Big Interview

‘Lesotho leaders too weak to negotiate beneficial LHWP deals’

THE Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) is one of the leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that is vocal about developmental and rights issues. Founded in 1979, its scope of work has evolved from at one time housing refugees at the height of the Apartheid regime in neighbouring South Africa, its mandate has evolved and the organisation now focusses on rights, social justice and good governance.

Lesotho Times (LT) deputy editor Silence Charumbira recently spoke to TRC director Tsikoane Peshoane (TP) about his organisation’s work and several other topical issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.

LT: Give us an overview of the TRC’s work. What does the TRC do? 

TP: The TRC is a nongovernmental organisation founded in 1979. Through its evolution, the main focus has always been human rights. In fact, it started as a resource centre of refugees. It was formed by the refugee community from South Africa under the influence of a couple called James and Joan Stewart. It has been a backyard for political liberation of refugees. It was a place of meetings of the exiles and has evolved until now. When South Africa attained its independence, the TRC had to refocus and relook at its mandate and vision, and the mission. It started focussing on human rights issues in the context of social justice. That is why it focused on communities affected by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), governed by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA). Since then, it has always consistently focused on human rights, social environmental justice, democracy and civic education projects.

Currently our programmes focus on good governance, human rights and social justice. We are one of the leading advocacy organisations in protection of human rights, focusing on disadvantaged communities and we are calling for a good governance. The structure was not necessarily seen as it is seen now. So, that is what we do and that is what we are. Yes, I think that’s the long and short of it.

LT: You mention the LHWP and your interventions on behalf of the communities; what’s your take after your intervention? What would you say about the state of the project? What is the situation that you have seen for yourselves on the ground?

 TP: Let me start from the higher level on the issue. The TRC has a problem with the treaty that Lesotho signed with South Africa. As a matter of principle, the treaty was signed between two governments of two member states, or two countries, both of whom were not democratically elected. South Africa was still under the Apartheid regime which later collapsed in 1994. Lesotho was under a military regime. So, you will understand that that treaty itself has its problems of ownership. That is the first issue.

Number two; the treaty itself has some prejudice on Lesotho. There is no emphasis on how Lesotho must benefit, except that Lesotho will receive royalties or gain something from same water. But originally, from the inception of the treaty, it has to be twofold. There has to be a selling of water, the transfer of water from Lesotho to South Africa and there must also be electricity generation in the country. Unfortunately, the component that benefits Lesotho, where it must be located; has never seen the light of day. The attempts to have it have already been stifled by some individuals in the leadership between these two countries. So, we don’t have electricity generation except the small one that we have at ‘Muela. We are now talking about phase two; the Polihali project, but it is still unclear whether or not the project will also have the electricity generation component.

There are two probabilities involved in this matter. One, our government is so weak that they cannot negotiate a fair deal for Basotho. At the same time, you find that sometimes you have people in a negotiating team are not really interested to represent the interests of the country. But the bottom line is, the people who are representing us in the negotiations for these deals are very weak. They don’t have interest of our people. It is still unclear whether or not we will have the electricity generation component in the second phase.

The implications and the effects of this agreement have never been explored deeply and that is a challenge. Let me conclude with the social impact component of the treaty. It is not emphatic in terms of how the communities are going to be affected. The environmental impact of the project is not well captured in treaty. It’s just about an arrangement to have water and it being transferred to South Africa.

I’ve already indicated other issues. So, that is the problem and the treaty must be revised. There are some sections that we can talk about like Section 4 article 4 of the treaty and others that we want revised.

The affected communities are unhappy with the compensation model. The compensation model as adopted by the LHDA was skewed towards preserving or protecting the authorities or the LHDA from getting into costs that they cannot afford. For instance, it wasn’t clear in the beginning how people must be compensated. We have a constitution, section 17 if I remember well, which provides for how people must be compensated if there is expropriation of land but that provision has not been followed to the letter. While the excuse could be that the constitution is too broad, there has never been a statute that interprets that or that provides some kind of basis in terms of how the compensation must be handled. That creates the opportunity for LHDA to come up with its own policy of its own interest which does not necessarily represent the interests of the people.

So, it means that the policy that has always been a legal framework of how the compensations are conducted or undertaken was created by the LHDA itself. And there is no other legal framework or piece of legislation in place at a national level… that’s a problem. That is why people complain all the time about their unaddressed wrongs and outstanding issues of compensation.

