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LHDA defends water project

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) boss, Refiloe Tlali, has defended the controversial Phase II agreement of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The agreement, which will see the construction of Polihali Dam under the multibillion water project, has come under a barrage of criticism from some quarters. Critics have pointed that the agreement is heavily tilted in favour of South Africa which is going to be the main customer of the water from the dam.

A group of youths from different political parties is now demanding that the coalition government revisits some of the clauses of the agreement. They say Lesotho is getting a raw deal for its water and they are going to fight until the agreement is reviewed. There are also concerns that the agreement overrides certain clauses of the 1986 Treaty the two countries signed for the initial phase of the project which included the construction of the Katse and Mohale dams.

The Tom Thabane-led government has already indicated that it wants to renegotiate some aspects of the agreement.
But Tlali told the Sunday Express that she believes that the agreement is in the “best interests of Basotho”. She said the previous government had to compromise to make the project possible. “In every agreement where there is a stalemate one party has to compromise,” Tlali said. She revealed that Lesotho had compromised on the issue of taxes which South Africa had said it was not willing to pay during the implementation of the project.

“Lesotho had told South Africa that it should pay tax but South Africa misinterpreted a clause in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II saying it provided that they should not pay tax to Lesotho,” Tlali said. “It was in the best interests of Basotho that the government compromised on this issue,” she said. Tlali has also defended the decision to move the construction of the dam from Mashai to Polihali in Mokhotlong.

She said the studies revealed that Mashai’s seismicity would be dangerous once the dam fills. “It is a well known fact that after the Katse Dam was filled with water places like Mapeleng experienced quakes and yet the Katse seismicity is much lower than that of Mashai,” she said. “Surveyors were sure that once Mashai is filled up with water there would be dangerous earthquakes.”

She also said getting water from Mashai would be too expensive for South Africa as it would have to be pumped up to Katse Dam while water from Polihali will only rely on gravity. Tlali vehemently denied allegations the construction of the dam at Polihali would stop the flow of Senqu because it is built on the river fountains. “This dam is going to be built at Khubelu and Senqu confluence and it will by no means harm the ecological part of the rivers,” she said.

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