LAST September, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s cabinet approved a memo calling for the setting up of a committee of principal secretaries accountable to the Government Secretary to develop a work plan to empower District Administrators and councils to effectively implement service delivery programmes in their respective communities and urban councils.
The cabinet memo was approved shortly after Dr Thabane outlined his vision for a reformed public sector where he emphasised the need for all government ministries to empower district administrators and local councils. This was done to ensure that district administrators are able to account for the design, implementation of service delivery programmes in line with the decentralisation approach to service delivery.
Dr Thabane further called for all government ministries to come up with ways of improving service delivery by participating in the development of the Public Sector Improvement and Reform Programme (PSIRP II). It is against this background that in this wide-ranging interview, Ministry of Public Service Principal Secretary Tšeliso Lesenya (TL) talks to the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Senior Reporter Pascalinah Kabi about the importance of ensuring that all public servants work closely in pursuit of effective service delivery of quality services to Basotho.
LT: What is the core mandate of your ministry, especially on the service delivery component?
TL: The vision of the ministry is to ensure that by 2025 all government ministries, departments and agencies are adequately resourced and manned by highly capable, competent, dependable and motivated public officers who effectively and efficiently deliver services of high quality to the nation.
Our mission is to provide public service legislative, instruments, policies, structures and systems that facilitate efficient civil service performance and increase productivity towards attainment of national priority goals.
For us to achieve this, we have different departments namely Performance Management, Organisational Development, Human Resource, Assessment Centre, our training department the Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management (LIPAM) and Cooperate Services. I think those are the core departments that facilitate for us to attain those goals.
LT: Lesotho has a high wage bill which is not corresponding to the quality of services that are offered by different government ministries. What is your role in ensuring that the services offered correspond with the money paid?
TL: As part of the Public Sector Reforms, we have identified three main areas. Firstly, we have conducted the Biometric Census which we are almost completing and we have a team that is going to deal with the establishment and management of the whole civil service and the other component is going to deal with the performance management. These efforts are going to ensure that there is effective service delivery in the country.
First of all, we are going to eliminate the possibility of ghost employees, then we are going to ensure that people are positioned where they are going to perform their mandate diligently. We are also going to ensure that establishment and the structures of the public service and civil service in general is well mannered and the positions are the relevant ones, facilitating the delivery of services.
The performance management tool is going to enable us to monitor performance and have indicators that are going to be useful to ensure service delivery is as per expectations.
LT: Surely there are certain issues that do not necessarily need to wait for the reforms process to kick start before they can be implemented, like the attitude and morale of civil servants. What are some of the challenges that you feel need to be addressed urgently in quest for quality service delivery?
TL: The reforms are indeed a long process and you will recall that prior to Public Service Day in 2018, we had a weeklong session where we had different cadres — from bottom to management level — where we had programmes that motivated our public servants at all levels. We want to expand that to go further to the districts, where they would express themselves and say how the government is treating them and how we can improve so that they can perform optimally.
This goes with the issue of payment — where people are paid the right wages and whether or not their benefits are compatible with the international norms. We will also see how we can improve those benefits, the housing, medical facilities and whether or not they have medical schemes that enable them to perform or to be in a healthy environment.
We also need to ask ourselves if the working space is conducive and if LIPAM-as our training wing, has effectively discharged its mandate of ensuring that the public servants are equipped with relevant skills and knowledge to perform their duties. Do they know exactly what is required of them and do they have a positive attitude towards the general public?
LT: The premier has expressed concerns of poor service delivery by his government, calling on all government ministries to shape up. What is your ministry’s role in assisting the PM and his government to fulfil their promises on service delivery in line with their different manifestos that brought them into government?
TL: In 2017, we took the political parties’ manifestos and translated them into a coalition agreement as a working document for the government. One of the issues that are addressed in the coalition agreement is one that the Prime Minister has talked about; fast-tracking decentralisation. We are working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy to ensure that that process is achieved.
We have established a committee of experts from our respective ministries, the committee has sat, they have drawn a task sheet of activities to be done, how to harmonise legislation. There is a need to harmonise legislation because we are talking about two services here — the public service and the local government service and we have to ensure that there is a smooth transition between the two services and that has to be fast-tracked because time is not really on our side.
