Chilean President Pinera seeks forgiveness for census blunder

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 08, 2013 2:05 PM
Chilean President Pinera seeks forgiveness for census blunder

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - President Sebastian Pinera asked Chileans to forgive him on Thursday for a 2012 census that a review panel found to be so flawed it should be thrown out, a political embarrassment for his government months before a general election.

An independent panel appointed by the government of conservative Pinera to review the census recommended on Wednesday that it be discarded and held again with fewer questions in 2015.

Pinera said the government will now seek a second opinion from international experts before deciding whether to discard the census and do it over from scratch or try to correct its errors.

"Mistakes were made in the census and I want to humbly ask Chileans for their forgiveness," Pinera said at a public event.

His plea comes as Chile's right-wing bloc jostles to bolster former Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei as its presidential candidate, before a November election that is widely expected to see ex-President Michelle Bachelet make a comeback to the presidential palace.

Pinera is constitutionally barred from serving two consecutive terms.

The panel found that 9.3 percent of Chile's estimated 17.4 million population were not surveyed in the census, an omission rate some three times higher than other recent census carried out in the region.

"The 9.3 percent omission (rate) is a national average, but it may be higher in certain municipalities," the panel said. The omission rate could exceed 20 percent in a fifth of the country's municipalities, it added.

Additionally, the panel recommended that the 2012 census not be used for official data or public policy purposes, but that for "transparency's" sake the data be made available to interested public and investigators.

In May, the government's INE statistics agency started an internal audit of its information gathering for the national census after complaints by some of its senior officials about the accuracy of inflation and census data.

That came after nearly a dozen department heads at the INE sent the government body's then-chief, Francisco Labbe, a letter expressing their concern about "errors" in the way the census was carried out and an unwillingness to implement methodological improvements they recommended to the CPI.

Labbe has since quit his post at the head of the INE and has been replaced.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)