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The people come first

by Sunday Express
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Mohale’s Hoek’s first female District Administrator, ‘Mantsiuoa Mosothoane, says politics should never be about the comfort of the politicians but about how the lives of the poor can be improved 

MOHALE’S Hoek District Administrator (DA), ‘Mantsiuoa Mosothoane, is an action woman who believes government and various stakeholders should take the needs of the poor seriously. Although challenged by limited resources to make life better for the poor, Ms Mosothoane, who is a member of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) tells the Sunday Express (SE) she would never turn her back on those she was entrusted to serve.

SE: You have been the DA for Mohale’s Hoek for a year now. How has it been for you after working as a nurse for over 20 years?

Mosothoane: The transformation from a nurse to District Administrator challenged me a little but my advantage was that I had worked with different communities for many years. I had experienced how to work with people as a midwife-nurse, TB Coordinator and Primary Healthcare Service Trainer. During my time as a nurse, I worked in one of the most challenging environments but still managed to contribute towards establishing five village health posts here, all visited on horseback. I managed to achieve all this through my passion to help the poor and sick, a passion which I have carried to my post as DA. Working as a DA for the past year has made me understand the needs, aspirations and challenges faced by the communities I serve. Through my new work, I have become a new person who understands the greater needs of people and appreciates resource limitations and how this is causing desperation and hopelessness.

SE: When did you resign as a nurse and decide to join politics?

Mosothoane: I resigned as a nurse in 2004 to manage a family business. I later joined politics in 2006 before my appointment as DA in 2013.

SE: What would you say surprised you the most when you were appointed DA?

Mosothoane: What struck me the most was how the system here was so disorganised and many of the workers very unprofessional. I immediately realised the need to make sure there was cohesion between district and urban councils and the DA’s office. The challenge was when I was told that the councils were autonomous and as a result, there was a line I could not cross. I had a tough time meeting with community councillors but kept researching what other roles I could play in the whole system. I realised that within the District Planning Unit and District Development Council Committee, the secretary was supposed to be from the DA’s office and that I was involved as an ex-officio. This allowed me to provide direction, which included asking the District Development Council Committee (DDCC) to stop meeting at district level only but instead, to also conduct study tours to determine the needs of the employees, communities and know what to prioritise. The DDCC is of great importance because it comprises of heads of departments and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

SE: Since, as you say, you are now working as a team, what changes have you brought so far as a team-player?

Mosothoane: The studies undertaken by the DDCC determined communities’ needs and also what we needed to do to shape-up the workforce. Internally we are focusing on team-building exercises that seek to change the attitude of employees towards work. Like I said before, when I came in, I was disturbed by the fact that many of the employees did not understand that when you work for the people, it is important to have passion for their development and also to collaborate. So in order to make sure that we have a common goal, we are working on entrenching good work-ethics, which should reflect in their behaviour while we develop their sense of responsibility to prioritise the needs of the public.

SE: You have come at a time the decentralisation of primary healthcare is underway. Do you think you have what it takes for a smooth decentralisation?

Mosothoane: In the area of decentralisation, I strongly feel we need council by-laws that can support council operations and make them viable entities. We are analysing where councils are failing and why. One thing I have also noticed is the need to build the capacity of councillors to help them understand the real demands of their work. We need sustainable structures and in order to achieve this, the criteria of selection of councillors should also change now that mayors would be working with these officials in the districts. I think councillors should at least have a Form E qualification for them to have a better understanding of the relevant laws and application of other innovations.

SE: Development has evaded Mohale’s Hoek for many years. What do you think could be the reason?

Mosothoane: It is true that there is still a lot of infrastructure development that needs to be done here. There are no good roads in many parts of the district. In some of the areas, there is no clean drinking water, no bridges where we need them and also electricity to attract the kind of investors we would want to have in this district. One of the things pulling us down is the fact that development decisions are made at central level and this slows down the pace at which development takes place. Out of the eight constituencies we have, only three are urban while the rest are mountainous and difficult to access because there are no roads. We share boundaries with five other districts, Mafeteng, Maseru, Thaba-Tseka, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing; and also two other provinces in South Africa: the Eastern Cape and the Free State. Our people depend on services from any of these neighbouring districts.

SE: So the mountainous topography of this district has largely contributed to its lagging behind in terms of development?

