The vehicle for better service delivery

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interviewBy Tsitsi Matope

MASERU — The Local Government Service Director General ’Matiisetso Libetso says every ministry should pay attention to, and learn from, the ongoing decentralisation of the country’s primary healthcare services.

The then Ministry of Health and Social Welfare decided to revitalise primary healthcare systems at local level in 2008, with the aim of improving service-delivery through the devolution of authority to local councils.

However, the process had to be restarted again last year following the installation of a new government after the May 26 general election.

In an interview this week, Libetso said there is “a sense of ownership and partnership” within both the ministries of Health and Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs and this would help the revitalisation programme become a success.

According to Libetso, the successful implementation of a new primary healthcare model would go a long way in helping various stakeholders see the immense benefits of transferring functions to local authorities.

“The whole idea behind decentralising primary healthcare services was to improve service-delivery and have a positive impact on people’s health. It is about bringing health services much closer to communities and empowering them to have a say on the services they expect. Decentralisation is also about improving the management and efficiency of services in a more sustainable manner,” Libetso said.

The Ministry of Local Government, through the Local Government Act (1997) empowers councils to take responsibility for among others, the wellbeing of communities, hence the relevance of the devolution.

“The Local Government Act, in a nutshell, empowers the councils to undertake various responsibilities which include overseeing issues concerning public health, safe water supply, protection of the environment and infrastructure-development.

“The nature of our day-to-day responsibilities as a ministry brings us closer to the people more than most government departments.”

Libetso further explained her department is the ideal vehicle through which public services could effectively be implemented to ensure the much-needed economic development of the country, as it works most closely with the councils.

“Government ministries should not operate in isolation because we are not in a competition,” said Libetso. “We are one government and should all work together and implement systems that can improve our overall performance as an administration.

“Utilising local government structures can help improve service- delivery, which is why I feel strongly that we need to talk to one another even though we are in different ministries.”

Ministries such as Agriculture and Food Security, Tourism, Environment and Culture, Mining, Social Development and Forestry and Land Reclamation can be potential partners to the councils, Libetso also highlighted.

“We have noticed how the agriculture sector at times struggles when it comes to the distribution of inputs and coordination of relevant machinery.

“Councils can make this process much easier since they are closer to communities, and councillors know the people, the areas and the land better.”

Libetso further said partnerships with councils can be established in areas such as mining in order to ensure local communities fully benefit from their natural resources.

“Our biggest concern is that communities and councils are not involved for example in the licensing of quarry companies to operate in areas managed by councils. Companies seem to just move in with their workers and start excavations and then leave without rehabilitating the badly-eroded areas. For instance, some gaping holes in quarried areas such as Butha-Buthe, Berea and Maseru rural have become death-traps, which would certainly not happen if local councils were involved in the licensing of quarry companies. Local communities are also not benefitting from their natural resources, which again, would not be the case if the Ministry of Local Government was fully involved in the licencing of such companies.”

Libetso further explained there is so much potential in the tourism sector, if only the industry could work closely with councils.

“The tourist-attractions are in council areas but the same councils have no say on issues such as levies to be paid by tourists or for councils to look after such tourism attractions. The councils should be empowered so they don’t feel like they are trespassing.”

However, Libetso said despite the need to work together with other potential partners on the decentralisation exercise, it was refreshing to see a high sense of cooperation among those already working on the devolution of powers to the councils.

“We can safely say our baby-steps are developing into something substantial and hope this signals a new beginning in terms of how various ministries are going to view decentralisation and want to partner with us in future.”

The partnership, she added, had received immense support from the two relevant ministries and the entire cabinet and is also financed by various development partners.

“We are now beginning the implementation stage and last week, we met with District Council Secretaries and District Council Chairpersons to discuss the way forward.

“The next steps will involve the Ministry of Health officials working together with the councils on assessment on the ground, before implementing the primary healthcare revitalisation programme.”

Libetso added that the Ministry of Local Government is partnering with the United Nations Development Programme on an EU-funded project on “Deepening Decentralisation” where councillors would  be supported to enhance their capacity and enhance their leadership and managerial skills in order to effectively meet decentralisation challenges.

There is further training that will be provided to councillors through the Integrated Transport Project, which is funded by the World Bank and run through the Ministry of Public Works.

“We are optimistic that the government realises the importance of local government structures because it wants to see a strengthened Local Government and innovative councils.”

“We are looking at the functional autonomy of councils as one way that could help them become innovative to come up with their own strategies of raising enough revenue to effectively run their programmes. Councils want to be more active but their hands are tied by the lack of by-laws.

“We are pushing for the review of by-laws which councils put together some years back and hope that they would then be able to attract and afford the skills they need and become financially independent.”

Libetso added: “Taking services to the people is such a crucial area, and we hope by the end of 2014, all councils would have legal instruments to work with.”

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