…but queries raised over the company’s shoddy work
Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele said the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) would not hesitate to cancel a major road construction project awarded to Nthane Brothers firm if the latter produced substandard work. He was responding to questions from reporters who questioned him on why Nthane Brothers had been awarded such a key contract despite its past run-ins with the government over shoddy work.
The LHDA yesterday announced that it had awarded a M235 million road construction tender to a joint venture of Nthane Brothers and Sinohydro SA – a company with close ties with Chinese-owned Sinohydro Corporation.
Sinohydro Corporation, which was established in China as a state-owned hydropower project contractor during the 1950s, joined forces with Nthane Brothers to successfully bid for the 16-kilometre road priced at M235 million.
Nthane Brothers, which owns a 60 percent shareholding in the joint venture and is therefore its lead partner, has been under fire for substandard works in Lesotho. In 2014, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) demanded that it refunds the government a whopping M36 million. The PAC also directed that the company be blacklisted from state construction jobs as punishment for substandard work.
The verdict came in the wake of the long-running dispute between the Nthane Brothers’ firm, Lesotho Consolidated Civil Construction (LCCC) and ministry of Public Works, over the building of a 27-kilometre road stretching from Ha Cheche to Matšooana on the Likalaneng to Thaba-Tseka highway.
The PAC wanted the return of M36 million which the government advanced to the LCCC in two tranches of M15 million and M21 million for the job.
The LCCC had been expected to have completed the job in August 2010. However, a 2014 PAC report said the firm “is ostensibly going on with its substandard work” and recommending that the then ministry of Public Works principal secretary, Lebohang Phooko, institutes recovery processes through legal means and ensure that LCCC is never awarded government contracts for a certain period as punishment for “shoddy work and threatening supervising engineers.”
Despite the firm’s past, the Water Resources Minister, Mr Ntsekele, yesterday announced that a joint venture with a majority of shareholding belonging to Nthane Brothers had been awarded the M235 million road construction tender.
The road stretches from Mapholaneng to the Khubelu River where the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)’s Phase II dam – Polihali – is going to be constructed starting the beginning of 2020.
“Construction works on Phase II of the Lesotho Water project are underway following the LHDA awarding the first construction contract for the Polihali North-East Access Road (PNEAR) to Sinohydro SA and Nthane Brothers Joint Venture. The contractor is expected to be on site by the beginning of November, marking the start of Phase II’s six-year construction period. The contract is valued at approximately M235 million,” Mr Ntsekele said.
Responding to the media’s questions in relation to Nthane Brothers’ past, the minister said the LHDA had put in place stringent measures to ensure that the joint venture delivers satisfactory works and that they would not hesitate to terminate the contract in the event that it produces substandard work.
“Like you are saying that the company has a questionable past, it is a Mosotho owned company and we are going to closely monitor it to ensure that the road constructions are up to the specifications and should we discover that it is doing a poor job, we will not hesitate to terminate the contract,” Mr Ntsekele said.
He said the Nthane Brothers and Sinohydro SA joint venture was awarded the contract based on merit and that there were steps put in place to ensure that every successful contractor performs to the specifications.
“In each contract, there are specific terms and conditions and the contractor knows well the parameters that they are supposed to be operating within, to work towards the quality that we need and produce satisfactory outcomes. They are not just going to build the road and go, there are clear steps that will be followed to the latter to ensure that they construct a desired road,” Mr Ntsekele said.
He said Nthane Brothers and Sinohydro successfully bid for the tender as joint venture of 60/40 percent shareholding which was based on assets each company brought to the table.
Mr Ntsekele said it was important for people to understand that the Lesotho and South Africa governments had agreed to ensure that black people benefit from this project by way of getting jobs under the Phase II project.
He said these were positive developments that Basotho had been waiting to hear for a long time. The minister hoped that these developments would excite Lesotho nationals residing in and outside the country.
He said that the project was going to help alleviate the high unemployment rate in the country and that it was important for Basotho to understand that black people, including Indians and Chinese, were going to get jobs on merit as long as they are citizens of South Africa and Lesotho.
“Indians and Chinese are also black people. We need to understand what black people means because it is not just people with ‘hard hair’ but in South African laws, Indians and Chinese who originate from that country are regarded as black people and in Lesotho, everyone with a Lesotho citizenship is black regardless of their colour,” Mr Ntsekele said.
Lesotho’s Chief Delegate to the Water Commission, Mzamo Lephoma, a shared the same sentiments with Mr Ntsekele, insisting that the definition of black people in the laws of South Africa includes Indians and Chinese originating from that country.
LHDA chief executive officer Refiloe Tlali said that it was important for everyone to understand that the LHWP was operating under the laws of the two nations and that the implementing agency was mandated to carry out its mandate under the two countries’ legal frameworks.
“As long as people are citizens of Lesotho and South Africa, they are considered as black people and qualify to be given jobs as per the agreement that black people must fully and economically benefit from this project. We did not come up with this definition, it is well defined under the laws of the two nations.
“Secondly, contractors are supervised on a daily basis and besides the supervising consultants, the LHDA has its own supervisors and as soon as anything unsatisfactory is picked, measures are put in place to address such queries. In some cases, contractors are forced to rework on the same projects or contracts are immediately terminated. We have done that in the past and we will not hesitate to do that in this incidence,” Ms Tlali said.
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 the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of 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 project was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004 and Phase II is currently underway.