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Jakarta Post

Big population, big strength?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, February 20, 2020   /   08:16 am
Big population, big strength? Central Statistics Agency (BPS) staff activity at the 2020 cencus call center room in Jakarta, February 17, 2020. The population census which occur every 10 years aims to update data the country’s demographics, which are crucial to supporting certain policy interventions, and will combine door-to-door interviews and data gathering and online data submission, making it the country’s first time to use such a method. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The government has kicked off the 2020 national census, which aims to better capture the complexities of the country with the fourth largest population on Earth. For the very first time, the process involves an online census that citizens are encouraged to voluntarily fill out by themselves.

The United States’ 2020 population census also involves its first-ever online data gathering, with expectations that most of its 327 million citizens will fill it out electronically, though glitches are already apparent. Clearly Indonesia will need to be patient and learn from other nations such as Australia that have previous experience with online censuses.

Despite fears of data privacy abuse, we need to seek the most advantages from the digital era to better collect basic population data. The government hopes that more than 20 percent of the population would fill out the census online; it is probably learning from the online income tax forms, which many have been eager to fill out themselves.

Estimated to reach 270 million this year, Indonesia’s population is only smaller than China’s, India’s and the US’.

Indonesia, however, has a lot of catching up to do. The three countries already have among the richest economies in the world, while Indonesia is currently still not among the top 10.

While some predict the country will make it on the top 10 list by 2050, skeptics doubt it. Among the major problems hindering Indonesia are poor human resources and a poor vision about how it can benefit from having a large number of people, despite the unprecedented “demographic devidend”.

The census provides an opportunity for the government to better assess the population's potential, especially those in the working-age bracket. It also comes at a critical time as the digital age offers opportunities for countries to make great leaps in economic development.

Moreover, it will provide a chance for the government to update data that is crucial for policy making and state budget allocation, particularly for more accurately targeted subsidies and social safety nets.

In the latest case of inefficiency caused by poor statistics, the Social Affairs Ministry announced on Tuesday that 30 million people, about a third of the total number of recipients of subsidized National Health Insurance, are not categorized as poor and therefore not entitled to receive the assistance.

The misallocation has occured for years even as the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), the state insurer that runs the program, has battled with deficit.

The government has tried to improve the census by running it online from Feb. 15 to March 31, aiming to reach 23 percent of the population. This is to be followed by conventional door-to-door visits in July to count the remainder. About 390,000 volunteers are to be involved in this process. Most future elections are to use new voter lists based on this year’s census, although the upcoming simultaneous local elections would still use the previous list.

It is with great hope that the census this year can provide better insight and eventually produce well-informed policy-making for the next decade.