Govt moves to start Queen II, Ramarothole solar project works



Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE Chinese contractors and engineers who are supposed to construct the Maseru Eye Clinic and the Ha-Ramarothole Solar Power Station will only be able to start working five months from now.

The government is currently processing their travel visas to enable them to travel to Lesotho.

This was said by Development Planning minister Selibe Mochoboroane in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

Mr Mochoboroane said apart from the visas, they are also anticipating hurdles caused by travel bans in different countries that they are supposed to pass through on their way from China.

The two projects have been stalling and have both failed to meet their implementation targets.

The construction for the M800 million Maseru Eye Clinic (formerly Queen II Hospital) was initially scheduled to begin in 2018 but failed because the government delayed demolishing the old structures. The delays were largely due to the bickering between the ministries of Health and that of Public Works over the costs of demolishing Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.

The Ministry of Public Works had said the job would cost M29 million while the Health ministry said it would cost M16 million. The Ministry of Health then resorted to using the army to reduce the cost but the companies that had won the tender challenged the decision.

The Ministry of Health ended up convincing the nine companies that had been contracted for the job to do it for M16 million and they started the work in April this year, four months after the January 2020 deadline set by the Chinese government which is funding the project. China is funding the project through an M800 million grant.

The much bigger Maseru Hospital is expected to benefit at least 400 000 people in Maseru and other districts.

And this week Mr Mochoboroane said the government was currently processing the travelling visas for the contractors of both projects who will fly in within five months to start work.

The two are long overdue and this is typical of politically motivated projects that are often ill-conceived, Mr Mochoboroane said.

“The Queen II (Maseru Eye Clinic) and Ramarothole projects have been included in the past three fiscal budgets now,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

“I have realised that some of these projects were politically motivated hence they are taking longer to be implemented because of their top-down approach.

“In some of these projects, funding is sourced prematurely without following proper procedures. These two are some of the many overdue projects but I am hoping that they will soon be implemented. I am hoping that in less than five months, there will be movement on the ground as far as implementation is concerned. We have already secured engineers from China for the Ramarothole project and we are already working on their visas.

“The expectation is that the Queen II contractors will soon send their list so that we can also prepare their visas. Once international traveling is allowed, the work will begin,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

In his 2020/21 financial year budget in February this year, former Finance minister (now Prime Minister) Moeketsi Majoro, told parliament that the Ha-Ramarothole project would start this year and government had sealed a financing deal with the China Exim Bank.

Dr Majoro however, did not disclosed the amount involved.

He said that two solar power stations, one owned and to be operated by a new government entity and the other a private investment by 1Power will commence construction during the current fiscal year and will both be located at Ha-Ramarothole in Mafeteng.

“The financing agreement has already been signed with China Exim Bank, while a letter of support is being negotiated with 1Power and could be signed in the next few months,” Dr Majoro said.

Earlier this year Chinese Embassy’s Economic and Commercial Counsellor, Ma Guoliang, told this publication that the Lesotho government was negotiating a M2 billion loan to kick start the solar energy project which promises to produce 70 megawatts of electricity.

The project is expected to run in two phases. The first phase, which is the construction of the plant, is projected to use up to US$70 million (about M980 million) and it will start as soon as the two parties have reached the loan agreement.

Phase II is expected to use up to US$77 million (about M 1, 078 million). It will produce 40 megawatts. It will start following a monitoring and evaluation interval on the first phase.

“This project will be using concessional loans from the Chinese government. As far as I know, the Exim Bank of China is undergoing smooth discussions with relevant parties like the Ministry of Energy and the Lesotho Electricity Company. New developments are coming soon and the press will be informed,” Mr Guoliang said.

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