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Czech census chaos: Roma assistants not being used, many forms not delivered in time

Prague, 28.3.2011 15:13, (ROMEA)

The Czech Census of People, Houses and Apartments, which will take place over the next 18 days, is experiencing complications. One problem the Czech Statistical Office took note of already last week is the insufficient cooperation of the census commissioners with Roma assistants meant to facilitate communication with members of the Roma minority. Another problem is long lines at post offices. In many places, the lines are due to census commissioners not managing to deliver the census forms to everyone.

Will the Roma be counted?

According to the coordinator of the census for the Roma minority in Ostrava, Lýdia Poláčková, census commissioners are not making sufficient use of the services of the Roma assistants, and Roma people who do not know what to do with the forms are now turning to the authorities and non-profit organizations for help. Poláčková said she handled 20 telephone calls a day last week from Roma people who do not know what to do with the forms. Some Roma people also visited the local authorities in person for help.

Marta Selicharová, spokesperson for the Czech Post Office, which is in charge of delivering the forms, said the post office made use of only six Roma assistants for delivering the forms because there was no need to use more of them. According to Poláčková, census commissioners in Ostrava contacted only four of the 20 assistants available. "I then called the other 16 and advised them to find the census commissioner they were supposed to be working with at the post office themselves. In most cases they reached an agreement with the commissioner," Poláčková, who works for the Ostrava Town Hall, said.

Poláčková also said the census commissioners have merely distributed the forms without further interaction. "I guess they thought their job was done," she said.

Roman Gregor and 19 other Roma assistants in Ostrava were supposed to have helped the census commissioners reach out to minority clients, but the collaboration is not working. "I asked the census commissioner why I had not been contacted and called in to work, but she had no information and was completely unaware that an assistant was supposed to work with her," Gregor said last week. Many Roma assistants have had similar experiences. Some experts say there is a risk that most of the Roma community will not be counted.

"The assistants are having to track down their census commissioners in order to work with them. This really seems like the height of incompetence to me and I am completely disgusted by it. I would really like to know the opinion of the Post Office, whether they think everything is in order," Poláčková was quoted as saying last week.

"Of course the census commissioners know about making use of the Roma assistants. I consider this case to be one of 'he said-she said'," stated Marta Selicharová, spokesperson for the Czech Post Office, last week. She has since claimed everything is in order.

Commissioners collapse from overwork, imposters pose as census workers to commit robbery

Last week long lines formed at many post offices throughout the country. The main reason in many instances was the fact that the census commissioners had just simply never visited people to deliver them their forms. Problems occurred in Říčany by Prague, where many people never received any information by post as to when the commissioners would visit them. Even some people who made appointments through the toll-free information line say the commissioner never came at the agreed time.

"We didn't get to everyone in time," the Czech Press Agency quotes three commissioners as saying who visited homes in the southern part of Říčan at other than the appointed times. Similar complaints are being addressed in other regions and towns.

Those complaints are said to have frequently included vulgarities. "People have written letters to the Czech Statistical Bureau and the Post Office using foul language," said Czech Post Office worker Lenka Andrýsková, the head of the census commissioners for West Bohemia. It has also sometimes happened that people would not let a commissioner into an apartment building because he or she had arrived five minutes late.

There has even been one case of a census commissioner suffering consequences to her health as a result of the census. Commissioners have been recruited from the ranks of the Czech Post Office staff. About two weeks ago, one commissioner in Ústí nad Labem collapsed from overwork and was hospitalized. The hospital spokesperson said the woman was admitted for observation due to dehydration and exhaustion.

Commissioners have also frequently complained of embittered behavior on the part of those whom they have visited. For their visits to "holobyty" (the most basic form of housing available) in one locality in Jihlava, commissioners asked municipal police patrols to accompany them out of concern for their safety.

Cases have also been reported of persons falsely claiming to be census commissioners. Last week in Brno police were handling a case in which fake census commissioners convinced an 81-year-old pensioner that they were supposed to count his savings. After finding the place where he had hidden his money, they robbed him of approximately CZK 250 000. Police are investigating.

Census deadline in 18 days

Census forms can be picked up until 14 April (the day by which they must be sent in) at collections points, which are usually the larger post office in one's place of residence. The forms must record information according to the state of affairs in each household at midnight between Saturday 26 March and Sunday 27 March.

Gwendolyn Albert, Radka Steklá, ras, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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