Mosothoane: Yes, as much as constructing roads here is costly, I still believe such development should be prioritised to stimulate investment opportunities in the district and make it easy for people to access various services. We have communities staying in hard-to-reach places such as Ketane, Hlahloeng and Qaqathu and remember, there are people on Anti-Retroviral Therapy and are expected to travel for many hours before reaching the clinics. Nurses also need to follow them up, which has proved difficult. A good road network can help ease the burden.

SE: What is your vision for the district based on what you have experienced so far?

Mosothoane: In five years, we should have the decentralisation policy operational and we expect ministries such as Forestry and Land Reclamation, Education and Training and Mining to have started piloting their decentralised services.

This will help stimulate more infrastructure development in order for services to reach far and wider populations. With the road network covering more areas, our vision is to see investors and NGOs attracted to this needy district and jobs created for the young people. We are also pushing for the improvement of some health centres such as Baylor Hospital, which we would like to see having a big emergency unit. We also hope that climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts currently underway with the help of organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) will have made communities resilient to weather-related shocks and help grow agriculture in this drought-prone district. We support WFP’s work of ensuring people here have the capacity to adapt to harsh weather conditions, are food-secure and they produce the right food to eat to prevent malnutrition.

SE: What can hinder your vision?

Mosothoane: Despite various stakeholders agreeing that the implementation of the Decentralisation Policy is the only answer to develop Mohale’s Hoek, allocation of funds for the implementation is key. The allocation should be based on the size of the territory and revenue collection. Most importantly, we need to strengthen working towards building the capacity of employees and in particular in the procurement and financial management units to ensure transparency and accountability. We should also strengthen supervision of employees and disciplinary action systems to make sure appropriate action is taken on those who fail to abide by set rules and regulations. There is also need for serious supervision of developmental projects such as roads and bridges, which take too long to complete.

SE: You mentioned that one of your visions is to improve food insecurity; what else can be done to improve agricultural production in this district?

Mosothoane: First, there is need to understand that the type of soil in the southern districts of our country is very poor and as a result, crops such as maize don’t grow well. There is need for more farmers’ education on which drought-resistant crops they can grow such as sorghum. Also, generally, there isn’t much land-cover to help stop soil-erosion and ensure water-conservation—an area which the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation, together with the World Food Programme are very much part of in the various villages. We desperately need more of such disaster risk-reduction interventions for communities to adapt to the dry conditions. Despite incessant drought over many years, one area we have not done well as a district is the introduction of water-harvesting systems. We need to prioritise the construction of dams and installation of irrigation systems and building of greenhouses to enable year-round crop-production. Unless we introduce wide, adaptation innovations and support farmers, growing enough food to feed ourselves will remain but only a wish.

SE: Would you say being a woman is an issue for you in the execution of your duties as DA?

Mosothoane: I am the first female DA in the district and feel comfortable working here. I was born and raised here, so I am familiar with many places and know a lot of families. I think growing up here has made it easy for many people to accept me as a daughter of Mohale’s Hoek and have the trust that I have their best interests at heart. In my capacity as the DA, a wife, mother, sister and aunt, I try my best to listen to everyone irrespective of their political affiliation. I want to remain fair and focused on providing services.

SE: We were talking earlier on about the importance of depoliticising key local governance structures. What can be done to help people understand how this is affecting the progress of this district?

Mosothoane: Well, the district has its own share of challenges because of political influences and I strongly believe we should all rise above this if we are to make meaningful progress. It is of utmost importance that we depoliticise the civil service as a whole because that way, the workforce will become development-orientated. This will also enable progress on programme-implementation and put an end to sabotage by politicised elements. If we should expect progress in councils, for example, there should be some structures that should not be politicised so as not to disturb or disrupt developmental programmes.

SE: Any last words?

Mosothoane: Mohale’s Hoek has been a district in need for many years. The only way we can overcome our challenges, which include unemployment, inaccessibility of services, high maternal deaths, high teenage pregnancy rate, HIV and AIDS and food insecurity, is through working together. Every person has a role to play. What Mohale’s Hoek will become in the next 10 years, is heavily dependent on what each and every individual will contribute. We all know that poverty is not good and it is because of lack of resources and in some cases, unequal distribution of those limited resources, that some areas have not improved. This is why as the DA, as councils and other partners, our operations should strive to make life better for the poor. That is also why politics should never be about the comfort of the politicians but about how the lives of the poor can be improved by making sure the available resources are channelled to the intended beneficiaries. The people come first and the game of politics should never be about “us” but about the needs of the people and what we are doing to fight poverty with them. We should all aim for prosperity which can help bring happiness and contentment. When people are not hungry and happy, peace is possible among different communities; they can share and grow together.

 

 

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