MASERU — Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has modified his initial decision to take over control of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) for the construction of the Polihali Dam and the Kobong Power Station.
Thabane’s initial decision was to have the project removed from Energy, Meteorology and Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane’s ministry and be run directly from his office, but on Tuesday the premier said the project will now be a collective effort by the coalition government partners.
This means the project stays in Thahane’s ministry and he remains the chairman of its sub-committee of ministers who include Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, Law Minister Haae Phoofolo, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa, Development Planning Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Finance Minister Leketekete Ketso.
The project is a bilateral initiative between Lesotho and South Africa, with its main components being the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong and Kobong Power Station in Thaba-Tseka and is worth about M15 billion.
Polihali dam will supply water to South Africa while Kobong will generate power for Lesotho.
The deal was negotiated in 2011 by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government under the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
Because the project was under the control of a ministry belonging to the LCD, Thabane’s decision was seen as a tacit vote of no confidence in the party whose minister (Thahane) was being blamed for delay in implementing the project.
However, in a brief statement on Tuesday night on national television and radio the PM allayed fears saying the move to take over the project was purely based on merit and that it had now reached a level where it should be administered by heads of states.
“As guardian of this project, the onus is on me to push for progress until we reach the signing stage. We should get to that point having satisfied ourselves that as Basotho, we get what we deserve out of this project,” Thabane said.
“I am convinced that we have made immense progress and very soon we will be announcing the signing date.”
The premier said contrary to earlier reports that he was pushing to make changes in the sub-committee, “Minister Thahane remains a member and the chairman of the sub-committee of ministers”.
“The sub-committee reports to the prime minister who then relays information to the cabinet,” Thabane said.
“What I want is for issues pertaining to the water project to be reported directly to me as a member of the aforesaid sub-committee of ministers,” Thabane said.
“Mine will be to inform cabinet about what has been reported to me.”
Since his appointment, Thahane has come under a barrage of attack from some quarters that accuse him of dragging his feet on the implementation of the project.
Thabane was also at pains to explain that as head of state “it’s my responsibility to crack the whip”.
“It is within my rights as prime minister to crack the whip if the situation calls for matters to be dealt with properly,” Thabane said.
“My greatest wish, which I believe we all share, is for us as government to put our house in order quickly and decide on the date to sign on the project at the level of South Africa’s president and Lesotho’s prime minister.”
The PM’s announcement could be viewed as bowing to pressure from the LCD which last week wrote a letter in which the party demanded that Thabane reverse his decision and announce the reversal publicly or “risk the LCD reconsidering its position in the coalition”.
The decision had angered the LCD which was accusing Thabane of making an arbitrary decision contrary to the agreement between the LCD, ABC and the Basotho National Party (BNP) when they formed the coalition government in June last year.
It is also understood that the LCD was angry that the decision to transfer the project to Thabane’s office had already been communicated to South Africa, which jointly owns the project with Lesotho.
The LCD’s deputy spokesperson Selibe Mochoboroane last week told the Lesotho Times sister paper, the Sunday Express which first broke the story, that the party has instructed its leader Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing to write to Thabane about the decision.
Had the LCD pulled out of the coalition taking with it its 26 seats, Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the BNP would have been left with their combined 35 seats thus paving the way for either a snap election, or a possible coalition between the LCD and main opposition Democratic Congress (DC).
The decision to write Thabane was apparently made at the LCD’s executive committee meeting last Thursday just before the graduation ceremony at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.
Thabane is reported to have written Attorney General Tsokolo Makhete KC and Government Secretary Motlatsi Ramafole late last month, instructing them to start the process to move the project to his office.
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Thabane wanted to move Emmanuel Lesoma, the principal secretary of the Ministry of Water Affairs, to his office to run the project.
Thabane wanted the attorney general and government secretary to come up with the issues that the negotiating teams would discuss and a time-table for the negotiations.
Thabane is understood to have been unhappy with the implementation of the second phase of the water project jointly owned by Lesotho and South Africa.
It was reported that Thabane was worried that international institutions like World Bank, European Union, European Investment Bank and African Development Bank were not involved in the project.
The first phase of the project, which included the construction of Katse and Mohale dams, was strongly supported by international organisations.