Their fields have never been compensated. The type of compensation that they are getting is not equal to what they produced before they were dispossessed of their fields.

I know that the LHDA itself will say they have benchmarked their policy to what other projects in the region or even globally are doing. But whose standard is that? The LHDA is not the government. The government of the people must come up with those standards and not the LHDA. The LHDA is conflicted to come up with a policy.

We are living in an environment where the conversation has never been guided by a clear legal framework or policy framework and the LHDA was only the sheriff in town.

Even the relocations have been poorly handled because people are moved from their places of origin and some have been relocated in Maseru and their lifestyles changed when they arrived. Without being properly counselled, how will they sustain their lives here in Maseru? Some of them were farmers sustaining their lives through farming. When they came to Maseru at Makhoakhoeng for instance, how are they going to survive? In Maseru you must buy everything. They struggle and become disadvantaged and impoverished by that kind of situation.

Some were removed from their places and moved to places like Ra-tau, will give an example of Ra-tau in Nazareth. When they arrived in Nazareth, there were no proper arrangements to make the host community welcome and treat them as their own. They were told: “You will have no access to the communal properties like field or communal land, grazing”, because the narrative has always been “you guys (the newcomers) can’t claim rights on our land because you have compensation money which is benefitting you alone but you come into our community. The integration of the people who were resettled have always been a problem.

So, the compensations and resettlements have always been a problem, hitherto it is still a challenge in Mokhotlong because even the policy that is being used for the phase two; it is still a policy of the LHDA. The country has not yet come up with a national legal framework that creates a policy that guides all investors and all development companies to align their policies with that policy.

We are at a level as the TRC, where we wanted to create the type of policy that we think must be adopted and wanted to sell ideas that all companies, be it the dams construction companies, or mining companies; at least there must be a standard that all of them must subscribe to or align their policy to. This will ensure that the communities are not disadvantaged or their living standards don’t become worse than they were before.

LT: Have you engaged the LHDA and the government and if so, what has been the response?

 TP: We have done so on a number of occasions. At some stage, they invited us to air our views when they were creating the compensation policy for LHWP II. We told them what we think should be the position and how the policy should be like but they never implemented our suggestions. It was just a courtesy or tokenism by the LHDA because if ever they welcomed the ideas that we talked about, we wouldn’t be complaining now.  There are several issues that we raised. We are still fighting over the compensation method for land. The social component, beneficiation issues, how the affected people must be the first beneficiaries because they are the ones who are generally affected. We have also been advocating for a certain percentage of the water royalties to be allocated directly to the host communities. However, it’s still not there. These issues were raised with the LHDA, they were raised with the government but they never had the guts to deliver the message to their counterparts. Obviously, if they have no strength and ability to negotiate a fair deal, I will not necessarily complain and accuse the South African government before I press my government to tell us to what extent they have tried to move these arguments.

LT: Is the situation of the host communities not going to worsen now that Botswana also wants water from Lesotho?

 TP: It is always a problem when the country’s leadership cannot raise technical arguments. When you sell water, the citizens want to understand how much is made from the water and how is it calculated. They want to know how they will benefit and how the transactions will change their lives. I’m not sure if the situation will necessarily be worse if Botswana comes on board. I’m saying this because the civil society has become very agitated by the type of arrangement obtaining from 1986 to date; they have become more conscious. There are already movements of civil society organisations challenging this arrangement. There is even an intension among all stakeholders from the movement to come together and take the matter to court. So, I don’t necessarily want to believe that the situation might be worse because of the consciousness of the people and the advocacy by the civic society.

LT: Apart the lack of technical expertise that you mention, what do you think is the major problem that makes the government fail to address the issues obtaining in the mining sector and the LHWP? Why is it that the government is failing to address these issues?

 TP: First, we do not have the capacity on the side of the government. Secondly, there is a possibility of underhand dealings happening because you ask yourself, why the people who went to school and understand issues agree to sign such deals. You are left with nothing except to say, no, there could be some brown envelope that had played a part at some stage. There are people who were brought before the courts. One of the people is a former chief executive officer of the LHDA. We know that well. There is another man who was also connected to this kind of scandal. He left and went to South Africa where government struggled to extradite him. It is quite recently, sometime before June, when he lost the case in South Africa that he cannot be extradited. He can now be extradited, but look at how many years he has ran away. I’m not just speculating. I’m simply saying at least that there already cases that we can use to test my view that sometimes we get these bad deals because our officials are not negotiating for a fair deal for Basotho.

