By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
LABOUR Minister Dion Foulkes yesterday pushed back at critics who have said a planned census for the 11 shanty towns in New Providence might fail because community leaders were not consulted ahead of the initiative's launch.
The census was slated to begin last weekend, but was rescheduled to start sometime this week.
Following Mr Foulkes' announcement that a questionnaire was being created for shanty town residents, activist Louby Georges was adamant the exercise could "fail" rendering it a waste of resources in the absence of a public education campaign to sensitise shanty town dwellers of what they could expect when officials descend upon their communities.
Without this, he said last week, residents will "run and hide" at the sight of officials.
Dr Jean Paul Charles, president of the Haitian League of Pastors, also said while he had no knowledge of plans for a government census, his organisation would support it with the right approach.
In response Senator Foulkes said: "Well that is not true (that government didn't consult community leaders or sensitise residents). I spoke to the Bahamian Haitian Association - to their leadership - and they are aware of our action plan and the survey initiative.
"I spoke to 16 members of the Bahamian-Haitian pastors link and I also advised them."
While he said he could not say whether shanty town dwellers would cooperate with officials, the minister said he was hopeful teams would get the information they need.
"I am hopeful they will. It is to everybody's benefit that this works."
Mr Foulkes said government workers from five separate agencies underwent training to properly conduct the census.
The workers have been split into 11 teams of five members.
The government's intent is to ascertain how many residents are in the respective shanty towns, their ages, how many children live there and how many of them are enrolled in local schools.
They also want to know whether there is anyone in the illegal residential spaces with disabilities among other issues, Mr Foulkes said.
Last week Mr Georges said: "Not knocking the idea, but I don't think it make sense to jump in there this week without doing any sort of public education campaign.
"I think this will be a fruitless exercise, and a waste of resources if it's not done in conjunction or collaboration with the Haitian community itself then it will fail.
"Unless they are going to go on some law of average, there is no way they would get any amount of information close to what they are looking for and help them make determinations moving forward."
He continued: "You doing this in the height of the immigration talks going around town, people are going to be running, hiding, and even if you get someone to talk to you I doubt it will be accurate. You need a public education campaign to help to get those individuals to understand why it's important to have a census, so they can deal with shanty towns.
"No education, no campaign, you can't just jump up; don't just launch it, train people - collaborate with persons known and already trusted in the Haitian community, join forces with them and have an educational campaign through churches and activities in those communities.
"Talk to the people and sensitise them," he also said.