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Uncertainty surrounds fate of local govt elections

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Seabata Mahao

Local Government Elections anticipated to be held in April this year are likely to be postponed, Newsday has learned.

The last local government elections were last held on September 30, 2017.

The local government act of 1997 states that the term of office of each councillor elected at a local government election shall be for a period not exceeding five years from the date of the election.

This publication understands that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) last year wrote to the minister of local government requesting that the term of the councillors be extended to April this year.

However, leaders of several political parties have expressed doubt about whether the elections will be held in April, especially in light of the constant statements on the part of government officials that state coffers are running dry.

The leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Lekhetho Rakuoane, told Newsday yesterday that leaders of political parties registered with the IEC had a meeting with the commission last Friday to discuss the fate of the elections.

“We had a meeting with the commission last Friday to discuss this issue. The current councillors’ term ends in April and we were saying that it should be extended to September or October,” Rakuoane said.

“We were saying local elections should be in September or October so that they can be held concurrently with the reforms referendum to save costs. Postponing local government elections will allow parliament time to adopt the reforms bill so that we can go for a referendum,” he added.

But other political leaders who spoke to this publication said it was IEC’s idea that local government elections should be postponed again to September.

The deputy leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR), ‘Mamarame Matela, and leader of Year for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, told Newsday separately that postponement of elections was suggested by IEC.

Ntšonyana however indicated that he was not part of the meeting but was briefed by another member of the party who attended the meeting.

The constitution mandates the IEC to ensure that elections to the national assembly and local authorities are held regularly and that every election or referendum held is free and fair.

IEC’s director of elections, advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu, yesterday denied that IEC had suggested postponement of the local government elections to September.

“As far as we are concerned, the local government elections will be held in April this year. We take instructions from the Minister of Local Government,” Maqutu said.

“We cannot proclaim when local government should be held. We just prepare for and host elections as per the directives as long as there are funds to do so,” he added.

Minister of local government, Lebona Lephema, told Newsday yesterday that he was yet to meet the decentralisation department to discuss the issue of local government elections.

No decision has been made yet, Lephema stressed.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with two spheres of government: central and local.

The constitution mandates parliament to establish the local government.

It states: “Parliament shall establish such local authorities as it deems necessary to enable urban and rural communities to determine their affairs and to develop themselves. Such authorities shall perform such functions as may be conferred by an Act of Parliament.”

The parliament has enacted two main governing legislations; the local government act and the local government elections act.

The cabinet adopted a national decentralisation policy in February 2014.

The ministry of local government and chieftainship affairs is tasked with providing policy direction and support for local authorities.

Local government in Lesotho comprises community councils, district councils, and one municipal council, in the capital, Maseru – Maseru City Council (MCC).

In August last year, the former deputy prime minister and leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mothetjoa Metsing, said it was unfair there was only one municipal council in the country.

Metsing said merging some of the local government community councils in the Leribe district could be used as one of the strategies to address service challenges in the wake of increasing urbanization.

He was addressing the LCD rally in Maputsoe ahead of the October 7, 2022, national assembly elections.

“Leribe is the only district in the country that has two big towns, Maputsoe and Hlotse. We as LCD are saying the councils between Hleoheng and Tšifa-li-mali should be merged into a municipality so that this area can gain greater autonomy,” he said.

“It does not make sense that we have only one municipality in the country which is the MCC yet Leribe which has two towns and an increasing population does not have a municipality,” he added.

According to the local government act, only the minister of local government has the power to declare any area, having the characteristics or requirements prescribed for the purpose, to be a community, rural, urban or municipal council, define each area so declared, and assign a name to such council.

Metsing was minister of local government and chieftainship affairs from 2012 to 2015.

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