10 years of ups, downs of LSF’s efforts to create a just society

12Oct 2021
By Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
10 years of ups, downs of LSF’s efforts to create a just society

​​​​​​​THE Legal Services Facility (LSF) is marking 10 years since its establishment, a decade during which millions of ordinary Tanzanians especially women have had increased opportunities to understand and access their social and economic rights like never before.

LSF chief executive officer, Lulu Ng'wanakilala speaks at one of the facility’s activities

To ensure that LSF’s primary goal of universal access to justice across Tanzania is attained, it established a mechanism through which every ordinary citizen, many of whom don’t have readily available access to legal aid services, is able to enjoy this fundamental right.

It is important to understand that across the country essentially women and girls are at a more severe disadvantage in regard to accessing everyday rights compared to their male counterparts, and to address this inequality LSF initiated its Access to Justice Program which places women and girls squarely at its core.

LSF’s access to justice program has a 4As approach which is intent on making quality legal aid services Affordable provided by acceptable community-based paralegals who are available in all districts of the country to ensure increased levels of accessibility of legal aid services.

To ensure implementation of this approach LSF in partnership with the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) and the Law School of Tanzania enabled the training and equipping of more than 4,500 paralegals on both the mainland and Zanzibar.

In every district, 25 individuals who fit minimum set criteria, including being good citizens, were identified and trained for the purpose of providing legal aid services on a voluntary basis.

The individuals were required to organize themselves and form a non-profit organization that is fully registered and operational at the district level.

Furthermore, LSF established within its value chain regional mentor organizations, which are commonly referred to as just “RMOs”, whose core function was to oversee and guide the work of paralegals in every district.

Through these RMOs LSF strengthened the functional capacity of paralegals through on-the-job training in financial management, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, resource mobilization, and branding and communication for the purpose of improving the quality of service delivery.

Additional focus was put on institutional strengthening ensuring structures and systems were in place and all 183 paralegal organizations are fully registered and compliant with rules and regulations for NGOs.

Through skills and basic knowledge of the law, they acquired paralegals have continued to extend legal aid services under the auspices of their own registered organizations to a large number of people countrywide to whom legal aid services had been out of reach.

Most RMOs can trace their relationships with LSF to the early years of its establishment when they implemented projects that effectively contributed to the accomplishment of LSF’s broader objectives which centre on there being an environment in which access to justice is available to everyone in the country without discrimination.

These past relationships were instrumental in the second phase of the Access to Justice Program which began in 2016 and ended in 2020 which amongst other things witnessed numerous innovative approaches devised by RMOs and co-implemented with paralegal organizations to expand the provision of legal aid services.

“Our role means that we must work extra hard to achieve the results we set our organization and equally the paralegal organizations under our care. In a region as vast as Shinyanga, it always means going the extra mile to maintain the standards LSF expects of us but we also have our own organizational vision that we need to work towards realizing.

“In a nutshell being part of the Access to Justice Program is an important opportunity to test and apply our mettle”, says John Shija who is the Program Manager at Paralegal Centre Shinyanga (PACESHI), the local RMO.

The most unique factor of the Access to Justice Program is that these crucial services are available free of charge and have over these 10 years benefitted women, men, girls, and boys alike.

By not requiring beneficiaries to pay for these services LSF has effectively broadened their perimeter and naturally allowed many ordinary Tanzanians especially those at the grassroots level of rural communities to access them more easily.

Statistics from 2016 to 2020 reports show that of people reached with legal aid 56% were women and 44% men, while of those reached through legal aid 55% were women and 45% were men indicating that although the program has a special focus on women, men are also reached and benefit from it.

A paralegal with PazaSauti Foundation (PASAFO) in Rufiji District, Coast Region Siri Liwawa says: “The people we serve are at the bottom of the economic ladder and have been denied easy access to these services for as long as anyone can remember; allowing them to pursue their rights with the need to worry about where to find money to pay for the services is a very helpful undertaking.

“We work in our communities as volunteers and even though challenges abound we do everything we can to continue providing these vital services”.

This fact means that paralegals are probably among the most dedicated Tanzanians especially taking into consideration the direct circumstances they encounter in their daily work routines.

From long distances, they must cover attending to beneficiaries to sometimes hostile environments brought about by individuals who perceive the course of justice to be detrimental to their ill interests. Threats and even attacks on them are not uncommon.

As LSF’s slogan says succinctly, “Everyday Justice for Everyday Problems”, this is precisely what every paralegal wakes up every morning and sets out to accomplish.

The fact that the bulk of Tanzanians which are found in rural communities don’t have unhindered access to justice compared to their urban counterparts provided ample ground for reflection.

Problems such as land disputes, inheritance disputes, gender-based violence, child neglect, child pregnancy, and female genital mutilation constitute the biggest share of cases that paralegals address on a routine basis.

LSF’s 2020 annual report shows that more than 6.4 million people were reached through legal education provided by paralegals, while 68% of cases that paralegals attended to were resolved successfully.

Against such a backdrop one can clearly appreciate the vitality of these individuals in communities across the country where they act as a sure lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people who find themselves trapped in legal snags.

“We attend to all sorts of issues that our communities grapple with and when you take in the broader picture it is very fair to say that the legal services we provide empower even those that initially believed they had no hope.

“We are part of our communities and as such we have the duty to ensure justice is enjoyed by everyone. It is necessary to assert that the many skills we possess and use every day are the result of regular capacity enhancement we receive from our mentor organization which includes project implementation, reporting, project monitoring and results as well as financial management ”, explains Japhet Lazaro of Kibondo Paralegal Foundation (KIPAFO) in Kigoma.

To aid and facilitate the reach of legal aid services, paralegals also take advantage of available means to connect with people in their districts and these include public meetings, school sessions with students, public events such as bonanzas, visits to health centres where large numbers of women can be reached and radio programs that feature general legal awareness and question-and-answer sessions.

The HakiYangu mobile application that was launched this year has also provided an additional platform through which anyone anywhere can access a paralegal and benefit from legal education or legal aid.

It is important to highlight the fact that while paralegals cannot legally carry out the functions of lawyers, RMOs on the other hand can have lawyers in their staff rosters and these have been instrumental in ensuring cases that require legal redress beyond the scope of paralegals are referred to the RMO office.

This arrangement has in essence boosted paralegals’ confidence in handling disputes knowing that in any case a beneficiary will be readily assisted at a higher level whenever a need arises.

In recognizing the contributions of both RMOs and paralegals during this noble 10-year journey, it is not misplaced to say with confidence that LSF’s Access to Justice Program becomes more relevant every day as more and more ordinary Tanzanians discover their rights use them to improve their livelihoods.

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