THE holding of Saturday’s local government elections under the framework of the Local Government Act of 1997 is a blessing in disguise, as it will enable more consultations and a fuller understanding of a draft law meant to replace it.
This was said by Local Government and Chieftaincy Minister, Habofanoe Lehana, yesterday during a television debate on the upcoming local government elections.
Basotho will go to the polls on Saturday to elect their local government representatives for the third time since the elections were established in 2005.
The debate was convened by Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) in conjunction with Lesotho Television ahead of the elections.
Mr Lehana, who was one of the panellists, said it was good that the elections were still being held under the framework of the old law since a lot needed to be done to ensure that local authorities managed their affairs independent of the central government.
Local government structures were introduced to enable rural and urban communities to manage their own affairs and be better able to develop.
However, this has not been the case as the local governments have continued to depend on the central government.
This is despite the introduction of the 2014 Decentralisation Policy with the purpose of deepening and sustaining grassroots-based democratic government and promoting equitable local development by enhancing citizen participation and strengthening the local government system.
The policy was also meant to create effective, functional and mutually accountable linkages between the central and local governments.
It was also premised on handing over power to elected local government leadership to ensure they were closer and more accountable to the constituents.
Although local authorities were expected to be autonomous, Mr Lehana said the government was still in charge through its various ministries.
He gave the example of the Ministry of Water Affairs, which is mandated with ensuring that all Basotho access potable water, saying the mandate was being effected by the Rural Water Supply.
“The Ministry of Water, through Rural Water Supply, is the agency in charge of ensuring effective water service delivery. With the small budget allocated by my ministry, the community councils are only in charge of repairing taps and other minor things.”
Mr Lehana said the 9th parliament was on the verge of enacting a new local government law in 2016 with the intention of addressing the loopholes in the Local Government Act of 1997 by ensuring that local authorities had real powers.
Parliament was, however, dissolved before the bill was passed into law and this was a blessing in disguise according to Mr Lehana.
“This will give us enough time to organise public debates and ensure that people really understand this law and know what it contains.
“The nation needs to fully understand this and we can only achieve that by ensuring that the ministry works with all different stakeholders in this important process.”
He said it would have been a “disaster” had the 9th parliament passed the 2016 bill which would have been the framework for the operations of local government councillors who will be elected on Saturday.
There was still a lot work that needed to be done before decentralisation could be fully implemented, the minister said, adding that over the years, ministers had also failed to understand the decentralisation process.
“As we speak, the national budget is still only allocated to the central government ministries for delivery of services which are supposed to be delivered by the local structures,” Mr Lehana said.
“The new act seeks to correct all of these and the next five years will be used to ensure that everything is in order so that the councillors who will be elected five years from now, have full control over their jurisdictions.
Under the new dispensation, the central government would only be in charge of policy strategies and supervising the local government.
For his part, TRC Head of Democracy and Human Rights, Lira Theko, said there was an urgent need for a national dialogue on the 2014 National Decentralisation Policy to ensure that people fully understood it.
He said most ministers mistook decentralisation for bringing services closer to the masses, making an example of building clinics in communities and setting up offices for ministries instead of empowering local authorities.
“For me that is a very poor understanding, to say the least, and it needs to be corrected. We are going for the third elections under this same understanding and it is wrong; this is not what decentralisation means,” Mr Theko said.