Barely a month since his appointment as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), Reatile Elias is already hitting the ground running as the office becomes even busier this time of year.

Elias boasts extensive experience in Human Resources Management. He has served in senior management positions in both public and private sector institutions, as well as consultancy. His areas of expertise include performance management, organizational development, change management, and policy development.

He previously served as the Director of Human Resources for the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC).

Our reporter, Thoboloko Ntšonyane sits down with him to discuss his plans and vision for the DMA, having pledged to unite forces with key stakeholders during his term in office.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

What are your thoughts towards your placement into this new office as the CEO of the DMA?

I entered the office on May 2nd this year. As you know, April and May are the early months that start the financial year for government departments. So, I arrived when this office was in the middle of initiating its projects for the financial year. It was a busy time.

Upon my arrival, I noticed that the office has a lot of work, many stakeholders, and many implementing partners.

I entered during a period when the Southern Africa region, including Lesotho, was facing drought. We suspect the harvest will be low because the summer cropping season did not go very well. This is a red flag for us at the DMA, prompting us to consider how to prepare ourselves.

For instance, there is a recent programme of cash-for-work initiatives that the government has earmarked just over M100 million for, and this project will be headed by my office.

So, I found the workload substantial. Recently, there was a virtual meeting of SADC Heads of State and Government discussing the drought that has hit the region. Some countries have declared a state of emergency regarding food security. Lesotho has not done so yet, but there is an ongoing study to establish the impact of drought on food security in the country. This study will help us make projections on the harvest and determine the food needs, so we can assess how much food is needed and identify the vulnerable population. This will inform whether there is a need to declare a state of emergency on food insecurity or not. We will know more as time progresses.

As much as you have found work already in progress in the office, I am sure you have plans and a vision for this institution. May you share those with us?

Yes, one can have their vision, but this institution is legally mandated on how to operate and what to work with. The Disaster Management Act of 1997 details the functions of this institution.

In view of this guiding Act, the vision I implement ought to be in line with the provisions of this law and should not violate it. Within the context of what the law prescribes, my desire as the main driver of this authority is to meet and exceed the expectations set by the founding law of the DMA. In other words, in my duty, I need to consider what can be achieved beyond what is prescribed by the law.

For many years, the DMA has primarily responded to disasters after they occur and is known for this reactive approach. However, within the law, it is stated that the DMA is a prevention department.

My vision is to strengthen the focus on prevention. We can achieve this by mounting education campaigns for the public across all spheres of society – schools, churches, villages, workplaces, and all sectors of the population – to help them understand their responsibility in preventing disasters.

The DMA’s mandate is to coordinate, and everyone needs to play a part in preventing disasters from happening.

Let me give an example of fires. When there is a fire outbreak, we know that fire prevention is possible. We understand what can be done to avoid fires and how to reduce our vulnerability to them.

Regarding issues of water and floods, the Meteorological Department is now advanced and can forecast future weather conditions. What is required from all stakeholders is preparedness.

The furrows through which water flows in villages, on roads, and in residential areas should be properly maintained and not blocked. We should not be in a position where, when rains come, they wash away our roads and bridges because water overflows from these furrows.

There has to be campaigns to construct furrows in preparation for the rainy seasons. For those living in the highlands, as we enter the winter period, we already know snow is a regular feature during this time. How do we prepare ourselves for this? Animal farmers, have we gathered the animal feed?

As the DMA, we need to ensure our district stores are stocked with necessary supplies for the winter season, in case there is no movement in the highlands. We have to work jointly with mining companies, leveraging their equipment and financial resources, to buy salt for sprinkling on snow-covered roads.

It is my dream to see us as Basotho, taking responsibility for prevention activities. We should be vigilant and prepared, as we know that snowfall is expected during winter.

Achieving that level of disaster preparedness is my goal. I believe we can achieve it through collaboration with all stakeholders, as we can do more when we are united.

What are you bringing to the office through your skills in leadership as a human resources specialist?

The value I believe I bring on board for the DMA is two-fold. First and foremost, my extensive experience in human resources and human capital management, and secondly, my experience working in both the public and private sectors, both nationally and internationally.

Behind any strategy, plan, objective, or activity, there is a human being. My understanding of human resources and getting the best out of human capital will be invaluable.

The best programs are designed, but if the people who drive those programs are not sufficiently and appropriately capacitated and motivated, and if they lack relevant skills and knowledge, even the best strategy will fail. Therefore, I will assess the expertise we have and work to build capacity, knowledge, experience, and motivation to raise motivation levels.

I am skilled in identifying motivation levels and will use strategies to work with human capital to bring out the best in people.

