THE governments of Lesotho and South Africa have appointed Tente Tente as the new Chief Executive Officer of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA). He takes over from Refiloe Tlali who retired on 14 June 2019. His appointment is with effect from 1 October 2019. Before his elevation to the top post, Mr Tente was the Divisional Manager of Polihali.
Lesotho Times (LT) senior reporter Pascalinah Kabi recently caught up with Mr Tente (TT) who shared his vision for the organisation he first served as an intern. Below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: Congratulations on your new appointment. It must have been a grueling journey to get the top having started out as an intern.
TT: I don’t think I can go as far as calling it a grueling journey. However, just like any other journey, there have been ups and downs. I joined the LHDA in 1996 at the time the Katse Dam had just been completed and it was during the early stages of the design of the new dam, the Mohale Dam.
I was then seconded to the Mohale Consultants Group (MCG) and I worked in the design office as an Assistant Structural Engineer for two years. I moved to site where I went through the ranks until 2001 when I became the Resident Engineer for the Impoundment Works. In this role I was responsible for project management and supervision of the impoundment (first filling of the dam) works, leading a team of engineers and technicians on monitoring the dam’s performance during impoundment, the supervision of the finishing works and the handover of the completed works to LHDA.
I left the LHDA in 2003 and joined the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) in South Africa where I served first as a Site Engineer before being promoted to the position of the Project Engineer on the Berg Water Project (BWP) in Cape Town. My key responsibilities included the procurement of all the engineering contracts and services to ensure delivery of the project on time and within budget, cost monitoring and ensuring the delivery of integrated engineering, environmental and contractual solutions.
On completion of BWP in 2007, I moved back to the TCTA Head Office in Centurion and I was appointed Project Manager for the Phase II of the Mooi Mgeni Transfer Scheme (MMTS2). When I heard the news that Phase II of the LHWP was becoming a reality, I felt it was time to come home and serve. I joined the LHDA as Divisional Manager in April 2013. As DM Phase II, I was charged with the responsibility to oversee the implementation of Phase II of the LHWP through a Project Management Unit (PMU) whose key engineering features include the construction of the Polihali dam and the hydropower station.
LT: You are regarded as one of the best engineers in the country. Please tell us who Mr Tente is.
TT: I was born and bred in a village known as Cana at Ha ‘Mamathe. I am “Seoli sa ‘mannete ea koma”. I am within a touch of 50 years. When I was a kid, I was very fond of vehicles and mechanical items. So, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. During that time, career was mostly influenced by the availability of scholarships. At the time, the LHDA through the British Council was mostly offering Civil Engineering Scholarships. I did not really like civil engineering, maybe it was fate that I ended up becoming a civil engineer.
LT: From an engineer to a boardroom manager, please take us through that transition in details.
TT: I basically came to the LHDA as young engineer during the construction of Phase Ib which consists of the superstructure known as the Mohale Dam. As I have already stated I served in various roles in the project management. I later rejoined the LHDA as the Divisional Manager of Phase II. In that position I served as a member of the executive committee of the LHDA and also an executive director in the Board of the LHDA.
LT: What are you bringing to the table to improve the LHDA a better institution?
TT: I am fortunate that I am following in the footsteps of great giants who came before me. We have a strong and well-oiled executive and management team leading a well experienced staff.
The LHDA’s vision is to be a world-class organisation in the development and management of water resources and electricity generation. My task then is to ensure that team LHDA remains fully committed and aligned to this bold and compelling vision and working with the Executive and management team to mobilise, inspire and guide Team LHDA to achieve specific results set by the governance structures and the LHWP treaty parties.
As I have already stated, I cut my teeth at the coalface of this organisation and briefly left to gather different kinds of experiences. I am binging in relevant industry knowledge, relevant experiences and high energy level. I am very passionate about this project and have strong motivation to make it work for the people of Lesotho and South Africa. The project is uniquely positioned to effect noticeable change in the fortunes of the two countries even amidst the current difficult business environment.
