Symposium 2001/44

25 July 2001


                                                                                                           English only


Symposium on Global Review of 2000 Round of

Population and Housing Censuses: 

Mid-Decade Assessment and Future Prospects

Statistics Division

Department of Economic and Social Affairs

United Nations Secretariat

New York, 7-10 August 2001
















Statement from Malaysia *

Harbans Singh **



A. Introduction. 1

B. Symposium issues. 1

1. Strategies for involving stakeholders in census activities. 1

2. Strategies for choosing among data-collection methods as sources of demographic and social statistics  2

3. Adapting new technologies to census operations. 2

4. Maintaining census-related activities during intercensal years. 2

5. Identifying and resolving problems of census mapping. 4

6. Post-enumeration surveys: Are they worth it?. 4


A. Introduction

1.                  The 2000 population and housing census of Malaysia (or Census 2000) was the fourth decennial census to be conducted since the formation of Malaysia in 1963.  The three earlier censuses were conducted in 1970, 1980 and 1991.  The history of census taking goes as far back as 1750 when colonial counts were made for the state of Malacca.


2.                  Under the constitution of Malaysia, census taking is a federal responsibility and the legal basis for the census is provided by the Census Act of 1960, which empowers the government to conduct a census from time to time. The responsibility for conducting the 2000 population and housing census was vested in the Department of Statistics (DOS), which implemented the project in collaboration with the state governments of Malaysia.


B. Symposium issues

3.                  The 2000 population and housing census of Malaysia, which had 5 July as its census day, was undertaken (using the de jure approach) over a period of some 17 days.  Discussed briefly below are some of the experiences from the 2000 census with relevance to the six symposium issues at hand.


1. Strategies for involving stakeholders in census activities

4.                  The 2000 census was funded by the government of Malaysia through the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) under the development budget. A total of RM190 million was allocated for this project.


5.                  The Census 2000 project was under the direct purview of the Census Steering Committee (CSC) chaired by the chief secretary to the government.  Members of the committee were drawn from key ministries, departments and central agencies. The CSC was responsible for providing policy guidelines in relation to finance and manpower requirements as well as towards the planning and implementation of the project.  The chief statistician of Malaysia was appointed the commissioner of census.


6.                  In addition, technical support was also provided by the Census Technical Committee chaired by the director-general of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The committee consists of officials from various relevant ministries, government departments and agencies which are the main users of census data.  This committee provided the forum to users to air their views on what should be incorporated in the census questionnaire. As would be expected, each user agency put forth a list of questions/topics which were of interest to its own agency. When added up, if all topics requested had been included in the 2000 census, the questionnaire would have been too long and would have overburdened respondents as well as enumerators, thereby involving huge costs.


7.                  Alternative methods were suggested to some user agencies on their data requirements.  Some of the data could be obtained from existing administrative records, while others could best be obtained through sample surveys. For other requests, questions were included in the census pre-tests to assess their viability; if the results were found to be inaccurate or unreliable, it was suggested to users that the census enquiry was perhaps not the best vehicle for obtaining the required data.


8.                  In the final questionnaire the topics added (when compared with the 1991 census) were (i) disability, (ii) year of first arrival in Malaysia of the foreign-born, (iii) literacy, (iv) field of study of those with tertiary education, (v) rental, (vi) additional household items such as handphone, personal computer (PC) and Internet, (vii) number of bedrooms, (viii) garbage collection facility and (ix) fertility/mortality questions for Sabah and Sarawak only. 


9.                  The items dropped in the 2000 Census were (i) place of usual residence at time of census, (ii) number of hours worked, (iii) previous employment of currently unemployed and (iv) year of construction of the housing unit.  In summary, the total number of topics canvassed in the past censuses were 53 (1970), 50 (1980), 33 (1991) and 43 (2000). The 43 topics canvassed in the 2000 census were arrived at given the constraints of the length of the questionnaire. The EPU is the lead government agency in the use of census data; it makes use of these data as inputs in the preparation of the five-year development plans, the latest being the Eighth Malaysia Plan (2001-2005).


10.              Stakeholders also forwarded their requests through meetings of the Census Technical Committee on the type of tables that they would require for purposes of planning, implementation and evaluation of programmes initiated by the respective government agencies.


2. Strategies for choosing among data-collection methods as sources of demographic and social statistics

11.              Given that the stakeholder’s requirements are data at very small geographical levels, it is inevitable that the census approach is the only method that would satisfy their requirements. The undertaking of sample surveys would not meet their requirements.


12.              The registration-systems approach has not been quite developed and is not accurate at the present moment in Malaysia. Information on births and deaths is not a big problem, apart from some underreporting and late reporting, especially in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. The more intractable problem lies in obtaining data on internal migration and external migration. Malaysians moving to different states, districts or addresses are required to register the change in address, but this is seldom done and the accuracy and reliability of these data are rather questionable. The problem is even more intractable in the case of cross-border movements, especially of illegal foreign workers, mainly from neighbouring countries.


3. Adapting new technologies to census operations

13.             Census 2000 was conducted using the canvasser approach, whereby some 54,000 enumerators went house to house and filled in the census questionnaire through personal interviews of any responsible member of the household. The planners of the 2000 census were faced with the task of deciding the data-capture and processing strategy, which has important implications for the nature and design of the census questionnaire. The 1970 and 1980 censuses used Optical Mark Readers (OMR), whereas in the 1991 census, key-in through PCs was employed. After reviewing the pros and cons of the key-in approach and OMR/scanning devices, it was decided that the key-in approach using PCs, which had successfully been carried out in the 1991 census, should continue to be used in Census 2000.  The aim of this approach was to make data available to users in the shortest possible time without sacrificing accuracy.


