Mega water project in full flow
…Lesotho Highlands Development Authority Chief Executive Officer, Refiloe Tlali, says Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is well underway.
The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA)—the implementing agency of the multiphase bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)—is one of the country’s most pivotal organisations whose performance is key to the kingdom’s economic development.
The LHWP was established through a treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa in 1986, with Phase I—which included construction of Katse and Mohale dams— being completed in 2004. The project would see South Africa being supplied with water and hydropower, while Lesotho benefits from infrastructure such as roads, which is being necessitated by the project, as well as royalties and electricity. Phase Two of the project, which was launched last year, includes the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong. The dam’s construction is expected to begin in 2017.
In this wide-ranging interview, LHDA Chief Executive Officer, Refiloe Tlali, gives Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Rethabile Pitso an update on this megaproject.
LT: The Authority has noted that there have been delays regarding the procurement process of Phase Two of the LHWP which was projected to end in March 2015. Could you briefly detail just how these processes work and how different they are to other ‘normal’ tendering procedures?
Tlali: Procurement for a project of the scale of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project typically spans several years. It comprises the engagement of professional consultants to design and oversee the construction of elements of such a project, and then the procurement of building contractors who are responsible for the execution of the components.
The procurement of professional consultants to design and oversee the advance infrastructure work (access roads, powerlines and telecommunications network and work camps) in Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, commenced towards the end of 2014 following the approval of the Procurement Policy by the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (the oversight body representing the governments of Lesotho and South Africa). The procurement of professional consultants will continue into 2016. The procurement of construction contractors commences during 2015 and will continue for two to three years as the Project unfolds.
The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) is unable to comment on the procurement processes of other companies, but in the LHDA’s experience, most large organisations determine their own procurement/tender procedures tailored to suit their particular environment and operations. The LHDA is mandated by the 1986 Treaty, the LHDA Order and the Phase II Agreement to put in place procurement policy and procedures developed in accordance with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Anti-Corruption Policy. Specifically, the LHDA tender processes are reviewed by international audit firms and a technical committee consisting of experts who are independent of the LHDA.
The procurement process is entirely transparent. Each step is clearly articulated in all Request for Proposals (RFPs) documents and explained to all potential bidders in the compulsory pre-bid meeting for each contract. At specified points in the process, information is made public through direct communication with each bidder and via the LHDA’s Phase II website. Information on the progress of the bid evaluation and the final decision is not made public until the end of the process in order to prevent any influence on the bid evaluation as occurred in the implementation of Phase I of the LHWP.
LT: What challenges have you, as an authority, encountered that necessitated the delays, and what mitigating factors have you put in place to ensure the project is completed on the scheduled date of 2023?
Tlali: The implementation of bi-national, multi-disciplinary projects such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is complex by nature, requiring rigorous adherence to complex approval processes. As earlier mentioned, the procurement process commenced towards the end of 2014 after the LHDA received approval from the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) to advertise. The challenges encountered related mainly to the delayed approval of the procurement policy and procedures. It took longer than expected for the two governments to reach consensus on the underlying principles. With that hurdle overcome, the project is moving ahead.
The LHDA is implementing measures to mitigate against delays, and some of the measures include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Developing and finalising RFPs for advance infrastructure works during the Procurement policy approval period.
- Running parallel procurement processes for many consultancy contracts (engineering and environment) that need to be procured.
- Review of the total scheme operation philosophy.
- Advancing river-diversion works for Polihali Dam, so that the dam contractor can start directly with foundation excavations instead of the diversion tunnels which is normal practice.
- Revising packaging arrangements for Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) and the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA)
Other detailed mitigating measures will be discussed with the relevant consultants when they come on board.
LT: It has been noted the project would employ about 2500 people at its peak .How many of them would be locals and in what fields are they likely to be placed? Do you perhaps foresee any Lesotho personnel or companies securing any top positions in Phase II, considering the experience of Phase I?
Tlali: The figure of 2500 people was an estimate based on Phase I and a similar project. The actual number will be determined by the market/tenderers. In addition, various factors such as the proposed method of execution, capacity and availability of personnel as contracts run concurrently, etc., will also impact on the number of Basotho employed. The project includes a number of disciplines: engineering, environment, social, public relations, legal, financial, project management and HR management, for example. There will be opportunities for Basotho and South Africans to be engaged in these fields.
