THE construction of the Ha Mpiti to Sehlabathebe road is yet to commence three months since Prime Minister Thomas Thabane officiated at its sod turning, the Sunday Express can reveal.
When Dr Thabane officiated at the sod turning of the 92-kilometre road last December, the Chinese contractor tasked to upgrade the route from gravel to asphalt was already on site.
However, when the Sunday Express recently visited the site, it discovered that work is yet to start on the road.
At the time of the visit by the publication, the contractor’s workers, who are stationed at Ha Thaba, Tsoelike, about three hours’ drive from the tarred road in Ha Mpiti, were levelling the ground in the allocated compound.
Although the M1.8 billion project is set to create over 500 jobs, the Sunday Express found only about eight labourers working at the camp site of the contractor.
When this publication inquired why the road construction had not started, some of the employees said they were awaiting equipment from China.
“Specialised machinery for this road construction is being imported from China and we are still waiting for it to arrive so we can start with construction,” one of the workers said.
“We were told by the boss that the machinery would arrive soon so we are hoping to start working on the road within a short period. We are currently levelling this ground in order to place mobile houses that will be used as storage facilities.”
The Ha Mpiti to Sehlabathebe road is one of the major projects that China and Lesotho are implementing under the framework of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in 2015 in South Africa. The Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China provided a concessional loan of M1.3 billion to fund the project. Lesotho further injected M500 million to consolidate the total cost of the road construction.
When the project is completed, it will become a seven-meter-wide double-lane road, shortening the driving time from Mpiti to Sehlabathebe from four hours to between an hour and an hour and a half.
The project will be supervised by the Roads Directorate while China hailing Qingjing Group has been contracted to carry out the upgrading works designed by SMEC – South Africa.
During the December launch, Unik Constructions trucks were the only equipment which was in place but the Unik branding on the trucks was covered with Qingjing Group branding stickers. It is not clear to this publication whether Qingjing Group had bought or hired the trucks from Unik.
While signing the loan agreement with the former Chinese ambassador to Lesotho, Sun Xianghua, in March 2018, Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, stressed that the government did not employ a Chinese Company to construct the road but rather the terms of the loan allow China to bring its own construction company.
“A concessional loan is a financial assistance from developed countries to the third-world (underdeveloped) countries and in this case, the financer exports services to the country being helped.
“This means that in this case EXIM Bank of China being the financer, will bring services (a contractor) to build a road in question. However, we managed to negotiate the terms of the contract and they have allowed to allocate local construction companies 30 percent of the work.
“Therefore, it should be clear that in this case, there is no Chinese company which was given a tender by the government of Lesotho,” Dr Majoro said.
Contacted for comment, Ministry of Public Works Principal Secretary, Mothabathe Hlalele, said that the contractor was still on time.
“Before the actual construction starts, there is a lot of ground work that needed to be done and currently, the main contractor has setup his camp. He is currently busy finalising with sub-contractors who are local and further mobilising his equipment from China so that construction may start,” Mr Hlalele said adding that he was not in a position to give more details.