I am not a stranger to the intricacies of running a project of this nature and magnitude. My exposure in dealing with multitude of stakeholders and disciplines (environment, social, finance, legal, etc.) and project management and communication skills will become handy in this position. Above all, I was given an opportunity by those who came before me in the leadership of the LHDA through an internship programme. I hope that being in the position of influence, I can do the same to the upcoming young professionals.
LT: What are some of the challenges delaying the timely implementation or completion of the LHWP Phase II that you are going to deal with immediately?
TT: The multifaceted nature of the project in itself is a challenge. It comprises delivering multiple highly technical engineering water transfer components: construction of the Polihali Dam, Polihali Transfer Tunnel and associated power, telecommunications and roads infrastructure as well as hydropower. Social components of communication, resettlement, livelihood restoration, environmental programs, community, culture and heritage protection are also key for this project and these components need to be implemented within a specific timeframe and budget while considering the interests and expectations of multiple, diverse stakeholders.
Project planning is also critical to the implementation of Phase II. We have a team of experts that use highly sophisticated technology to accurately organise tasks and closely monitor performance against timelines and statements of works. This also involves tightly managing project interfaces to ensure that the project is implemented within budget and schedule.
By its very nature this project has a high level of risks hence need for state of the art risk management framework; We have an engaging risk identification process which we update on a monthly basis. Based on this we have developed and a risk mitigation plan which is also closely tracked.
There are also challenges that specifically relate to the construction phase. Some of them relate to impacts of the Project on the environment.
LT: There is no denying that there are challenges bedeviling the LHDA and these include complaints by the affected communities about compensation issues. How are you going to deal with these challenges to ensure the buy-in of the communities in the LHWP project?
TT: For a project as big and diverse as the LHWP the sheer scale of the works means that there will always be a variety of challenges. However it is imperative to fully understand the workings and systems of the organisation to best appreciate how they come about and how best to approach them.
The project is about people, even though what immediately stands out to most people is the physical engineering components that include the dams, tunnels, bridges and roads. It is therefore of great importance to work on the existing and sometimes strained relationships between the LHDA and its stakeholders key to which are the affected communities.
Compensation complaints has been dogging the first phase of the Project for a while and it may need a fresh approach to clean up the data base and up the records so that backlogs are cleared. Please note that the Phase II compensation policy is a highly improved document that takes into consideration lessons from phase I and a smooth implementation is all that is needed.
The LHDA has continued to steadfastly and diligently address the complaints that are raised in the Ombudsman’s findings. From the very first report that the Ombudsman produced, the LHDA has held discussions with the office of the Ombudsman and formal responses have been made in writing.
It is important to appreciate that some of these complaints relate to periods way back in the past and in some cases there are gaps in records. In order for each complaint to be dealt with justly, the LHDA has to verify the validity of such a complaint to avoid the mistake of paying for a compensation claim that is either invalid or has already been paid. To date the LHDA has addressed many complaints satisfactorily and is working hard to clear the remaining. The LHDA regularly updates the Ombudsman on progress.
LT: Katse and Mohale Dams currently have low levels of water, thus affecting the LHDA supply. Is there any plan to address the issue to ensure uninterrupted supplies to South Africa?
TT: The Southern Africa region has in recent times been affected by low rainfall and Lesotho is no exception. As a consequence, the water levels in the LHWP dams have declined. It is important to note that currently there is no inflow of water from the Mohale Dam into the Katse Dam while the tunnel connecting the two dams is closed for maintenance. Therefore, the water level in the Katse Dam is gradually falling as the water is being transferred to South Africa.
The reduced amount of water has in turn resulted in reduced generation output of the ‘Muela Hydropower Plant. Due to the low levels of water, the LHDA has reduced the amount of water that is being transferred to South Africa and therefore the electricity generated has also reduced.
The current situation reminds us that, as human beings, we are not in control of everything as we think we are. If there is no rain, there is not much that anyone can do, except pray. My advice would be, we must all use water sparingly because it is an important commodity.
We would also like to take this opportunity to remind all that the LHWP is first and foremost about the improvement of the lives of Basotho and the people of South Africa therefore the people are the priority of the project. As a Christian, I am very aware that we can plan with all the sophisticated systems in the world, but it is almighty that will make it happen. So, prayer will be an important part of the leadership process.