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Diplomatic rift with SA widens over Sole

Caswell Tlali & Staff reporter

MASERU — The diplomatic row between Lesotho and South Africa over the appointment of Masupha Sole to the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) continued this week with Pretoria insisting that he be removed from the commission.
Sole was appointed special adviser to the commission in August 2011 despite having been convicted of bribery and fraud he committed when he was the boss of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) which is supervised by the LHWC.
He was sentenced to an effective 18 years in jail which were reduced to 15 years on appeal.
Sole served just nine years for receiving bribes between 1988 and 1998.
The court ruled that he had received M5 million in bribes from international contractors working on Katse and Mohale dams which supplies water to South Africa.
Sole was released on May 5 last year and by August he had been appointed special adviser to the commission which is jointly run by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The South African government however raised concern over his appointment and demanded that he be removed from the commission on account that he had been convicted of corruption.
The Lesotho government is yet to decide how to deal with the Sole issue, a year after South Africa lodged a formal complaint about his appointment.
Molobeli Soulo, Minister in Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s office, said Cabinet was yet to discuss the issue.
Soulo told the Mail & Guardian last week that Energy and Water Affairs Minister, Timothy Thahane, had told the Cabinet that he would deal with the matter.
He said the Cabinet was still waiting for Thahane to reveal how he planned to proceed on the issue.
“The Cabinet has not discussed this issue because the Honourable Thahane said he was going to deal with it and it falls under his ministry,” Soulo said.
“It will be wrong and misleading to say his Majesty’s Cabinet is shying away from the issue. We are waiting for the Honourable Thahane.”
Thahane said “the issue is still under discussion and the government will announce its decision once it has been finalised”.
He confirmed that “South Africa feels uncomfortable with Mr Sole, (who) was appointed by the previous administration”.
“When I was assigned to this ministry, I found that the South African government had formally lodged its concerns in writing,” Thahane said.
“South African water affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said his government was convinced that Sole “is not a member of the commission” and “he will not advise the commission on anything”.
“If the Lesotho government decides to keep him as its adviser, we have no problem — that’s within their rights. But we’re sure that he has nothing to do with the commission,” Ratau said.
“Our information is correct that Mr Sole has been effectively removed from the commission,” he added.
Ratau’s statement that Sole has been “effectively removed from the commission” was contradicted by Sole and Thabane confirmed that Sole is still working on the commission.
It could however have been informed by information that Sole is no longer working from the LHWC offices.
Sole told the Sunday Express that although he is no longer operating from the commission’s offices he still remains its special adviser.
“I am still an employee of the Lesotho government. It doesn’t matter from which office I work. I can even work from home but I remain an employee of the Lesotho government working on a Lesotho project,” Sole said on Friday.
“This noise about my position is weird because I don’t work for the project but the Lesotho government. I am not a project staff. I am an employee of the Lesotho government.”
He said the agreement between South Africa and Lesotho was that each country will appoint delegates to the commission to look after its interests.
“Under the treaty no country has any right, whatsoever, to decide who the other country can appoint as a delegate,” Sole said.
“I honestly don’t see why South Africa would want to decide who Lesotho should appoint to the commission.”
“South Africa cannot dictate who Lesotho should employ’.
Sole said he was aware that there were “some people in Lesotho and South Africa who are trying to pressure the South African government to have me removed from the commission”. Some of those people, he said, were “white South African” lawyers who prosecuted his case.
“They know that my presence on the commission will unravel some of their activities. That is why they are pushing the South African government and the opposition (DA) on that country to try and push me out.”
When asked what kind of information would come out against the South African lawyers, Sole said he “would rather keep quiet for now”.
“All I am prepared to say at the moment is that they are not comfortable with my presence in the commission,” he said.
He said anyone who continues to push for his removal from the commission “is pushing their luck too far because they are working against the national interest of Lesotho”.
“I am puzzled as to why the story is about me. The story is the project and not me. I am an employee of a national project,” he said.

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