LT: So, are you saying there is inadequate political will to solve some of these problems?

 TP: Yes, of course there is. I can give another example. There is the Watergate scandal that involved some of the officials in Lesotho and in South Africa. Where did it go? There are companies which we were complaining about the conditions required by the LHDA for firms that can work in the dame site and when you look at the scope of requirements; none of the local companies will qualify because of the extremely high standards set.

Yes, of course, we want people with high technical skill and competency because this is a serious and sensitive project, I understand that. However, I’m simply saying that the government has the responsibility to ensure its own citizens benefit, to make its own business sector benefit. If there’s no skill, what is it that you do to make your people benefit from the project? For example, the fleet management project; we know that there’s a belief that Basotho companies might not have the capacity to undertake the government’s fleet management but what does the government do with that? Why doesn’t the government come up with some kind of legislation or establish an act of Parliament that enables people who have already been in the industry, like taxi operators; to come together and form a corporation, capacitate them and they run the fleet? It only does not happen because someone prefers to have it run by a foreign company that will probably give kickbacks. There is no political will, if there was political will we wouldn’t be in this situation. Political will is not about making political statements; they no longer benefit us and the people are already aware that political statements are not changing the status quo. Instead; we want action and results. Leaders used to make promises but now the people want prompt answers and action. I think that is also one of the benefits of having a conscious civic society.

LT: Some economic players like mines have accused you of inciting communities and fanning conflict instead of resolving problems, what is your response to that?

 TP: It’s not the first time that they are telling us that kind of story. But I will not respond or answer directly because I want you to make a judgment, whether I have been honest or not. Fine, you come to our ordinary people who don’t understand these technical arguments that you bring to them, who don’t understand what a square metre is… An ordinary woman doesn’t understand that. That particular ordinary citizen has not been anywhere in the world where she can make a comparative analysis of what you offer. Then you are saying, “She understands, she has agreed” even when she is cheated. When she cannot comprehend that her life is going to change and become impoverished by this change that is brought by the project, and you cannot say that they understood.

Secondly, if the TRC is the main problem, why don’t they engage TRC directly and make the TRC understand since it is the organisation working with the people? Why don’t they want to work with the TRC? That would at least give them an advantage in future to say that “you guys you have become troublemakers…It does not happen. In fact, they don’t want to meet us… If you have a problem with me and you know that I always give you problems in your work, engage me. Bring me to the table and let’s discuss. It doesn’t happen like that.

The last issue; recently they are even saying, “Unless you NGOs create trouble and this kind of confusion, you are not going to get a donation or funding. That’s how you survived. You survived through making trouble and creating problems.” Tell me, if you are convinced that we are becoming troublemakers in the country, can’t you just go straight to court of law because it’s a serious issue even in the penal code and Constitution of the country to create a disturbance or public unrest in the society is unlawful?

LT: We have seen you take an active role in the processes to do with the national reforms. What do you think about the processes themselves and the progress made so far?

 TP: I think we are making progress but very slow, very slow because there’s a problem of leadership both in and outside the government. You see these hanging unaddressed issues between political parties, like the vote of no confidence (against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane), if they are left hanging in suspense, they are actually distracting us. The intra and inter-party conflicts are actually problematic for the reforms because energies are distributed elsewhere instead of where they are really needed.

Secondly, there’s no conversation among the stakeholders. Unless there’s a facilitator in the country, there’s no conversation, and that’s one major problem.  Why is it that we want to wait for the facilitator to come and make us talk? Why can’t we come together and deal with some of the issues that we are facing and iron out our differences. We’ll sit down to focus on other things, inter and intra-party conflicts until the facilitator assembles us. Why? We have slowed down the reforms process. As far as I’m concerned, the non-state actors like civil society organisations are actually helping much more than the political organisations because if you remember, the political parties even resisted to go for public consultations. The reason being that they wanted to be given resources to monitor the process because they have the impression that when we go out for the reforms, we are actually going to represent their ideas from the national multi-stakeholder and national leaders’ forum.