The Phase II Agreement articulates the requirements for the employment and procurement of Lesotho firms, Basotho, South Africans, etc., on the Project in Articles 10 and 11. In particular, the Phase II Agreement makes provision for Lesotho Nationals (companies and individuals) to be given preference provided the following conditions are satisfied:
- For Companies – the required quality is met and the procurement process is transparent, competitive and cost-effective.
- For Individuals – the required skills and experience level are met.
The LHDA believes that there will be opportunities for Basotho to serve in high positions. Within the LHDA, there are individuals who were trained under the auspices of the LHWP and are currently in management positions. There are several others who are no longer in the organisation who we hope will show an interest in the project when opportunities arise. There has certainly been growth in the capacity and experience of companies and individuals. As a result, the level of participation is expected to exceed Phase I records.
LT: How far are preparations for preliminary stages such as environmental studies, resettlement and compensation?
Tlali: Requests for Proposals for consultants to implement community resettlement under Phase II have been advertised and pre-bid meetings and site visits have been held.
A draft compensation policy has been developed following extensive engagement with local communities. Feedback on the draft compensation policy was recently presented to communities at a gathering in Mokhotlong prior to the finalisation and approval of the policy.
Baseline studies are commissioned to assess the conditions of the environment in which the project is to be implemented. All the baseline studies have now been completed, except the Public Health Baseline study which is due for completion shortly. These baseline studies are used to inform subsequent environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) processes. As part of that ESIA process, the Requests for Proposals for the environmental studies are being prepared. The RFPs for the studies will shortly be advertised.
LT: Many Basotho have blamed the construction of Katse dam, part of Phase I of the project, to the change in climate which has caused Lesotho summers to become very hot and winters to become blistering cold. They have also said the dramatic change of weather has affected crop-production. How true are these allegations?
Tlali:There is no scientific basis on which the perceived change in weather patterns can be attributed to the construction of the dams. Environmental impact assessments were completed prior to the construction of the dams in Phase I and similar studies will be carried out prior to the implementation of the advance infrastructure and main works in Phase II. Their recommendations were and will be taken into account in order to mitigate the potential impacts on water quality and quantity, plants, animals, the health and culture of communities in the vicinity of the dam and other works.
LT: How many families have been relocated so far? If they have not, how many families are due to be relocated because of Phase II?
Tlali: No families have been relocated at this point. The final demarcation of the dam is only commencing now and only when this is completed and the health impact assessment, the environmental and resettlement studies are also through, will relocation begin.
The number of households to be affected will be determined during resettlement planning. It is anticipated that five villages will fall below the demarcation line. All households from these villages will be resettled. Some households from another three villages will fall below the demarcation line, and some households from a further two villages will be affected by advance infrastructure works. These households will also be resettled.
LT: Has the LHWP made any follow- ups on families that were relocated because of Phase 1? How have they settled in their new homes? Have there been any queries (formal and non-formal) that LHWP has had to respond to with regard to their relocation?
Tlali: Resettlement begins with consultation with the affected households before any moves take place. People are shown the resettlement areas, are introduced to the communities there and are allowed to choose the kind of houses they would prefer within the prescribed options, amongst other considerations. Counselling is provided and the families are assisted with the actual move. After resettlement, the LHDA provides ongoing support and assistance including the discharge of obligations such as compensation. Community Participation Officers are in regular contact with the resettled families to find out how they are faring. In a project of the size and nature of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, complaints are inevitable. LHDA has a procedure and system for managing complaints and attempts to manage complaints as speedily as possible.
LT: What physical scenario can Basotho expect to see upon completion of Polihali? In Katse and Mohale we have noted that houses have been built to accommodate staff. Are there any different, bigger or even better facilities which people can expect to see after completion at Polihali?
Tlali: The Polihali Dam type is similar to, but higher than, the Mohale Dam. In terms of infrastructure, people can expect something similar in Phase II. There will also be a hydropower generation facility for which more information will be shared when the feasibility studies have been completed and are accepted by the two governments.
There will be a village and accommodation for operations and maintenance staff. People can expect to see similar arrangements to those at Katse and Mohale, with some improvements based on the lessons learned from Phase I.