part of the 2020 world round of population and housing censuses, which is open for the period 2015-2024. So far, most countries in the world have conducted or are in the process of conducting population and housing censuses for the 2020 world round.

Myth 3. There is no need for a census because all the information is already available from other sources.

Partially true. It is true that the NBS can obtain certain information from existing administrative databases, such as the registers of the Public Services Agency with cadastral data on buildings and housing or data on persons registered in the Republic of Moldova. However, the existing databases do not contain all the necessary statistics and, moreover, are often incomplete. For example, there are localities in Moldova where large-scale cadastral works were not carried out and a large proportion of dwellings are not registered in the Real Estate Register. Even in localities where cadastral works were carried out, usually, only the main building is registered, without the additional buildings. Some houses are also not registered because they are unfinished, although people live in them. As far as the socio-demographic characteristics of the population are concerned, there is no administrative database containing information on the ethnicity of the people, the language spoken or religion. The population census is the only source of such information. Finally, the census will provide data at neighbourhood level (1 square km grids), which is necessary for the implementation of social development and infrastructure projects (e.g. urban transport planning) and cannot be collected from the existing databases.

Myth 4. Personal data should not be passed on to census enumerators, because it will end up in the hands of fraudsters.

False. It is virtually impossible for personal data shared with enumerators to fall into the hands of third parties. This year, data will not be collected on paper as in previous censuses, but electronically using tablets. Once the census enumerator completes the census questionnaires with you, he/she will send the data collected to a secure server where the census data will be stored. Once stored on the server, the data will be automatically deleted from the census enumerator’s tablet, he/she will not be able to keep it and will not be able to show it to anyone. The files will be sent from the tablet to the server in encrypted format, which will prevent them from being intercepted. The data on the server will also be protected. It should be noted that NBS was certified in accordance with the ISO/IEC 27 001:2013 standards on security and ISO/IEC 27701:2019 on personal data protection in 2022.

Myth 5. The census is carried out to steal public money.

False. The population census is a really expensive exercise and therefore it is only conducted once every ten years (although there are richer countries that conduct censuses more often). A total of 329 million lei will be allocated for the census from the Moldovan state budget (of which 244 million lei in 2024) and the information on allocation of funds and procurement for the census is public and verifiable. Most of the public funds allocated for the census in 2024 will cover the remuneration of temporary staff (census enumerators), who will collect the population’s answers to the census questionnaire during interviews. It should be noted that not all census costs will be paid by the state. The census is also financed by the European Union and co-financed by UNFPA in a total amount of €2.075 million, of which €2 million is the European Union contribution and €75,000 is the UNFPA contribution. Donor funds are used to cover such costs as: procurement of equipment for data collection (recently, 3000 tablets and other necessary equipment were donated to Moldova), consultancy, development of software applications, operational costs.

Myth 6. By means of the census, the state wants to know about all our income and property.

False. First of all, the state already has the information about our income and property. Every citizen can verify the information on his/her income and property stored in the databases of state institutions by accessing the government portal and using an electronic signature. Also, the census questionnaire does not contain questions about property, earnings, taxes, debts, collections, inheritances, accounts, companies, assets owned by citizens.

Furthermore, the responses of each individual will not be shared by the NBS with other public authorities. All information collected will be used exclusively for statistical purposes, for the production of statistical indicators summarized by different characteristics of the population (gender, age, marital status, education level, ethnicity, mother tongue, occupation, etc.).

Myth 7. If you participate in the census, the state will find out what your income is, what assets you have at home and how many family members live with you and will use this information to deny your claim for compensation of energy costs or other social payments.

False. As mentioned above, the state already knows what your income is. Information about the availability in your household of some household appliances (water heater, boiler, air conditioner, etc.), as well as the number of household members, is collected to assess the living conditions of the average population, not to estimate your personal wealth. Your individual data will not be shared by the NBS with any public authority and it cannot be used to determine your entitlement to various social benefits or for tax purposes.

Myth 8. Participation in the census is not compulsory.

False. Participation in the census is compulsory. Article 7 of the Law on Population and Housing Census clearly stipulates this obligation. Moreover, apart from the provisions of the law, participation in the census is our moral obligation as residents of our country. If we do not have a clear understanding of our problems, or their extent, it is much more difficult to solve them. Without accurate data, such as data collected in the census, decisions regarding the allocation of different resources (e.g. for infrastructure, public services, schools and hospitals) can be wrong. The Population and Housing Census will allow for the identification of specific social and economic problems and will provide society with a clear picture of the areas where actions are needed to address them. Avoiding participation in the census means that we do not want to be involved in solving problems in our localities and our country as a whole. By contrast, participation is a behaviour that shows we care about the future and the development of our country.

Myth 9. The census is conducted because the 2024 presidential elections are coming up and the ruling party wants to create a database to rig the elections.

False. As mentioned above, the population and housing census is a statistical survey that is conducted regularly, every ten years, regardless of political events such as elections, and regardless of which party is in government at the time of the census. It should also be noted that if presidential elections in Moldova are held in 2024, then by the time of the elections only preliminary census results will be available at best. According to Government Decision No. 951/2022 on the organisation and conduct of the 2024 Population and Housing Census in the Republic of Moldova, the dissemination of preliminary results will be done within 6 months after the completion of the census. The census will be completed on 7 July 2024, and therefore, the deadline for preliminary results will be 7 January 2025. The final summary results will be published within 12 months (by 7 July 2025), and the final detailed results – within 18 months (by 7 January 2026). Thus, the ruling party, even if it wants to, will not be able to use the data collected in the census to influence the presidential elections in any way.

Myth 10. There is no point in participating in the census because only results that suit the government will be published, as was the case in 2014.

False. The results of the previous census (2014) were published in full and are available on the website of the NBS. The final results were published with a long delay (in 2017), mainly because of the data collection technology used at the time (paper-based), as well as the need to supplement from other sources the data that failed to be collected in the census. This delay, as well as the high share of the population in some localities that remained unreported, undermined public confidence in the results of the 2014 census. To prevent this from happening again, a different (electronic) data collection technology has been chosen for the 2024 census, which will allow faster processing, as well as greater detail of the information. To make sure that the results of the 2024 census are truthful and reflect reality as accurately as possible, without interference of politicians, it is important that people are not fooled by various profiteers urging them not to open the door to census enumerators. If you do not participate in the census, the official statistics will not reflect your characteristics and interests, as if you don’t exist!

This document was produced with the financial support of the European Union under the project “Monitoring the piloting of the population census”, implemented by the Independent Think Tank “Expert-Grup”. Its content is the authors’ sole responsibility and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.