That’s the impression they had. And they have been carrying that impression until we told them that whenever we go out to the field, we only do it for the people and for the country. We told them that if they wanted to go, we could go together but they needed to find their own resources…They tried to stifle the process, but we just continued. Our patience was also running out…after all, these are the same people who are not even complying with their own constitutions. These are the people who are expected…and one day will be the ones trusted to carry the national purse, taxes of the people but they can’t account for their own organisations. In future we want them to account for state resources used under their administrations whilst we know very well that they are incompetent. So, all these things we end up with one decision to say no, this is unfair. They are playing their political games and bargaining for their own selfish interests and agendas with this project. They want to jeopardise this project. That is why we are particularly interested to see the reforms, taken away from the government, from the political parties and given to a National Reform Authority that will be the custodian to preserve them from the political games that are being played.

If that authority is established, even if there is a change of government, at least the authority will know its job. For instance, the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) will continue collecting taxes even if there is a change of government. At least these are the kind of things that we have proposed, and fortunately, we seem to be succeeding. We are just waiting for them now to pass this law and have it signed… After the establishment of the authority, even if they continue to change the governments daily, we wouldn’t mind as long as the reforms are not disrupted.

LT: You have alluded to the conflict in the ABC, have you been engaged before for some mediation efforts? And if so, what came out of it and how do you see this conflict playing out?

 TP: The ABC conflict is seriously toxic to the economic development of the country and the political stability. It’s very toxic and if it is not addressed, it could create serious problems because as I have indicated, it is beginning to jeopardise the reforms process itself. There’s no political will because energies are distributed elsewhere. There’s no concentration on the national interest project

So, then I’ll say, coming to the question, there isn’t much necessarily we did as the TRC the reason being, when this matter started, the TRC was already implicated. People were already starting to complain of the TRC being the source of the conflict within the ABC.

The reason for that is because people could bot separate the TRC from the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental organisations (LCN), Development for Peace Education (DPE), these organisations that are usually focused on governance issues and human rights in as much as we do. Most of the time even if we are not the ones who would be at fault, it’s always TRC. So, obviously, we never complain about it because we understand that maybe this is because the tallest trees will be the first to catch the storm. It’s part of leadership; it’s the package that we get sometimes, so we didn’t bother.

Secondly, when LCN was removed from Lehakoe during the commotion ensuing the ABC’s February elections, they ended up seeking refuge here at our offices and then they finished the process here. The counting process was completed here…this is our sister organisation we are talking about…so obviously, they (ABC) won’t look at us as potential mediators in their conflict. We were viewed as the bad guys and we are not even worried about that.

The clergy through the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) attempted to come in but were embarrassed.

LT: What do you make of the recent cabinet reshuffle where the Ministry of Public Works and Transport has been split into two and former Tourism minister Motlohi Maliehe has bounced back? There are nuances that suggest that a country of 2.1 million people does not need 39 ministers and deputies. Some suggest that this is a bloated government that we do not need. What do you make of the reshuffle itself and what do you think it was meant to achieve?

 TP: I really don’t know, except it’s just the same explanation that you know. Giving people positions is simply to entice them; to buy their loyalty. It means nothing. We know very well that having this big cabinet was to make sure that we massage egos of party’s cadres…There’s no rational argument that we can really reach behind that.

Secondly, politics is about numbers. Yes, we can look at all these guys moving and switching from one to another post to the other simply because of the impression that the numbers are decreasing or increasing. It’s the kind of situation that might even change tomorrow. I can’t really say much on Ntate Maliehi. Ntate Maliehi has been the kind of person who goes back and forth.

I am trying to prove that it’s so difficult to rationalise the situation in an irrational environment. However, what I can tell you is that we have a very broad cabinet and there’s no policy frame in our country in terms of how we must structure our executive. That is the problem.

A lot of progressive countries have moved from having a department of Foreign Affairs and are now talking about Trade and International Relations. International Relations is not about procurement of weapons and making hollow statements of sovereignty, those are old theories. It’s about establishing corporations. International relations is about trade. Why don’t we have a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in one ministry? Why don’t we make it one ministry? It’s not like one day Lesotho will come out and then go to war. What war? Fighting who when we are just an inkling within South Africa? Why don’t we have that? There is no logic in all these actions. Next time don’t be surprised when they split the Ministry of Education into Higher and Lower Education as two separate ministries. There is no logic there.

Trade and International Relations in this contemporary politics is one department, because it’s about business, its trade, it’s about economic development. It’s not about guns. Even if we want guns, we don’t have those guns ourselves here.

You can’t rationalise it. It’s simply appeasement for loyalty.

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