In a similar manner, there are issues of training that we have communicated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations. People who are posted to foreign missions should be trained diplomats and if we achieve on that one, people who are posted on foreign missions will effectively discharge their duties, understanding fully well what is expected of them; not just going there on a political posting. This is part of the reforms but at the same time it is one of those things that can be done as soon as yesterday. They do not have to wait for reforms. They can be executed right away and so we are in dialogue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with regard to that.
There is an issue of monitoring and evaluation that we have said that it should be enforced because the mandate of monitoring and evaluation is that of the Office of the Prime Minister through the Government Secretary and that it is being executed through the Public Service Act which we are the custodian of, we have since warned respective ministries that they have to adhere to the monitoring and evaluation criteria. The criteria entails that they have to submit their reports after every six months. Some ministries submitted their reports last September and some are due next month; this will enable government to get an indication of the holistic performance of their respective ministries and agencies.
Again, one of the mandates of this government is to curb corruption and we are working hand in hand with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to establish integrity committees which will ensure that people are not prone to corruption when taking decisions on behalf of the government. We also have a programme where people declare their assets.
We successfully did that last year even though there are areas where people did not submit their forms. We are going to issue another circular this week (last week) reminding them that it is the beginning of the new financial year and that they have to declare their assets for this year. These are some of the initiatives that we are employing to ensure that the Ministry of Public Service assists the four-party coalition government to meet its mandate.
However, unfortunately there are training issues. Public servants in general need training and unfortunately our budget does not allow us to address that issue especially the short-term training. There are however, some who are still going for a long-term training (schools) but we are still trying to come up with solutions for the short-term. In the event that we do not have the funds, we need to come up with means and ways of ensuring that there is indeed training, LIPAM, as a government institution, needs to diligently perform its mandate and we pushing it to that direction. We need to ensure that LIPAM is well equipped with people that can discharge its mandate effectively.
LT: While appreciating that decentralisation is a broad issue affecting all government ministries and departments, as the arm tasked with employing civil servants on behalf of other ministries, what is your role in ensuring that there is harmonised service delivery involving all government ministries at districts levels, for example, involvement of Districts Administrators, Councils and Chiefs?
TL: It must be understood that we have a local government service which is the custodian of recruitment of local authorities and local councillors. On the other hand, we have a public service which is the custodian of recruitment of employees of the central government through the Public Service Commission. It needs to be perfectly understood that when public servants get to the district, they are implementers of the policies of the central government; they are the technical people hence we are working around the clock to see how best we can harmonise the Local Government Service Act and Public Service Act to allow free movement at the district level.
I must admit that there is a tendency of people saying they are only answerable to certain individuals yet that is not the case. We need to reserve that so that people can know that when they are assigned at district levels, whether at the community, district or urban councils, they are under stewardship of that responsible council and they must take instructions from those councils given priority areas emanating from our National Strategic Plan, filtered down to our councils at different levels.
Those should be performed with people fully aware that DAs are the eyes of the central government at district level, ensure that councils execute government policies, notwithstanding the fact that the local authorities or councils themselves have their own mandate of coming up with their own plans of developing their areas.
The visions (of central government and local authorities) should be intertwined and public servants must understand that service delivery is a collaborative effort, they are the implementing hands of both the central government and district and local councils. These are community councils’ secretaries, town clerks and district council secretaries.
Most of developmental issues in the councils are projects driven and those technical people (public servants) must assist with their knowledge to ensure that those projects are successful and change the infrastructure and economy of those host communities. Issues of health facilities should be dealt with in a way that service delivery is strengthened, there should be well coordinated team of different ministries’ technical people at the district levels and local authorities; they should integrate in a manner in which their presence will be for improved quality service delivery.
Their collaborative work should be clear and smooth for the benefit of the people, we can only deliver quality services to the nation if we work together as public servants from different ministries at district level. We can easily do away with the huddles if public servants and local authorities work together for the benefit of our people at district level. Ministries should not work in silos, they should find ways and means of collaborating, sitting down and doing things together.
The budget speech (the 2019/20 budget speech by Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro) dictated that services should be decentralised and that ministries should closely work together. We have so many resources, if used wisely and collectively, we can address service delivery challenges and ensure that our country moves from poverty-stricken to a better country. One of the issues that we need to tighten our belts on is the use of technological systems as other means of effective and efficient service delivery.
I have since realised that the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology is already making all necessary plans to legislate Information and Technology Systems and as soon that law is implemented, we will use the same methods to pass information on service delivery; thus, helping us improve quality of services. We will do away with a lot of paperwork, transcript in a manner that is effective and less time consuming, devoting all the time for quality, effective and efficient service delivery.
