By: Thandiwe Kubere

Public participation in matters of national concern remains a crucial element of democracy. Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) on Thursday held a high level stakeholders’ engagement session, tapping into the communities’ demands and essential needs, which were put forth by their respective Community Based Organizations (CBOs). To ensure that those needs are met accordingly, TRC called relevant ministries and members of parliament on board to respond on how they would help communities develop further as well as how they commit to partner organizations to ensure the public’s well being.

The engagement session came also as a progress check for the Small Projects Fund (SPF) also known as “Sea le Methati Project” and how it is aiding the organizations to thrive and contribute in bettering the lives in communities. Sea le Methati Project is funded by Brot to support small organizations which actively change the lives of people for the better.

TRC Monitoring and Evaluation officer Mrs. Thato Thamae explained that the center has been entrusted with the responsibility of facilitating the project and making sure that the funds are well coordinated and allocated. She noted that TRC operates in five districts; Maseru, Mafeteng, Leribe, Butha Buthe and Mokhotlong and has supported small community based organizations in those districts accordingly.

“We were given the task by the funder, because it was realized that even though problems encountered by organizations at community level have been brought to awareness, the funder could not exactly be able to contact the organizations and closely help solve day to day issues. So this is how TRC came up with the project, to aid the dedicated men and women in serving their communities wherever they are and enhance the protection of human rights”, she said.

Therefore, organizations based in the most overlooked areas were granted an opportunity to benefit financially from the project which officially took off in March 2022. After the project was launched, small community-based organizations were called to apply for financial support as a way of enhancing inclusivity and public participation.

“So far we have opened four calls for proposals for Brot funding through TRC. And for the first call we approved three organizations, the second one we approved five organizations, the third one had ten approved, and the forth call had twelve organizations approved.”

She further highlighted that the project, which was a pilot for implementation will come to an end this year in March. This means that if the funds were properly utilized and there are implementations, more organizations stand a chance of benefiting.

TRC seeks a peaceful and just society transformed through Christian witness and participatory development, democracy, and justice. The Resource Centre seeks to tackle lack of information, limited citizen engagement, policymakers and traditional authorities; resulting in the underperformance of Lesotho in terms of accountability, transparency in governance and service delivery.

Presenting on the challenges and concerns raised in communities, TRC Public Services and Acountability, Small Projects Funds Special Officer Rokoe Lefera declared the main issue raised by organizations during the engagement was that there is shortage of learning material and facilities which enable vulnerable children and children with disability to learn effectively and efficiently in classrooms, therefore adversely affecting the forth sustainable development goal which seeks to achieve inclusive and quality education for all, reaffirming the belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development.

In addition to that, there is lack of trained teachers due to the curriculum that keeps on changing, leaving teachers with outdated methods of teaching because proper training workshops are not held.

Moreover, Ms. Kholu Tsumane from Campaign for Education Forum revealed that there is a high rate of sexual assault in schools by teachers to learners and that there are no particular laws and policies in place which can be referred to in an attempt to protect learners from sexual assault beyond classroom doors. She noted that subjects like life skills, which educate children on sexual rights and safe practices, are not given the attention they should.

 There is also shortage of teachers specializing in life skills in schools and different subject teachers keep exchanging lessons, resulting in back and forth and pulling in different directions, which eventually confuses learners and lowers their interest. She notified that there is lack of books for educating on safe life practices and it does not help that it gets taught only once a week whereas it plays an important role in the lives of the students.

“This is very challenging because you find that when we educate about sexual health, some parents get relieved because we are able to address topics which they are not comfortable to talk about with their kids and it helps curb the high rate of unwanted pregnancies. Whereas other parents claim that we teach their kids bad things”, she expressed. She further highlighted that students also get comfortable and free to address matters of assault during those lessons so that they get help, but it eventually becomes of no use because life skills are taught only once a week.

Another challenge which was put forth was that in rural areas like Kao, there are no proper health facilities for public service and villagers have to walk long miles to access health care services, which at times deteriorates their health even further and put their lives at risk.

Moreover, it was mentioned that job opportunities at communities, mostly in rural areas, are often given to outsiders and villagers get sidelined whereas they could fall under unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled labor, especially in mining activities.

On that note the Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Mohlomi Moleko, assured that he is already working on issues relating to mines and will ensure that people in outskirts are capacitated. He noted that there are consultants who will conduct assessment on the mines.

Hon. Moleko also committed to partnering with the civil society for they share a similar goal of ensuring the well-being of Basotho and have their best interests at hearts. He further assured that the matter is already being given attention in parliament. He mentioned concerns to address respective ministries and advised for reports to be brought to his office so that they can efficiently work on those matters and help solve problems.

Patriot Visoion in Action Director Palesa Ntakatsane declared that for a way forward, the public participation bill should be implemented and made law.”Members of Parliament, as representatives of the society, should reach out to the communities and hear people out, such that they are able to address their concerns and ideas for solutions to be found together and better the lives of people, she said.

She further advocated for transparency in matters which affect the public. “Local government and council engagements should go live on social media to allow public participation and direct interactions. There is currently a challenge of feedback because communities struggle to access their respective members of parliament.

It was also recommended budgeting should not be conducted behind closed doors but should be transparent and democratized because it affects the entire nation and so people should be sensitized enough about the national budget. It was also suggested that discussions of social development and matters of national importance should consider even the minorities.