Cancel Polihali project- govt told

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Pascalinah Kabi

THE Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho wants the government to immediately start processes that will lead to the cancellation of the construction of the Polihali Dam.

The forum argues that constructing the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong under Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is not in the best interest of Lesotho both economically and socially. The forum also argues that it is criminal to build the Polihali Dam before the construction of a hydropower station – a component that should not be left out as stipulated in Article 4 (1) of the 1986 Treaty.

The forum said this yesterday in ongoing discussions emanating from a March 2014 petition it submitted to the Senate’s Petitions Committee.

While the forum argues that the project is an opportunity of a lifetime for Lesotho because the country would have the cheapest source of hydroelectric power generation, they say it is worrisome that the hydropower generation component of the LHWP Phase II has been neglected or abandoned.

There have been several meetings between the Petitions’ Committee, representatives of the Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho and representatives from the Ministry of Water and Lesotho Highlands Water Commission. However, yesterday’s meeting caught the youths by surprise when several principal chiefs that included outspoken Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief Khoabane Theko also attended.

Addressing the meeting yesterday, the forum’s board member Rabele Makakole said that the ongoing implementation of LHWP Phase II in Mokhotlong was unbeneficial for Lesotho as had been indicated in the 1986 Treaty.

He said the electricity generation component, as stipulated in the treaty, had been abandoned by taking the project to Polihali instead of an initial plan of Mashai in Thaba-Tseka.

“Phase II was supposed to be implemented in Mashai, not Polihali and as a country we were going to generate 110 megawatts of electricity if it is done as initially agreed upon,” Mr Makakole said.

“Out of that 100 megawatts, we were going to have an excess of 42 megawatts which we were going to sell.

“We know that it is expensive to buy electricity but with this project, Basotho were going to buy electricity at a very cheap price because it has been established that the electricity that we are generating in Lesotho is far cheaper than that which we are buying from South Africa and Mozambique. We need to do the right thing here, let us just cut our losses and do the right thing.”

He suggested that Lesotho should kick-start processes of abandoning the Polihali project by getting a reviewed and current water demand curve of South Africa as a matter of urgency.

Mr Makakole said the South African water demand curve would assist in the re-evaluation of the options that both governments have on the best dam choice for the phase.

He said there was a high likelihood of a need to start building yet another dam to satisfy South Africa’s water demands half-way through the construction of Polihali Dam. He said this is because the Polihali Dam is much smaller as compared to the abandoned Mashai Dam.

“Should the reviewed water demand curve of South Africa prove that the water to be stored in Polihali Dam will not meet its demand, then the wise decision would be to cut our loses on the Polihali dam and identify an alternative location to build a dam that will store enough water to meet the demands of South Africa, and also provide Lesotho with hydroelectric power generation component as stated on Article 4 (1) of the 1986 Treaty,” Mr Makakole said.

He said that they have run out of the patience as young people because it has taken the Ministry of Water five years to agree with them that the hydropower component had been abandoned by opting for Polihali instead of Mashai.

He warned that while the government was too busy dragging itself instead of urgently seeking a review that would eventually culminate in the cancellation of the Polihali project, some people were busy making money out of the ongoing works in Mokhotlong by way of winning tenders.

“What is the main problem of going back to South Africa and explain that we as Basotho have made a mistake? I urge the government to go back to negotiate with South Africa, cancel the Polihali project because it is still going to give us yet another headache. Should we wait yet for another five years before we can agree that the Polihali Dam does not cater for the electricity component? There are over 300 000 unemployed youths, our patience is running out because the government is not lifting a finger to assist us as patriotic sons of the soil.

“Our leaders are making these decisions because they think they will not live long enough to account. Cancel this Polihali project and go back to Mashai and alleviate poverty by creating more jobs.”

On his part, Lesotho’s technical advisor in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) Masupha Sole said there were several reasons why the Polihali project must be abandoned. Among them, he said, is its inability to transfer 70 cubic metres of water per second to South Africa.

Mr Sole, who was invited to the meeting in his personal capacity also argued that both parties had not calculated the royalties Lesotho would get under the Polihali project. He said the royalties were only calculated as per the original treaty which included Mashai and other dams and not Polihali. He said the protocol which was used to calculate the royalties did not cater for the Polihali Dam because it had failed all the necessary evaluations.

“Secondly, the purpose of the project is for Lesotho to transfer water to South Africa through electricity generation and Polihali does not have that component. Kobong came as an afterthought and it had failed. I have heard people saying that the electricity component has been deferred and it is wrong to say that is because it is a disadvantage to Lesotho, it has simply failed. There is no electricity component in this Phase II,” Mr Sole said.

He added: “Lastly, Lesotho ill-advised itself because the Phase II agreement states 40 cubic metres of water per second will be transferred by 2044 yet the treaty clearly talks about 70 cubic metres of water per second by 2044. The agreement was signed after South Africa changed its water demands but Lesotho could have looked for its own benefits before signing that agreement because we did not have Polihali in the treaty to begin with”.

Incensed by the revelation that Lesotho could have been cheated out of the Mashai project which would have ensured electricity generation, Chief Khoabane said it was now clear that Basotho had been belittled on their own soil.

“The youths are here and they have given us a picture of what is really happening; they want to save this country. Now what is the way forward so that we append our signatures?

“Is Polihali for the benefit of certain individuals and South Africa only or for both nations? Can we revisit the 1986 treaty? Is this for the benefit of the nation in ensuring that Lesotho is being developed or it is just to contain South Africa’s water problems and leave us still impoverished?

“Unless the side of the project gives us convincing reasons, I am not convinced at all. It is not like I do not want to hear them but I need to understand.”

Chief Theko said the sovereignty of Lesotho needed to be protected and ensure that the project improves the lives of Basotho in the long run.  He said it was not enough for Basotho to be employed as unskilled labourers.

“What else are we getting as a nation? The issue of the hydroelectricity component is still a big challenge since we are not even sure if it is going to happen or not because Ntate Lephoma (LHWC representative Mzamo Lephoma) is confirming that the Kobong project is a dead end and can never generate electricity for this country,” Chief Theko said.

On his part, Mr Lephoma said the Article 5 of the treaty clearly stated that the two governments would sit down and discuss issues at the end of every phase.

“That is a very fundamental issue. If the 70 cubic metres that Ntate Sole and the youth are talking about was cast in stone, we would be implementing Phase II of the project in Mashai but there is an article that commits the two countries to sit and discuss issues. They sat down and discussed issues, a feasibility study of the whole scheme for a 70 cubic was then carried out.

“According to study and the costing for royalties, the project was supposed to go to Mashai but this article was included in the treaty. The two parties sat down and discussed issues but the question is, where were we as Basotho, especially those who led the negotiations?”

He said that the article was the cruelest clause included in the treaty which has landed the country in this predicament.

“The youths are correct but the challenge that they must be aware of is that any changes should be legislated,” Mr Lephoma said.

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