Masupha Sole in fresh controversy
LESOTHO’s technical advisor in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), Masupha Sole, yesterday torched storm when he told the senate that Lesotho and South Africa made a “grave mistake” by moving the planned construction of a dam from the previously planned site at Mashai in Thaba-Tseka to Polihali in Mokhotlong.
The dam is one of the projects planned as part of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP II).
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase I of the LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3000 jobs at the peak of its operations.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
The hydropower component of Phase II, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites.
Its exact form will be determined on completion of the further feasibility studies. Phase II is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.
And with just a few months before the scheduled start of construction of the Polihali Dam next year, Mr Sole yesterday set the act among the pigeons by telling the senate that taking the project to Polihali was a grave mistake on the part of both governments.
He said this during a meeting which was held among the Senate Petitions Committee, the Youth League’s Forum of Lesotho, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and the Ministry of Water Affairs.
The Youth League Forum was represented by Messrs Bokang Ramatšella, Manama Letsie, Tlhoriso Nkatsa and Rabele Makakole.
Mr Sole concurred with the Youth League’s Forum of Lesotho who argued that constructing the dam at Polihali put the scheme to generate electricity for Lesotho at risk as the feasibility studies were still to determine the efficacy of such a scheme at Polihali were still ongoing.
“I am invited here as an individual and I am not saying this to give my boss (Water Affairs Principal Secretary Emmanuel Lesoma) a reason enough to send me on forced leave,” Mr Sole said, much to the annoyance of Mr Lesoma who immediately asked the committee chairperson Tumane Thaabe Matela “to protect” him against Mr Sole.
“I agree with these youths that taking Phase II to Polihali was a mistake which does not benefit this country at all. The two governments decided to take the project to Polihali against my advice. I have said this before and I will continue to say it.
“It is not just a mistake but also a breach of the treaty to implement Phase II of the project at Polihali. The LHWP Treaty was signed based on the understanding that Mashai would provide enough water for South Africa’s needs in the second phase and generate electricity for Lesotho at the same time. Polihali was never part of the LHWP Treaty.
“I also need to speak to the issue of governance. According to the 2011 Agreement, South Africa doesn’t pay tax and this is against the June 1999 Protocol 5 on tax.
“Also, the LHDA does not have powers to run this project, the commission jointly made of South Africa and Lesotho representatives is the one with the governance powers.”
Mr Sole’s remarks also incensed the Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, who accused the former of rallying behind Messrs Ramatšella, Makakole, Letsie and Nkatsa because they had lobbied him to assist them.
“He (Mr Sole) was lobbied by these people to come and speak for them before the committee and we need to give the government the same amount of time to defend their case,” Chief Theko said.
Mr Sole responded by saying, “I can never be lobbied, no one can lobby me because I know what I am talking about and the chief must retract his statement”.
Chief Theko refused to retract his statement, saying “there is nothing wrong with lobbying in the first place”.
On his part, Mr Lesoma insinuated that the four youth league members have chosen to misdirect themselves because there was nothing untoward that the two government had done in breach of the 1986 Treaty.
“We supply people with information and the very same people decide to deliberately distort it to suit their own agendas. Mashai is still part of the LHWP and two phases of the project are joined by a tunnel. It is a bad thing to feed Basotho propaganda,” Mr Lesoma said.
He said that Lesotho was still going to benefit from the project and that the electricity component was still on the cards, contrary to claims made by the four members of the Youth League Forum.
“Electricity will be generated in this project and the treaty can be reviewed anytime the two parties feel there is a need to. Lesotho wants to maximise the benefits of this project and we have got just that (with the LHWP II treaty),” Mr Lesoma said.
LHDA Phase II Divisional Manager, Tente Tente, read article 5 of the treaty which states that: “The project shall be implemented by way of any or all of the phases or such additional phases as may be required ultimately to deliver 70 cubic metres of water per second…provided that any phase…may be modified by agreement between the parties (South Africa and Lesotho)”.
He said that article 5 proved that Mr Sole was not being sincere in his comments.
Mr Sole, a former chief executive of the LHDA, has never been far from controversy after his fraud conviction for accepting M5 million in bribes from several foreign companies that bided for tenders in the first phase of the LHWP between 1980 and the early 1990s.
He was jailed for 15 years in 2002 but was released in May 2011 after serving nine years of his sentence.
He was then controversially appointed chief technical advisor to the LHWC which supervises the LHDA.
He was appointed to the position by the then Pakalitha Mosisili-led government in 2011, just four months after being released from prison on parole.
Mr Sole’s appointment angered the South African government at the time.