THE LESOTHO Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) will not back down on its plan to award 50-year compensation to communities affected by Phase Two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The highlight of LHWP Phase II will be the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.
Construction of the dam is expected to begin in 2019 and according to the 1986 Treaty between South Africa and Lesotho, affected communities should be compensated for relocation and losses incurred due to the project.
Some members of the affected communities had demanded lifetime or 99-year compensation—a request shot down by the LHDA during a press briefing held in Maseru yesterday.
“The issue of lifetime compensation is out. Let’s not pretend over this matter,” LHDA’s Gerrard Mokone said.
“This has never happened anywhere in the world and we don’t think it’s going to happen here. Sometimes we have to face the facts and we must ensure ordinary citizens understand this instead of pushing them to make such demands.”
Mr Mokone said the 50-year compensation offer was final, adding the deal was above board as it conformed with Lesotho’s laws.
Mr Mokone said contrary to popular belief, government had decided on the 50 years compensation on the basis of studies conducted by different bodies, including the World Bank.
He also said it was important for the nation to know that government had the right to repossess land from individuals for public purposes and compensate for the loss.
“It is stated in the constitution and in the Land Act but there is no specified duration (for compensation) in all these legal frameworks. It is only stated that the compensation must be prompt and fair,” he said.
He added compensation could be determined on the basis of market value as per the Land Administration Authority (LAA).
He said market values were also determined by the location of the land in question- whether it was rural or urban, business or residential.
Mr Mokone also said the media had exaggerated the Mokhotlong communities’ complaints about compensation.
“I am aware that you attended two public gatherings in Mokhotlong last week. You can’t conclude from two public gatherings that people are complaining because that is not a true reflection of what is happening on the ground.
“The communities agree with us that compensation must not be given to individuals. They only have a problem with their money being given to the councils,” he said.
Speaking at the same press briefing, LHDA chief executive officer Refiloe Tlali said the project would go ahead with or without the public’s buy-in.
“We will continue with the project. This is a big project between two countries. However, we will consider the public’s opinions to an extent,” Ms Tlali said.
She also said the authority would not give compensation directly to affected individuals as doing so would be irresponsible.
“LHDA would be an irresponsible organisation if it continued to pay communal compensation directly to individuals when experience has taught us that there has been no accountability in Phase 1A and 1B.
“In the past, some people used the communal compensation money to buy things like trucks, some opened shops and out of the 10 livelihood restoration projects, only one survived,” Ms Tlali said.
She added: “Members of the community have accepted LHDA’s new policy that the communal compensation money must not be given directly to individuals.”
Under the new policy, the compensation would be held in trust by LHDA and communities would approach their councils with proposals of communal needs, for example, clinics and schools. The money would then be released to fund such infrastructural developments.