Youths want Thahane fired over water deal

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Staff Reporter

MASERU — A group of youths from seven political parties including those in the coalition government want Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane fired. The Youth Forum plans to meet Prime Minister Tom Thabane this week to demand Thahane’s dismissal for the way he is handling the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

The group will tell Thabane that Thahane is not the right man for the job because he has allegedly dragged his feet in establishing a team to renegotiate the Phase Two agreement of the water project. Negotiations on the new deal are supposed to be completed by the end of this month, according to the agreement between Lesotho and South Africa.

During a meeting in Pretoria last month Thabane and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma agreed that the new agreement should be signed in Maseru by the end of this month. The problem, the youth forum says, is that even as that deadline draws nearer Thahane has not formed a team to represent Lesotho in the negotiations.

The group is worried that if Lesotho does not form a team soon and prepare for the negotiations it will end up signing another flawed agreement. That, they note, will defeat the whole purpose of having demanded a renegotiation in the first place. The youths are also angered that Thahane is yet to establish a team of experts to review the August 2011 agreement as Thabane had agreed with Zuma in May.

After their meeting in Pretoria on May 13 Thabane and Zuma said Thahane and South Africa’s Minister of Water, Edna Molewa, should form separate teams to review the agreement. The findings of the technical team Thahane was going to establish were supposed to inform the government of Lesotho during the renegotiations. The idea was that after the team’s report the government would then brief the team that is going to negotiate with South Africa.

That Thahane has neither formed the technical nor the negotiating team shows that he is not taking the issue seriously, the group alleges. On Friday the leader of the forum, Bokang Ramatsella, told the Sunday Express that Thahane’s dismissal will be top of their agenda in their meeting with Thabane. “We want him out of the government because he does not seem to be serving Lesotho’s interests,” Ramatsella said.

Ramatsella, who is the deputy secretary general of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), said apart from the fact that the minister has failed to form the technical and negotiating teams the forum is also concerned by his recent statement in parliament. “He seems to be singing a totally different tune from what was discussed and agreed in Pretoria,” he said. Ramatsella’s group was instrumental in pushing the coalition government to renegotiate the Phase Two agreement with South Africa.

Ramatsella has also warned that if the new agreement does not address Lesotho’s concerns the forum will take to the streets. “If that agreement does not favour Lesotho we will fight. It will have to be signed over our dead bodies,” he said. “We will toyi-toyi (protest) and seek a court order to block that agreement from being signed.” Thahane could not be reached for comment last night. His phone initially went unanswered before it became unavailable.

Senior government officials who spoke to the Sunday Express said they were worried by the slow progress Lesotho has made to prepare for the negotiations. They said they were worried that the delay might force Lesotho to go to the negotiation table with little or no preparation. “Unless we start preparing ourselves now we are going to lose out. When that happens there won’t be another chance,” said a senior government official who is involved in the project.
“The things that Thabane and Zuma agreed upon in Pretoria might be in danger. Apart from the delay there is also confusion in the coalition government.” Zuma and Thabane agreed that hydropower generation was a key component of the water project.

But discussions are yet to start on where the hydropower station will be built. Minutes of a meeting between Molewa and Thahane on May 11 show that South Africa rejected Lesotho’s proposal to build from Polihali to Muela Power Station. Lesotho was of the opinion that the additional water from Polihali will “augment the electricity generated at Muela power station”.

The minutes say this suggestion was rejected by the South Africans because it had been “considered in the feasibility study and discounted due to its negative impact on the assurance of water supply to South Africa”. “Furthermore, the additional electricity generated from the suggested configuration will not be sufficient to meet the projected demand for domestic use in Lesotho,” the minutes said. The minutes say the two countries then agreed to stick to the original plan to build a hydropower station at Kobong.

Experts however say that Kobong will be every expensive for Lesotho. Lesotho has to fund the power project which is expected to cost more than M6 billion. The other concern is that Kobong will produce peak power instead of base load which Lesotho urgently needs. Eskom, which was earmarked as the main buyer of the power from Kobong, is yet to commit itself to a purchase agreement.

During the meeting in Pretoria Zuma assured Thabane that Eskom as a parastatal will be instructed to buy power from Kobong. But government officials in Lesotho fear that Zuma might have made that assurance to Thabane without consulting Eskom. “The problem is that when the South African government talks to Eskom officials they might be told a different thing altogether,” said a senior government official.

“Eskom might say it already has its own plans which are at an advanced stage and that will leave Kobong in limbo”. “We must never discount the possibility that Zuma might have made that assurance without enough knowledge of what Eskom is doing and thinking”. The confusion over Kobong is one of the reasons the Youth Forum wants Thahane fired.

Ramatsella said Thahane could have misled the nation when he told parliament on May 27 that Kobong was
going to produce 1 200MW. “Where did the minister get that 1 200 MW figure when the initial agreement said Kobong will produce 1 000MW?” “In power generation 200MW is a huge difference. Lesotho, for instance, needs 140 MW as a country. If it was an error then we have reason to worry about his attention to detail,” Ramatsella said.

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