MASERU — It is not an easy task to run Maseru City Council, a municipality mainly dependent on government funding for it to function.
That the council does not generate enough revenue to sustain itself can be strange to some people, especially when municipalities in many African countries are independent corporate entities which control schools, a number of clinics, and own vast pieces of prime land and properties.
However, in Maseru it is the other way round as the council, which is supposed to be one of the top profit-making organisations in the city, does not even have a civic centre where it should be operating from.
The council has under its jurisdiction the area stretching from Selakhapane, near Ha Foso to Masianokeng.
Every year the council has to fork out M300 000 on office rentals alone, money that could be used to service a loan to build a town house which, according to the council’s 2008 strategic plan, would have then cost M60 million.
In the current financial year, the council received a M27 million grant in lieu of rates from government.
The money is meant for salaries of the more than 400 workers, to ensure good service delivery and infrastructure development, among other uses.
In an interview with the council’s Town Clerk, Mantai Phaila on Sunday, she said there was need to change the way council operated in order to turn around its fortunes.
With such limited resources, she explained, the situation not only demanded that they stretch their little resources and prioritise critical services but also that they ensure they opened more avenues for revenue generation.
Phaila, who was director for planning since 2004, is the first woman town clerk appointed in January this year.
She coordinates council operations which run from four different locations.
“I can surely tell you that the set-up makes coordination of operations very difficult,” Phaila said.
She said despite the limited resources and coordination challenges the council is expected to deliver.
“We must work as a team, though from different locations.
“Importantly, we must put our innovativeness at work and come up with new ways of generating more revenue in order to fulfil our mandate.
“It’s critical that we become financially sound and self-reliant.”
She said programmes related to infrastructure development, orderliness in the central business district, a healthy environment and providing services that enabled various functions, were priority areas that demanded adequate financing.
“So far we have shown a lot of resilience considering the circumstances we are operating under.”
A consultancy, management and research company Pmr Africa on Wednesday last week also recognised the local authority’s resilience and honoured the council with seven awards in various areas of governance.
“This motivated us and encouraged us to know there were organisations appreciating our efforts”, Phaila said.
Phaila explained despite current constraints, there was light at the end of the tunnel, especially considering the potential and opportunities the council could tap into to improve its revenue.
She further explained that one area that could provide immediate revenue improvement was if all residents understood the importance of paying their refuse and property rates.
“Currently that understanding is not overwhelmingly there in areas that are rateable.
“We would like all the residents to know they also have a role to play in the development of the city and by cooperating with us, we can together make the council operate effectively.”
Phaila said ensuring that all areas are rateable would also make a huge difference.
Currently, only a quarter of the residential areas in the whole city are rateable.
The council collects rates only in areas such as Matsoatlareng, Moshoeshoe 2, Maseru East, Mohalalitoe, Thamae, Tsautse, Katlehong, Lower Thetsane, Hills View, Europa, Ha Hoohlo and the Lecop area in Khubetsoana.
“In Maseru West, where significant properties are government-owned, we only collect rates from private property owners.
Government makes an annual payment, which is not necessarily based on the value of the properties, for all its properties in the city.
This is in line with the Valuation and Rating Act of 1980,” Phaila said.
She said the council has since requested the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs to permit council to declare all areas rateable.
Apart from ensuring payment of property rates by all property owners, Phaila said other avenues of revenue generation were street parking bays, establishment of paid for facilities in recreational parks and constructing flee market spaces that could be rented out to small entrepreneurs.
“We have also partnered with the mobile phone giant Econet to ensure easy payment of bills through mobile phones,” Phaila said.
She further explained the council would continue to strive for Maseru to gain its capital city status in the truest sense.
“We want to continue improving our services and have a beautiful city, which is in a continuously developing mode and with the capacity to attract more investors.”
She said a well managed and organised city with properly marked and repaired roads, functioning street lights and the ability by motorists and pedestrians to access all parts of the city without being constrained, are factors that also attracted investment.
“With more investment, we are assured that many jobs would be created, poverty alleviated and levels of crime reduced.”
Phaila further explained that the council has since completed phase one of its beautification programme, which saw them establish parks in the cathedral and Florida areas and upgrading of old parks such as Moshoeshoe Memorial Park.
“Next month we will start working on the second phase of the programme and our targeted areas are the traffic circles near the Pioneer Mall, Ha Thetsane, Thabong and the Main Traffic circle area.”
Phaila said although ensuring the success of the beautification programme was critical, the council was also focusing on ensuring the city was well planned to allow various future developments.
In 2008, the council came up with a strategic plan, which outlined developments that needed to be implemented to upgrade the city.
The council also factored-in the need to come up with a sustainable waste management plan following an air pollution crisis at the Ha Tsosane dumpsite.
“Due to limited resources we have been gradually implementing the plan as seen by our efforts to control the previously bad waste management at the Ha Tsosane dumpsite”, she said.
Phaila said because the council had no full capacity to manage waste throughout the city, in 2009 they partnered with a private company to clean specific routes, which include Kingsway, Mosheoshoe, Main South 1, Main North 1, Mpilo, Kofi Annan, among others.
While the council collects refuse in some rateable areas, the bulk of the residents have devised different ways to deal with refuse.
The easiest way in many suburbs, is to dump refuse in open areas or burn garbage on their premises.
“We are promoting the community contracting concept, which works when the residents organise themselves and agree on a fee per each household to engage cleaning services,” Phaila said, adding that the concept has worked well in areas such as Katlehong, Ha Mabote and Mosheshoe 2.
She further explained work was also under way to ensure proper planning and organisation throughout the city.
Phaila said 70 percent of the peri-urban residential areas were not planned and this hampered the further developments and provision of various services in such areas.
“Upgrading the road network in unplanned settlements is critical and plans are underway to ensure we start work in the areas,” she stated.
She said the style of implementation would be different.
“We would like the communities to be cooperative and take ownership of the project.
“For instance, if a road would encroach on their premises, we expect them to understand it’s for the good of the community,” Phaila observed.
On the other hand, Phaila said the upgrading of the road infrastructure in all planned settlements was under way.
So far, areas such as Ha Mabote, Ha Thetsane, Thibella and Moshoeshoe 2 have been serviced.
Phaila also emphasised the need for all council workers to work as a team to ensure the success of all developmental projects.
“It is critical that we not only push together but also towards the same direction.
“Previously, we were working in silos and I have seen how this approach slowed down progress.”
She said the need to have a workforce that is concerned about fulfilling the interests of the council and not individual interests also applied at managerial level.
Phaila explained the council comprised two arms, the political which is headed by the mayor, who is ceremonial and the executive, headed by the town clerk.
“The mayor chairs the council meetings and also the two committees of finance and planning as stipulated under the Local Government Act.
She is also the image of the council,” she said, adding that the councillors also deliberated with council technocrats during their meetings.
Phaila further explained the responsibilities of the town clerk included co-chairing council meetings, overseeing the implementation of council resolutions, ensuring operations are within the policies’ framework and managing human resources.
She said currently the councillors’ operations were not normal and as a result, there were no approvals of the progress made in various projects since April this year.
“We are unable to seek approval for now because of the pending court case between the mayor and the 10 councillors who wanted to pass a vote-of-no-confidence in the mayor.
“The motion was stopped by the court. We hope when the situation normalises, we would be able to seek approval of all the work done so far,” Phaila said.