IN February 2014, former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s administration adopted a national decentralisation policy. The policy will enable the central government to implement Section 106 of the constitution which stipulates that “parliament shall establish such local authorities as it deems necessary to enable urban and rural communities to determine their affairs and to develop themselves”. The law said such authorities shall perform such functions as may be conferred by an act of parliament.
However, 10 years down the line, the affairs of local communities are still managed by central government. Newly appointed Local Government and Chieftaincy minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairperson, Samuel Rapapa (SR), has been tasked with the implementation of the decentralisation policy.
In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) Senior Reporter Pascalinah Kabi, Mr Rapapa outlines his priorities as he takes office.
LT: Congratulations on your appointment Honourable minister. What are your priorities as you begin your tenure as minister?
Rapapa: Thank you very much. Among the first issues is dealing with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Covid-19 interventions need the support of the whole nation… We feel that we also have to participate seriously on the education awareness campaigns against Covid-19.
The second issue that I must look into is that of decentralisation. Even though I do not have enough knowledge and experience on the issue of decentralisation, we find that there are lots of complaints regarding this matter. When I read the law, I see that local councils have the authority to allocate sites; decide on charges for resources that are being obtained for different councils but there is a huge complaint that the responsibility has not been passed onto the local councils. As a new minister, I will have to be briefed by ministry officials to gain a comprehensive understanding of what decentralisation entails.
The last issue which is also critical, is that there is a concern that local government has a lot of ghost employees.
These are my first three tasks within the next two weeks.
I must also look into the lack of resources in relation to the maintenance of the roads. Often, they have all the equipment but do not have fuel or vice versa. Sometimes there are no operators.
Sometimes when those things are there, there are no officials who can supervise the work that is being done in regard to the maintenance of the roads. So, these are the things that we need to consider urgently at the start.
LT: How do you intend to implement your interventions against Covid-19 while working in tandem with the Health ministry?
Rapapa: Let me start by making an example. There could be two clinics in a certain constituency. The other could be having 15 nurses and the other one probably has another 15. That would mean there are only 30 nurses in the whole constituency of 25 000 inhabitants. So, it is proper for us to have support from the Ministry of Education and Training by educating our children and support from the local government in educating our officials. We have principal chiefs, area chiefs, and headman who must all be involved.
The villagers, who are the first to know when there is a visitor from South Africa, Saudi Arabia or England, will then alert with the local chief instead of dragging that particular visitor to a health post that would be 20kms away. The local chief will then persuade that particular individual to go for screening at the health post and they can even facilitate the movement to quarantine centres where people are being isolated. So, it is a matter of working together. As the Local Government minister, I am part of the subcommittee dealing with this issue. Also, our communication between the ministries of Health, Education, Local Government and other supporting ministries, will indicate how we must work together using the current Disaster Authority Management Act because Section 8 of that act empowers the Prime Minister to establish a Disaster Management Relief Committee which is made of ministers. The Ministry of Local Government should be one of the ministries involved.
LT: Basotho have been clamouring for improved service delivery for a long time and your ministry is regarded as one of the key ministries that can ensure effective service delivery. However, it looks like ministers or legislators do not want to see the local authorities taking a lead in service delivery. What is your take on this?
Rapapa: It would be wrong to say that members of parliament (MPs) are refusing to relinquish power. In fact, MPs allocate the budget to the Ministry of Local Government. Instead, it is often the Minister of Local Government who is failing to release power… local authorities need finances, they need vehicles to operate efficiently.
They have a right to those resources and do not have to come to a member of parliament to allocate a field or land and manage graze lands. The funds allocated to the councils should go straight to the councils and not the district offices or head office. I think we must find options that allow for money allocated through budget to be disbursed to the councils themselves so that they can easily make decisions.
LT: Why is the government not empowering local councils with resources?
Rapapa: Well, the previous ministers can answer that. What I can only tell you is that my consideration is that resources have to reach the councils. If there is going be a road maintenance and it is going to M3 million, why cannot we transfer that M3 million to that particular council? This will avoid situations where the funds are then allocated to another council that is in need.
To answer your question directly, what is only required is to transfer money all the way to the local councils unlike now when the money is being held at the head office or at best held at the district office.
LT: What is your plan of action to ensure that the money is released to local councils?
