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Coalition under siege

Staff Reporters

MASERU — Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s decision to take over the management of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) has triggered massive fallout that is threatening to tear apart the coalition government.

Thabane ordered that the management of the water project be transferred to his office from Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane.

This means that the water project which is worth about M15 billion was being moved from a ministry controlled by the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to the prime minister’s office which is controlled by the All Basotho Convention (ABC).

The decision has angered the LCD which is now accusing Thabane of making an arbitrary decision contrary to the agreement between the LCD, ABC and  the Basotho National Party (BNP) when they formed the coalition government in June last year.

The Sunday Express, the first paper to break the story of the takeover, now understands the LCD has given Thabane an ultimatum to reverse the decision.

The LCD, according to three sources in the government, has told Thabane that he should reverse the decision or they would reconsider their position in the coalition government.

This paper has been told that the LCD wants the prime minister to publicly announce his decision to reverse the decision.

It is also understood that the LCD is angry that the decision to transfer the project to Thabane’s office has already been communicated to South Africa, which jointly owns the project with Lesotho.

The LCD’s deputy spokesperson Selibe Mochoboroane told the Sunday Express yesterday that the party has instructed its leader Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing to write to Thabane about the decision.

Mochoboroane, who is also the deputy Minister of Local Government, said the LCD wants Thabane to reverse the decision.

“We were not part of the meeting that decided the takeover of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.  So we decided that our leader (Metsing) should write to his counterpart (Thabane) to reverse his decision,” Mochoboroane said.

This paper understands that the decision to write to Thabane was made at the LCD’s executive committee meeting on Thursday morning just before the graduation ceremony at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.

If the LCD, which brought 26 seats to the coalition, pulls out the government would collapse.

That will leave Thabane with 35 seats, 30 from the ABC and five from the BNP.

Thabane will either have to call an early election or resign to let another coalition takeover.

He might also have to negotiate with the Democratic Congress which has 48 seats, the largest number held by a single party in parliament.

But given animosity between the DC and ABC that marriage is unlikely.

The row in government might create a chance for the DC to return to power.

With 48 seats, the DC is 13 seats short of the majority needed to form a government.

Thabane is understood to have been unhappy with the implementation of the second phase of the water project.

The project’s main components are the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong and Kobong Power Station in Thaba-Tseka.

Polihali dam will supply water to South Africa while Kobong will generate power for Lesotho.

The project has however been hobbling due to delays, some of which have been blamed on Thahane.

Thabane assumed control of the project on September 1. The decision can also be viewed as a tacit vote of no-confidence in Thahane who has been heavily criticised for the way he has handled the project.

Thabane wants to move Emmanuel Lesoma, the principal secretary of the Ministry of Water Affairs, to his office to run the project.

Lesoma is likely to be assisted by Masupha Sole, the chief technical advisor to the Lesotho delegation in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), which supervises the project.

The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), whose responsibility is to implement the project, will also report to the prime minister’s office.

Thabane wrote to the Attorney General Tsokolo Makhete KC and Government Secretary Motlatsi Ramafole late last month, instructing them to start the process to move the project to his office.

He wants them to establish a team that will negotiate with South Africa on a new agreement for the project.

The two countries have already agreed that the 2011 agreement has to be amended.

The negotiations were supposed to have been completed in June but very little progress has been made so far.

Thabane wants the attorney general and government secretary to come up with the issues that the negotiating teams will discuss and a time-table for the negotiations.

Thabane is worried that international institutions like World Bank, European Union, European Investment Bank and African Development Bank are not involved in the project.

The first phase of the project which included the construction of Katse and Mohale Dams was strongly supported by international organisations.

The decision to take over the project was made at a meeting Thabane had with ABC ministers three weeks ago to discuss the options.

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