This upcoming Sunday in Panama is not a normal Sunday. It is National Census Day: all are expected to be at their homes in order to be counted. Sunday May 16, 2010 is the day Panama has chosen to take its national census. One hundred and twenty-four thousand people will be on the streets starting 7:00 a.m. knocking on doors to fill in a questionnaire per family unit. On May 16th there will not be a Sunday lottery and all public shows and events are canceled. Horse races, sports events and cinemas will open at 7:00 p.m. that evening.
The census activity is contemplated in the National Constitution and this year the census is regulated by Executive Decree 726 of October, 2009 which indicates that no one can be outside the home or circulating before they have been counted. Households and people who have been counted shall be issued a document stating this otherwise the police are authorized to assess a fine to anyone circulating without this document. This year the census includes foreigners residing or visiting Panama, people in transit, the homeless, prisoners, and anyone in Panama on this date. It will be done in one day and some initial results are expected to be ready in five days. The rest of the results will be ready by the end of 2010.
The National Census authorities indicate that the scope of the census is very important as based on the information collected which pertains to household income, population, health, living conditions, residence, among others. The information gathered is then used as the basis for public policy by the government. Panama takes a census every 10 years. The 2010 National Census is expected to cost $16.5 million dollars of which 65% is going to in the field logistics on the day of the census. It is expected that 3.5 million inhabitants will be counted or interviewed.
There are certain projections that the Census authorities expect to confirm with this years census such as an older population. The 2000 Census showed and average population age of 25 and this year’s census is expected to show that the average age of the population has increased following the trend of more developed nations who have aged populations.
It is important to mention that the answers to the questions asked are confidential and there are some controversial questions in this year’s census. One of the questions which has caused the most controversy is “What race do you consider yourself to be?” Panama has since its beginnings been a transit country and it is called a melting pot of races. The fact is many Panamanians have mixed origins and cannot be classified into any one race particularly. It is quite common to find in Panama people who have black, Indian and Caucasian parents and grandparents. Another controversial question is the household income and most homes are uncomfortable answering this question however the Census authorities have assured the population that all the answers are confidential.
Again for foreigners and Panamanians alike remember that no one can leave the house or residence until they have been counted regardless of whether they are residents, tourists or transit passengers. Police, medical services and other emergency services will be operating as their workers were counted previously.