Rapapa: Well, we must look at the rules, the procedures and ensure that in the current budget, if it is indicated that maybe M500 000 of the M120 million of the Local Government budget is allocated to Mapoteng Council, let it land in the Mapoteng Council’s bank account. Then our duty will be to go and find out how it has been spent. That will even promote accountability and transparency.
Questions will be asked how the funds would have been spent to the relevant officials and they will have to account for the money…
LT: You were previously part of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and a lot of rot was unearthed in the ministry that you now head. What are you going to do to ensure that all PAC recommendations in relation to your ministry are implemented?
Rapapa: I must implement, that is what I am here for. If the report says this person must be tried, let it be. If it says this person must be suspended and if management feels that it is within the confines of the law, let that person suspended. Whatever actions have to be taken must be taken.
The PAC has found out that M1, 4 billion was misappropriated; it has been spent without authority and other issues… Parliament decided to establish a Serious Commercial Crimes Court since there is only a Commercial Court where some of the cases would involve small figures like M200 at the same time dealing with cases involving the embezzlement of millions of maloti.
A recommendation was made that there be a Serious Crimes Commercial Court with a dedicated judge for that matter. So, I will definitely recommend to the Prime Minister and cabinet that that proposal should be implemented so that when somebody is arrested and taken to court for fraud, the process will be expedited. Otherwise delaying it creates an impression that it will take 20 years before cases can be finalised.
LT: Basotho complain that politicians are only good at lip service which is never followed by action. Are you going to do things differently?
Rapapa: Well, recommendations will be followed by action. You cannot just act without recommending first. You will recommend, justify your recommendation and make a decision. But I think those who are saying politicians are just paying lip service are getting it all wrong. Instead, they are acting. We could not have a change of government until politicians acted… we used to have 10 deputy ministers and the politicians decided that they must be reduced to eight. Politicians have also decided that the ministries of Law and that of Justice should be merged. So, I do not agree with the notion that politicians pay lip service only.
However, action also depends on individuals and people’s personalities. So, I don’t think it would be right to assume that since the previous minister did not implement certain measures, then I too will fail. I will take my pathway and ways of doing things. I cannot blame people who came before me for the way they performed and people that will come after me should not be blamed for the way that I would have performed. I should be blamed for how I have performed.
LT: You are part of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s national executive committee (NEC) which complained of poor service delivery in the past three years. Are you now saying that there was efficient service delivery that people are happy with?
Rapapa: Well, there are places where there was delivery (in the tenure of the previous government) and there are other places where there was poor service delivery. I will make two examples of where there was poor service delivery… In 2012, I think we spent 77 percent of the capital budget in the first coalition government but now service delivery declined. In other words, financial resources were allocated but there was no implementation and that is what we call no service delivery.
When the ministry of Local Government purchased yellow plant machinery, there was a lot maintenance, there was a lot of activity. You would see that yellow plant machinery working and roads being maintained. But, if you take an inventory now, you will realise that some of the machinery has been parked somewhere for three years without doing any work. Why can we not sell it instead?
Now, there are places where we have delivered for instance the reforms process… We are at this point where we have completed the national consultations. We now have the National Reforms Authority. We have even made amendments which are constitutional and one of them is the ninth amendment. You know in the previous parliament, the ninth parliament, there was no amendment to the constitution. This is all delivery.
The ninth amendment has been enacted and a Prime Minister will no longer call for elections when he or she losses a vote of no confidence. However, we will have to compare with other tenures to see how the previous government performed. In terms of governance, yes, there are issues of concern but there are other places that the previous government actually delivered.
LT: On the issue of ghost workers, do you know how many are there in your ministry?
Rapapa: If it’s a big ministry, some will always take advantage. Somebody will be recruited and told that they are now a government official yet he or she would be working in the mines, running a taxi business or a grocery shop. That person may not even know the government office he or she is supposed to be working in. So, we will investigate and find out. In the PAC we even suspected that there were also ghost teachers. We asked the ministry to bring the files 230 files that were brought in. We only found two ghost employees. The situation was such that one person had either died or resigned but because no one processed their papers, they were still being paid.
My point is that we must us investigate and find out the facts. What is lacking from the government are staff performance audits where everybody’s performance is audited so that we know what this government’s employees are doing. If I am a driver, I must be assessed and actually know how much time I spend on the job. In the 180 days that you work in a year, how much time are you actually spending on the job.
