AFTER his meeting with South Africa President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria in May Prime Minister Tom Thabane came back with good news. Thabane had managed to persuade the South African government to renegotiate the Phase II agreement of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Whatever Thabane said to Zuma in that meeting must have worked because South Africa agreed that the initial agreement signed in 2011 was flawed.
Having tested its first diplomatic victory against South Africa the coalition government crowed. “It did not even take five minutes,” Thabane said of his discussion with Zuma over Lesotho’s demand that the agreement be renegotiated. South Africa agreed that power generation was a key component of the project and that the governance of the project must reflect it is owned by Lesotho. There was also an agreement to discuss taxation and other issues related to the project.
What Thabane did not crow about was that the two countries had committed to have the renegotiated agreement signed by the end of June. It is that commitment that has now put Lesotho in a tight corner. Today is the ninth day of the month of June but negotiations have not started. That delay is precisely because the government is yet to form a technical team to represent Lesotho in the negotiations.
There is an agenda but there is no team to take it to the negotiation table. The second cause of the delay is that the coalition government is not speaking with one voice on the issue. There is no consensus on how the new agreement should look like. There are those who are looking for a total review of the 2011 agreement and others who want the current agreement to be signed with minor changes.
Others don’t even want the agreement to be tweaked in any way. The result of this confusion is that there is a near paralysis on the issue. The danger with this delay is that Lesotho is likely to be forced to hurry through the negotiations to meet the month-end deadline to which it has committed. Lesotho is therefore likely to go into a hurried negotiation with a team that was hurriedly assembled. We have genuine fears that should this happen, as is now most likely, Lesotho will sign yet another flawed agreement.
The South Africans will run rings around our negotiating team and get away with it as they did in the initial agreement. Lesotho’s situation is made more precarious by the fact that the coalition partners are divided on the issue.
So we are likely to have a hurriedly established team rushing through negotiations without a clear set of goals from the government because its partners are divided. Should the new agreement fail to address Lesotho’s concerns then all of Thabane’s efforts to get Zuma’s government to renegotiate would have gone to waste.
With each day that passes without a negotiating team and consensus in government it is becoming highly likely that Lesotho will sign yet another bad deal. Lesotho would have pushed for a review of an agreement and gotten the same agreement it had rejected in the first place.
The only difference then will be that the new agreement was negotiated by the coalition government. The flaws that Lesotho sought to correct will still be there. We are worried that this government seems to have failed to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. It is has always been clear that the previous government did not apply its mind fully when it signed the 2011 agreement. It did not have a strong team and seems to have hurried to sign the agreement for political expedience.
Lesotho wouldn’t be seeking to renegotiate the agreement if it was fair. This government is about to make the same mistake that got Lesotho to where it is now. There is no sign that it has been preparing for the negotiations. They say if you don’t plan well you are planning to fail. Failure is what this government faces if it does not start establishing a team with the right people and speak with one voice, now. Thabane’s government will not be judged on how it pushed South Africa to renegotiate but on what Lesotho got from that renegotiation agreement.