Regarding my multi-sector experience, I have worked within the Lesotho public sector in various capacities: in HR, education, tourism, public works (specifically in road construction and the roads department), and for years within the police, understanding their operations nationwide.

In the private sector, I have served with the tax sector (Lesotho Revenue Authority, now Revenue Services Lesotho), the Lesotho Electricity Company, and the Polihali Highlands Water Project.

I have a solid network of professionals and have traveled the world, including Africa and Europe, as a diplomat working for the United Nations, representing the government of Lesotho.

I have knowledge of working in multi-sector environments with people from diverse backgrounds, races, and cultures.

We have international partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Most of the leaders of these institutions are non-nationals of Lesotho. I have already met many of them and forged relationships, as I understand how diversity works.

Have you sold these plans to your colleagues so that you walk this journey together?

I have never really been a salesman selling products but I have heard that in sales, they make about four or five calls to one potential customer before the make a sale. So the same thing applies, selling a philosophy,  an idea,  a way of thinking is categorical in this way, I arrive here to the helm so obviously yes, I have got to sell my story, my vision and direction to all the team.

The team has got different levels – there is management team, technical middle-level, and those at subordinate level internally and so my sales pitch would be different for these levels. So I have started the selling but I realized that it is an ongoing process that requires many things and one of them is constant and consistent communication of expectations to my internal team.

So constant and consistent communication of expectations – both mine and theirs is key. Secondly, walking the talk, they should see me doing actions and be seen to be doing what I say in my vision. I need to walk my talk at all times in my interactions with them.

Thirdly, which is also important in selling a vision is to show them the value, the value of the vision for themselves, for the organization, for the public at large. Sell them the value, what is in it for them. In doing that I believe I am already selling the vision.

I have a leadership philosophy that I subscribe to of the four Is- keep people informed, keep people involved, keep people interested.

What are some of the challenges so far that you have identified and what is your plan on addressing them?

The challenges of DMA are not unique to DMA. They are common to the challenges of Lesotho, and they are known to every Mosotho including you.

One of the biggest ones is that we are a country with a small economy. So this issue of a smaller economy causes the aspirations that we can have as a country and different stakeholders to delay achieving them because we share from a small economic basket. Now how do I address this, I have to work to stretch it so that I maximize from it.

How do I do that, I put it on the table and collaborate with the partners to come to the fore so that we pull our resources together into one basket and after we plan together, and execute together, we are able to do more with what we have collectively other than if each of us had their baskets and execute from it.

So stakeholder collaboration is the strategy. The purpose of strengthening and increasing stakeholder collaboration and engagement is to reach a place where we will pull our resources together.

Top of my priority is stakeholder engagement.

One of the complaints against your office is that it delays responding during times of disaster, such as when violent storms have blown off the roofs of people’s houses. The DMA takes weeks, if not months, to respond to these crises, leaving people in a vulnerable position. How are you going to speed up your response efforts to assist during disasters?

That’s a very broad and significant inquiry, and its response will not be one-dimensional.

One of the areas that help in quick response during disasters is whether the existing legal framework at that particular time is an enabling framework. For instance, the DMA is established by a law that dictates what the DMA will do after an event has occurred.

Another issue is the process of declaring an emergency. Even if we see the need, the law requires an official declaration for other processes to commence. For it to be declared, the Cabinet must assess the disaster and advise the Prime Minister, who then declares it through a gazette published by the Office of the Parliamentary Council. Civil servants work within this process, so a disaster that happens on Monday might be discussed by the Cabinet on Wednesday, the Prime Minister might be advised on Thursday, issue a directive on Friday, and the declaration might be published the following week. Only then can the DMA take action.

This process is one of the reasons for delays in responding to disasters. To speed up response times, a review and amendment of some of these legal tools are necessary. Secondly, the availability of resources can accelerate our response. Availability is two-fold: resources should be present and easily accessible.

Resources needed to respond to disasters should always be available. While they may never be sufficient, they should always be at our disposal.

What legacy do you want to leave in this office?

In general, the legacy I always want to leave is one of value addition. My legacy should always be about adding value, not subtracting it.

At the end of my tenure, I want to have added value to the DMA, to our partners, stakeholders, the government of Lesotho, and all Basotho. Value addition is key.

Secondly, I want to leave the DMA as an organization that people easily resonate with in terms of its mandate and profile, at the level it ought to be. Currently, the profile of the DMA is at 30% of where it needs to be in terms of public perception and understanding. I want it to be well understood by every Mosotho.

Finally, I want to leave the DMA with integrity. The DMA is a critical agency for our country, our economy, and our society.