Pascalinah Kabi/Nthatuoa Koeshe
A GROUP of concerned Lesotho citizens have called on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his South African counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphosa, to commission retired judges from both countries to investigate the activities of the Project Management Unit (PMU) of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The citizens are Lebohang Metsing, Motlatsi Phushuli, Matsoso Tsoaeli, Tumisang Letsopa, Palesa Mohapeloa and Senate Masupha.
They registered their concerns in a scathing open letter addressed to both Dr Thabane and Mr Ramaphosa.
They want the proposed commission to particularly focus on the granting of equal opportunities to citizens of both counties and the composition of the PMU with the view to make appropriate recommendations.
They further want the electricity component of the LHWP Phase II to be included as an integral component of the Polihali Dam project.
The letter, dated 3 May 2019, was delivered to both heads of state at a time when the Mokhotlong communities are up in arms demanding that their grievances be addressed before the ongoing works at the project are concluded.
Local communities in Mokhotlong have since last year vowed to stop the construction of the Polihali Dam if their demands for compensation are not met.
The communities are demanding lifetime compensation or alternatively payment for a 99-year period from the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (the LHDA which will implement the dam project) for the loss of their land. However, the LHDA has said it will only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.
The Polihali Dam is being constructed in terms of the bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP Phase II).
The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
And part of the letter seen by the Lesotho Times states that the main challenge posed by the PMU is its lack of accountability.
“In terms of article 6 (2) (c), the PMU is accountable not to the board but the divisional director who in turn reports to the chief executive. In the first instance, the enormity of the tasks of the PMU can not be monitored by one individual,” read the open letter.
It further argues that a proper body with adequate manpower representation ought to have been established.
The group further argues that with its reconfigured representation, the board cannot have adequate supervisory power under the circumstances hence an argument that the PMU is operating with little or no supervision.
The letter says that the lack of appropriate oversight has been a deliberate construct as opposed to mere oversight as can be seen in the overwhelming majority of South African representation on the PMU and the apparent allocation of opportunities to South Africans with a racial bias in favor of the white owned entities.
“The PMU has been able to create and perpetuate these inadequacies subtly through the procurement regulations which it set and structured to favor white owned firms against the black owned South African firms and indigenous black Basotho firms. Complaints to the LHDA will never achieve their objective unless structural defects in the PMU and its very unrepresentative policy formulation are addressed,” reads the letter.
They further argue that the complex legal issues involved cannot be left to the determination of the courts. They said that a political solution is all that is required and that the legal system has its own limits.
The group said that the courts and the legal processes are tailored to recognise claims which have been anticipated by the system and that the process more often than not fragments issues from their true social and economic nature.
“The true concern of the latter is the onslaught and economic aggression which continues to be meted out on previously disadvantaged communities through the LHDA structures and policies which have masked the bias in favour of previous beneficiaries and conglomerates.”
They said that the state of affairs was largely brought about by the racial composition of the key decision making bodies as already discussed.
“As already mentioned, these have tilted the bias in favour of white South African firms and conglomerates effectively entrenching their dominance and monopoly against the spirit and objectives of the treaty and change in political attitude towards equal opportunity and aggressive effort to advance the cause of the previously disadvantaged.
“The true battles should not therefore be aimed at the procurement policies and regulations which the institutions of the LHDA have promulgated. The target should the framework behind the policies and unseating the architects behind the policy. The legal costs incurred in prosecuting litigation as well as the costs to be awarded are impediments to proper vindication of rights especially to disadvantaged persons, an impediment which can effectively bar and helplessness. It would be injustice for the two governments to fold arms and watch their citizens attempt a mammoth task of challenging conglomerates who have enormous resources,” the letter further reads.
It was against this background that the group recommend that the President of South Africa and Prime Minister of Lesotho convene an urgent meeting to consider the challenges and plight of the citizens of their respective countries brought by structural problems with the view to resuscitate the visions of the treaty.
They said this can be done through either, all or some of the following recommendations:
“The Polihali project be abandoned in favour of the Mashai project as envisaged in Phase II of the treaty.
“Immediate establishment of a commission of inquiry composed of retired judges from South Africa and Lesotho to investigate the activities of the PMU particularly relating to the granting of equal opportunities to citizens of concerned countries and the composition of the PMU with the view to make appropriate recommendations.
“The electricity component must be included as an integral component of the Polihali project if the latter proceeds (Kobong Hydropower),” the group says.