14.              In Census 2000, the strategy for the processing activity was decentralized, similar to that in 1991. Thirteen processing centres were set up, and about 2,800 persons were recruited; 403 units of personal computers (PCs) were used in the processing activity.


15.              At each of the 13 centres, the main processing activity was divided into two phases, that is, manual processing and computer processing. Phase one started in August 2000; the questionnaires underwent checks for completeness for non-coded questions such as birthplace. In phase two, the questionnaires underwent coding of questions relating to education, migration, occupation and industry.  Quality-control checks were imposed, and if the errors in the sample examined exceeded the acceptance level, then a complete check of questionnaires was made.


16.              The computer package used in the processing activity was the Integrated Microcomputer Processing System (IMPS), where the data-entry module CENTRY was loaded in all 13 processing centres. The CONCOR module was designed to take care of consistency and correction of data during the process of validation and imputation.  During phase one, imputation was done on four variables—namely, age, race, sex and citizenship—at the processing centres.


17.              During the census-processing stages, CENTRACK, a module of IMPS, was used as a management information system. It enabled the progress of work at various processing stages to be monitored both by the management in the processing centre as well as in headquarters to identify bottlenecks in any of the processes with a view to redeployment of resources to create a smooth and efficient flow of work.


18.              The strategy of a two-phase processing approach meant that data from the first stage could be released much earlier.


19.              In terms of dissemination of data, summary data from the 2000 census were posted on the Internet at the Department’s web site ( It is planned to have the data available also on CD-ROM, as well as in other digital media to satisfy the needs of particular users.


20.              In terms of outsourcing, the 1980 census saw the outsourcing of the housing questionnaire for data capture by a private company, the cost of which was borne by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. For reasons of confidentiality, DOS staff were stationed at this centre.


4. Maintaining census-related activities during intercensal years

21.              Census 2000, needless to say, a huge statistical undertaking, covered a period of five years (1998-2002) and encompassed such activities as planning, pre-tests, trial test and census proper, as well as analysis and publication of census reports. Census-related activities that can be maintained during the intercensal years are described below.


a. Documenting the experiences from the 2000 census


22.              It is important that every aspect of the census activity be documented, the good experiences as well as the shortfalls and weaknesses, so that future census takers will not have to “reinvent the wheel”. This is especially so since census officials involved in Census 2000 may have retired or been promoted or transferred to other divisions. All census documents and materials should be collated and bound and kept in the library for reference by future census takers.


b. Writing of census monograph series


23.              Another intercensal activity that can be carried out is the writing of a monograph series based on the richness of data collected in the census. “Data mining” will enable junior officers to acquaint themselves with the techniques of analysis.


c. Examination of sample 2000 census questionnaires


24.              While the bulk of Census 2000 questionnaires will be destroyed after the census, a sample of these questionnaires has been kept. This will allow the examination of responses to certain open-ended questions, as well as the descriptions written for the “other” category. It is hoped that this exercise will help to identify the weaknesses in questionnaire design that can be improved in future censuses.


d. Updating of census household frame


25.              This activity is a continuous activity and does not stop when the census is completed. An up-to-date frame is important for use not only in household surveys but also as preparation for the next census.


e. Undertaking a mini-census


26.              Another possible intercensal activity is the undertaking of a mini-census five years after the actual census. The mini-census would inevitably have to be small-scale, with only basic demographic information being obtained. This is especially relevant in Malaysia because of the timing of the five-year development plans, which require many data inputs.


5. Identifying and resolving problems of census mapping

a. Decentralized mapping


27.              In Census 2000, the mapping activity was decentralized and undertaken by the 13 state branches with standardized guidelines issued by headquarters. This approach resulted in better maps, since staff at the state branches had very good localized knowledge of the geographical areas on the ground.


b. Mapping as an ongoing activity in the intercensal period


28.              Mapping should be treated as an ongoing activity even though the census has just been completed. This is important, since a good frame is required for household surveys which are conducted on a regular basis. With this in mind the 13 state branches update the frame based on local knowledge of the growth areas in their respective states. Given this ongoing activity of updating of the census frame, it is hoped that there would not be a last-minute rush to produce census maps.


c. Automated census maps through Geographic Information System (GIS)


29.              For Census 2000, enumeration block (EB) maps were manually drawn.  The Malaysian Government has set up a National Land Information System (Nalis), whereby government agencies can share digital geospatial information with such layers as roads, rivers and so forth.  It is hoped that this digital information from other agencies can be used to generate automated enumeration block maps, as well as other census maps, through GIS in the future.


6. Post-enumeration surveys: Are they worth it?

a. Census Coverage Evaluation Survey


30.              In Malaysia, post-enumeration surveys (PES’s) have been conducted since 1980. The Census Coverage Evaluation Survey (CCES) was carried out in August 2000, i.e., one month after census enumeration.  It was aimed mainly to estimate the extent of coverage error and content error (based on citizenship, ethnicity, sex and age).  Geographically, CCES covered the population residing in non-institutional living quarters in the whole of Malaysia. A total of 1,800 EBs were selected.


b. Independence of survey


31.              To ensure independence, the following approaches were adopted:


·        Staffing. The operation of the CCES was managed by a group of permanent officers who were not involved in census activities.  Field enumeration and office processing were done by specially recruited temporary enumerators under the supervision of the permanent officers of DOS.


·        Operations. The four phases—i.e., transcription, listing and enumeration, office matching and field matching—were carried out by different sets of temporary enumerators.


c. Adjustment of census results


32.              In the 1991 census, the underenumeration rate of the population was 4.4 per cent for Malaysia as a whole.  Adjustment of basic demographic data was done. In Census 2000 it is envisaged that similar adjustments will be carried out.


*       This document was reproduced without formal editing.

**     Federal Government Administrative Centre, Malaysia. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors and do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the United Nations Secretariat.