LT: Based on your experience as principal secretary in the Thomas Thabane led government from 2012 to 2015, what are some of the checks and balances that you think must be put in place to fight corruption in the entire government.
Rapapa: Procedures are very clear that a government officer should never contract any supplier without an order but you find that people make orders by phone, by simple letters and that has led the non-payment of service providers. There is now a long list of suppliers who are being owed. And for suppliers to be paid, there is corruption where some have had to greased the palms of government officials.
So, we must to stop this trend by quickly processing payments and ensure that there are no outstanding payments at the end of every month. This will curb the practice of government officers demanding payments for orders to be paid. There are people who have been caught doing this. I have witnessed one person being arrested for taking a bribe in Teyateyaneng after the police had set a trap.
We must improve our judicial system in relation to the issues of fraud, bribery and corruption. It is very important to reduce the level of corruption. Otherwise, if we do not reduce it, we are losing money through corruption. If we curb corruption, the money used for corrupt practices could be used for social development, industrial development, education but instead it lands in the wrong hands.
Even investors and the donor community consider corruption before committing to projects in any country. They do not invest in highly corrupt countries. For instance, many investors shun Nigeria because of the level of corruption in that country. But I can tell you that Nigeria has one the best judicial systems in Africa… They expedite cases and convict offenders quickly.
International donors consider corruption before any project. The second compact of the Millennium Challenge Corporation is being delayed because of corruption, the rule of law and the lack of performance on previous projects. They are saying we are not maintaining our health posts and centres well enough and are worried that if they increase the infrastructure, who is going to maintain it? So, we must improve ourselves.
The World Bank has blacklisted some of the people or companies that were involved in corrupt activities relating to the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). So, it is important that we curb corruption.
LT: It is do or die for the ABC in the remaining two years before the next election. Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, has said there is not enough time. Is there a plan to ensure that all ABC ministries ABC perform to expectations?
Rapapa: That is an obvious decision. We would want to perform as desired and must be seen performing. In fact, I am not only worried about ABC ministers performing but the entire government. Whether a minister is from the ABC or Democratic Congress (DC), they must perform so that the people restore confidence in the government.
Otherwise, the performance of a minister who is coming from another party will obviously have an impact on the performance of all the parties that in this coalition. Remember there are two main parties but there are other parties which are playing the supporting role… all those parties would be blamed if we fail to perform. Just like the previous government where the ABC and the Alliance of Democrats (AD) were blamed for the collapse of the government.
So, yes, the success of this government will have an impact on us as a party but we are also working to restore the people’s trust in the party. Last year, at the peak of the ABC fights we were encouraged to form another party but we stayed put until we ensured that the party remained in government but leadership had changed.
Some party members said another member should not be in a certain position because they came late into the party… They did not understand that in politics we elect people according to our choices. Somebody may have been in the party for 100 years and he may not get to the top of the structures of the party. Somebody may come today and become a leader as long as he has the votes. That is the education that we must give to the people that they must accept the results. That is why we have accepted the results of the elections in the party, we have also accepted the results in the election of the prime minister and we also accepted the results in the elections of ministers. Otherwise, if you do not accept then it turns into anarchy.
I always say I contested for elections in the constituency for four or five times. I have won twice and I have lost thrice. What did I say when I lost, I congratulated the winner. In 1998 and 2007 it was Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), in 2012 it was DC and we had to congratulate them. I think it is the education that we have had in the last 12 or 16 months now.
LT: Some members of your party are unhappy with the current cabinet. What is your take on this?
Rapapa: There will always be some people who will not accept but as leaders, we must learn to teach people that they should accept. The constitution is very clear that the Prime Minister has the right to appoint ministers. People had a lot of expectations that I would be a Finance Minister but I have accepted that with the qualifications that I have, I am here in the Local Government. And what is the reason, the Prime Minister would tell you that he had a reason for putting me here. I can tell you what I suspect is the reason, it is that Local Government will be able to ensure that the message is sent to the population…
I feel that the Prime Minister made the right decisions in appointing ministers in the manner that he did… Having realised the reasons why things were done this way, my advice is, “if you are a member of the party, support your party”. If you are a Mosotho, support this government and ensure that at the end of the day you contribute towards the objectives or the anticipated results at the end of this government’s tenure. Whether you are in the opposition, neutral person or not interested in politics, please ensure you support this government because it is this government that will make decisions for you.