Govt loses M60 million to idle councillors

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU - At least M60 million maloti is being shelled out annually to district councillors for attending non-productive meetings as both legislative and executive functions are the preserve of central government. This means the 1422 councilors elected in last year’s local government polls and who take home M3500 each per month, would have gobbled up to M300 million collectively when their term ends in 2022.

The councillors’ combined perks are enough to pay all civil servants’ salaries for a month. Local Government Minister Habofanoe Lehana this week admitted rural councillors were “being paid for doing nothing”, adding government was moving with speed to empower the rural authorities by ceding some core governmental functions to the districts.

To end the scandal, government would escalate giving force of law to the 2014 Local Government Policy that would introduce mayors with executive powers to direct policy formulation and implementation. This will also give councillors legislative powers to enact by-laws although these should be congruent with national laws, thus influencing local policies and development.

“Elected at the 2022 local government elections will be Executive Mayors, who will be like ministers at district level, with their own small cabinets with whom to make decisions for their localities,” Lehana said. “The Executive Mayor would also be supported with highly skilled personnel, vehicles, state of the art office equipment, etc., all of which will cost government a lot of money to accomplish. Councils under the Local Government Policy, 2014, will become assemblies with speakers and deputy-speakers.”

Once the Local Government Policy, 2014 becomes operative, Lehana noted that all control over the use of funds and delivery of services will be completely decentralised in all government departments. “When M100 000 000 is allocated to a district during the annual budget, that will be where the central government ends. From there it will be the responsibility of the district to allocate the money to councils, without interference of the central government,” Lehana said.

Lehana also applauded cabinet for loosening its grip on power and appealed to government ministries to be cooperative for the Premier’s vision to be realised by releasing power to those elected to deliver services at local government level. “We have councillors who were democratically elected, hence have been given a mandate by the public to bring services closer to the people. But government ministries are still holding on to those services,” Lehana said.

“I therefore wish to thank cabinet for releasing the services to councils and understanding that theirs is to provide technical back-up. I am sure that things will go smoothly and that we will see progress in due course. I must say though, that while we are very good at devising good policies as a country, we are very poor when it comes to implementation.”

According to Lehana, government had realised that it was unfair that the 1, 422 councilors across electoral divisions in Lesotho, were being “paid for doing nothing” and in the process costing the country “well over M200 000 000”. “Under the Local Government Act, 1997 where we have councils from municipality, urban councils, district councils and community councils, we will devise means to speed up services for the benefit of Basotho,” Lehana said.

“For the longest time now, I have been asked what I have been doing and when we plan to decentralise services. We already have councillors on the ground costing government well over M200 000 000 because we have to have a functional council on the ground and civil servants. We are spending a lot of money paying scores of councillors on the ground for doing nothing.”

Government, he added, hoped councils would be ready to participate in a broader and more meaningful way, as they would have been capacitated on how to execute their duties, citing plans to roll out an extensive training programme through to the end of 2018, in the hope of better implementation and effective service delivery in the new financial year.

Worried by the blatant lack of effective service delivery, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government is pursuing a turnaround strategy through its latest policy Improvement of Service Delivery Through Decentralisation. Thabane’s office has devised a strategy to decentralise services, while upgrading the Local Government Act, 1997, reviving the Decentralization Policy as well as functionalising the Local Government Policy, 2014.

“While we prepare to functionalise these laws, which will be after 2022, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane expressed worry regarding the poor level of service delivery in Lesotho and urged that local government and his office must devise a strategy, in the interim, to provide quality services to Basotho,” Lehana said. This, he said, would be achieved through the secondment to councils, of personnel from government ministries responsible for providing basic everyday services on the ground, who will be “accountable to local government authorities”, as opposed to the status quo where they account to Principal Secretaries (PS)s.

“We will second ministries’ personnel to councils. For instance, the Minister of Public Service will second personnel to the councils, who will be accountable to local government authorities,” Lehana said. “Senior government officials at districts across the country, who currently account to their principal secretaries, will now be assigned to District Administrators and be accountable to them, through what might be termed special assignments.

“All those provisions are enshrined in the Public Service Act, hence no law is going to be changed or amended. This will not change civil servants’ positions. It simply says to those who already do council-related work on a daily basis, you are now accountable to those councils. Councils will also collaborate with government ministries to ensure that effective service delivery is attained.”

The minister added that there were already government departments providing decentralised services at the grassroots, such as health and water supply, but that they had no link to local government structures on the ground. “We also have civil servants at district level delivering everyday basic services, such as the Rural Water Supply, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security which deploys extension officers to help farmers, as well as Village Health Workers and nurses who provide health services at village level,” Lehana said.

“These are people who already provide services to the people, although they don’t have any connection with local councils. So, we decided that we will prepare to functionalise the Decentralization Policy 2014, which will completely transform how local government has been functioning over the years.

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