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China-Lesotho in M1, 3 billion road construction deal

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE construction of the 92 kilometre Ha Mpiti to Sehlabathebe road in the Qacha’s Nek district, which will employ at least 500 Basotho, is on course to begin before the end of the year after the Lesotho and Chinese governments recently signed a Framework Agreement paving the way for Lesotho to sign a concessional loan agreement with the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China.

Finance minister, Moeketsi Majoro, and Chinese Ambassador to Lesotho, Sun Xianghua, signed on behalf of their respective governments at the Finance ministry’s offices in Maseru on Thursday.

Dr Majoro also revealed that while the construction will primarily be undertaken by Chinese contractors, the government had however, successfully negotiated for 30 percent of the M1.29 billion project to be sub-contracted to local companies.

He also pointed that the government had not awarded a road construction tender to a Chinese company but that the terms of the loan allow China to bring its own construction company.

“A concessional loan is a financial assistance from a developed country to a third-world (developing) country where the financer exports services to the country being helped,” Dr Majoro said.

“In this case, it means that as the financer, the EXIM Bank of China will bring services (a contractor) to build the road.

“Therefore, it should be clear that in this case there is no Chinese company which was given a tender by the government of Lesotho. However, we negotiated with them to allocate local construction companies 30 percent of the job.”

The Finance minister also urged the tourism sector to start thinking of ways to take advantage of the road which will link the highlands of Qacha’s Nek, Thaba Tseka and Mokhotlong with the lowlands and further lead to the Sehlabathebe National Park.

“Since this will be a ring road linking the highlands with the lowlands, the tourism sector should start thinking of investment opportunities, especially for Sehlabathebe National Park which is a world heritage site that the country has failed to fully exploit.”

For his part, Dr Xianghua said the envisaged road was of strategic importance to Lesotho as it would create jobs and contribute to overall economic development.

“The Ha Mpiti-Sehlabathebe road is one of the major projects that China and Lesotho will implement under the framework of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) whose last summit was held in 2015 in South Africa and the next one will be held in seven months’ time in Beijing, China.

“The impact of this road which is of strategic significance to Lesotho is multi-fold. It will make the travel to Lesotho’s only world heritage park more convenient, efficient and safe, thus attracting more visitors and promoting tourism and job creation in the relevant sectors.

“During the construction, jobs will be created, local contractors will be engaged which means there will be skills transfer to Basotho. In addition, a large amount of building materials will be procured locally.

“It will further alleviate the transportation challenges faced by the communities in the vicinity of the road. The road will also facilitate the economic exchange with South Africa,” Dr Xianghua said, adding that China would do everything in its power to increase assistance to developing countries in order to reduce the development gap.

Public Works and Transport minister, Prince Maliehe, thanked the Ministry of Finance and the government of China for the agreement which would enable the ministry to fulfil its mandate of improving the country’s roads infrastructure.

“For the past three years my ministry has not constructed any new road although it is our mandate to provide proper roads in the country.

“Roads play a critical role in economic development and we are delighted and grateful to China and the Ministry of Finance for heeding my ministry’s request,” he said.

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