Lesotho is part of the global village and reality on the ground is that the world is moving towards the fourth industrial revolution and we should be seen to be part of that movement as a country. It is through an effective public service that we can be part of that movement and ensure that the international community recognises Lesotho as a competitor, not an all-time beggar. We have to turn around things and move with the times.
LT: You mentioned the biometric census programme, how far have you gone with it?
TL: At the moment we have counted the public servants and there is an ongoing mop-up assignment of verification of people’s names, documents etc. As soon as this exercise has been complicated, we will have a report showing the status of civil service in Lesotho.
It is important for us to undergo the verification process to avoid any comebacks in the future. We need to eliminate any loopholes that may be there. We do not want people coming back from nowhere in future claiming to have been left outside the civil service unjustly.
We also have pensioners and we are faced with challenges of verifying them because they are old people, some of them are not in the country and these issues are giving us challenges on the verification process. However, we are almost done with the programme and the report detailing our findings will come out soon.
LT: Is the lack of salary increment for civil servants likely to further affect quality of services given their outcry following Dr Majoro’s announcement that their salaries were not going to be adjusted this financial year?
TL: It actually should not affect quality of service delivery. The lack of salary increments is an issue that is associated with the economic performance of the country. If the economic indicators show that our country has not been performing well, then it is clear that there are no resources to fund increments. However, the manner in which the government handled this issue is that we need to create job opportunities and if we need to create job opportunities that are entrepreneurial, it means the private sector will grow.
Having a thriving private sector means that our economy will grow as well and that within a short space of time, we will see positive developments. At the moment, the Ministry of Development and Planning is dealing with the issue of Economic Laboratories, a turn-around strategy for the four thriving priority areas of agriculture, tourism, ICT and mining.
The four priority areas will assist in our economic growth and while on the issue of mining, I need to point it out that the budget estimates stated that we are going to do away with the tax haven and collect tax from the mining industry. Such interventions will grow the economy.
However, the government is still alive to a performance related pay and at the moment, civil servants still notch at every single financial year. For example, if one notches in April, one’s salary will be different from that of last financial year due to what we call notching system. Each civil servant will still notch depending on the month in which they entered the civil service. It does not necessarily mean that there is no salary adjustment because each civil servant, still within a notching system, will still get an increase of notching to the next level within their grades. We should not look at the issue of salary adjustments in isolation.
LT: Are you assuring the public that this is not going to affect service delivery at all?
TL: It should not affect the delivery of services at all. As a country we know our economic status and we know that our situation did not start today, it started many years ago and unfortunately this present regime is feeling the pain of the previous governments that did not care about Basotho.
These are the end results of people who never cared about Lesotho and Basotho. Look at spending of the past governments like the Bidvest Fleet Management; rampant corruption that negatively affected our economy. But it does not end there, Lesotho was not immune to the global economic crisis with its negative impacts. We are experiencing those impacts today and this is why the international community wants Lesotho to deal with its high wage bill to curb the looming economic crisis.
We need to confront the real issues here. We are where we are today with a huge wage bill because politicians created many unwanted political positions for their loyalists. That is the root cause of our crisis today. Politicians who were in government more than 20 years ago, whom we call the congress, they created this mess. Tough decisions have to be made now and we have to swallow the bitter pill today.
LT: Any parting shots?
TL: Public servants should not panic. This is a short-term issue that will temporarily have negative impacts but there are good days ahead. Once the exercise of revising structures has been completed, there will be a positive outcome.
I know for sure on the issues of teachers there is a positive outcome already especially on their employment structure and all these issues will bear desired fruits for Lesotho; not only for civil servants but we are also looking at normalising the security sector — the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the National Security Service (NSS) and the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS).
We need to harmonise their structural issues to ensure that they are aligned in a manner that they do not contribute to the country’s problems. Each one of them should have a clear mandate drawn even from international standards. Like I have said, that this is a short-term issue. There are better days to come for this country and we have to be hopeful that their efforts of providing quality service to the people will contribute to a turnaround of the country’s economic status.
We need to come up with innovative strategies of dealing with this short-term problem. We are living in a technology era and we should take advantage of that and change our Lesotho for the better. We cannot continue to be in crisis perennially. We need to find sustainable solutions for our country and become a case-study for other countries in crisis.