The purpose of local government is to provide a system under which Councils perform the functions and exercise the powers conferred by or under this Act and any other Act for the peace, order and good government of their municipal districts.
Local authorities are subordinate corporations formed by acts of Parliament. Their powers and immunities derive from statute and judicial interpretation. They have many obligatory duties and a vast field of permissive powers. Each authority is independent within the sphere of power authorized by the central government. Local councillors are freely elected and constitute the local executive as well as the legislature. There is no appointment or ratification of local executives by the central government, though certain important local officials require qualifications stipulated thereby.
Lesotho has struggled with decentralisation and participatory local governance for most of its colonial and post-colonial history. The country adopted a National Decentralisation Policy 2014, which is formulated to provide a framework for deepening and widening the economic and social benefits of democracy to all citizens.
Political decentralisation aims to increase the voice of citizens by deciding who leads them through free, democratic regular vote. There are 4 levels of decentralised political structures in Lesotho, i.e. 10 District Councils, one Municipal Council, 11 Urban Councils and 64 Community Councils, and are all elective.
theReporter’s ‘Majirata Latela speaks with the chairperson of Kanana D08 Community Council, Zwane Takane, who gives us some insight into the workings of local government in Lesotho.
ML: The Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship has just had its budget for the 2020/2021 financial year passed in parliament. What are your expectations as a local authority?
ZT. Every year as local authorities, we sit down with all the members of the council and draft a list of the needs of our people in their order of their priority. If water is our biggest challenge, we always make sure that we emphasize that. Even though we draft those plans for the year we only do it without indicating how much money will be needed to implement those plans.
Then one Councillor will be chosen to go with the Chairperson of Community council to the District Council where they will lay out those needs of a particular community council. After that different community councils sit down and put together a work plan, which is then adopted as a work plan for the district, and is forwarded to the ministry of local government.
That then will be the end of the road for community councils, as we do not know what the ministry will include in its budget and what it will not.
ML. What happens to those needs that you have prioritised, since you have indicated that you put them in order of priority?
ZT. Most of the time our priorities do not matter when they get to the ministry. Evidence of that is that they do not communicate anything with us when they bring the developments; they unilaterally decide what they believe the community needs, instead of the ones that were in our work plan.
Even if we show them those needs, we are sometimes given what we do not need most, because they do not consider us as another arm that is designed to help them deal with community issues. We are just there as community councils to write down those needs so they can be shelved.
ML: Financing those needs of the community – how is it done and how is the communication between the community council and the ministry or those who will be providing those services?
ZT: let me not mention those that bring services; the ministry itself does not communicate with us, when they bring developments which we do not have. We only get a call in the morning to let us know that such and such a development will be happening.
There is no communication whatsoever. We are like kids, we just get to be told what is going to be done.
ML: Would you say councils are functioning as per their mandate?
ZT: Councils are not functional at all, they are just there as a figurehead, we are just here to earn salaries, go to funerals, nothing much.
We are just another body which does not carry out its mandate. I sometimes wish the government can wake up one day to realise that we are not a useful arm of government. We are just another body that is created to consume public funds.
Our mandate as per local government policies is to make developments in our community councils, but that we can only do if we have a budget. Currently we do not even have the equipment to perform land allocation work which is also our mandate. Our officers (technocrats) also do not have equipment and that has killed their morale because they no longer go to their offices.
The reason why so many community council offices are always closed is because there is nothing to do there; officers only earn their salaries without doing anything. We have the likes of office administrators, physical planners and financial controllers who are appointed on the basis of the skills and experience, but they are not doing anything due to lack of resources (dead computers, no pen or paper) and funds.
ML: How do you see the future of local authorities?
ZT: As long as things are still like this and the decentralisation policy is still on the shelves, we are going to continue to be consuming governments funds without doing anything.
Councillors are supposed to be very powerful people, they just need to be given the chance to perform their work; until then we will continue to be voted to power every five years just for sake of it. Since our election in 2017, we have not done anything that our people have mandated us to do. That is because we do not have our own budget to perform our mandate.
ML: In terms of capacity, do you think you are well capacitated to push the decentralisation policy and make a success out of it?
ZT: We do not have the capacity or skills required for decentralisation, but we know what our job entails as councillors. However, there is a lot that needs to be done: more workshops are needed to make sure that we are on the same page with the policy. The ministry of local government and chieftainship should start giving us enough training and powers to do our job. The last time we were had a workshop was when we were oriented into office in 2017; that was not enough because a lot has happened since then. Budgets have been made and passed, but we were never part of them