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Sole appointment haunts bi-national project

Pascalinah Kabi

WATER Minister Samonyane Ntsekele says the cabinet will soon meet to discuss the 2011 controversial appointment of convicted fraudster Masupha Sole as the country’s technical advisor to the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC).

Mr Ntsekele said this in response to questions about Mr Sole’s suitability for the position during Friday’s joint media briefing in Maseru which the former addressed together with South Africa’s Water and Sanitation Minister, Gugile Nkwinti.

Mr Nkwinti was in the country for a two day official visit to assess progress of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) which is aimed at providing adequate water to South Africa, Gauteng province and also generate hydroelectricity for Lesotho.

Mr Ntsekele said he would raise the issue of Mr Sole’s role as Lesotho technical advisor to the LHWC with his cabinet colleagues as a “matter of concern.”

Mr Sole, a former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), was appointed chief technical advisor to the LHWC which supervises the LHDA.

He was appointed to the position in 2011, just four months after being released from prison on parole.

At the time of his release, Mr Sole had only spent nine out of his 15 year jail term which was imposed after he was found guilty of accepting M5 million bribes from several foreign companies that bided for tenders in the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) between 1980 and the early 1990s.

Mr Sole’s appointment angered the South African government at the time.

His appointment came at a time when South Africa had approved an investment of more than R9-billion for the construction of the Polihali Dam to supply more water to the Gauteng province.

The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.

The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

Phase I of the LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.

The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to provide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations.

The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir. Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.

The hydropower component of Phase II, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites. Phase II is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.

With just a few months before the scheduled start of construction of the Polihali Dam next year, the issue of Mr Sole’s suitability for the LHWC post has once again come to the fore.

And on Friday, Mr Ntsekele said that he would soon bring the issue of Mr Sole’s appointment before cabinet.

“I will take up the issue of officials, especially the advisor (Mr Sole), with the cabinet as a matter of concern,” Mr Ntsekele said.

“When we have challenges with certain issues as ministers, they can be resolved at cabinet or leadership level at the level of our leaders. It (the issue of Mr Sole) has been raised and I will brief those who are in leadership especially the office of the Prime Minister,” Mr Ntsekele added.

Although he did not say what action he wanted taken over Mr Sole, the latter’s 2011 appointment was condemned by the political opposition of the time who included current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

Dr Thabane demanded to know why the then government that was headed by Pakalitha Mosisili had rewarded Mr Sole with such a critical position after he was convicted of corruption and fraud.

In another development, Mr Ntsekele also revealed that the government had prepared a draft proposal for the review of the LHWP treaty to take into account the concerns of Basotho who have previously complained of being shortchanged in terms of royalties, tenders in the project as well as benefits for the local communities.

“There is a draft proposal of the review of the treaty which will be shared between the two countries,” Mr Ntsekele said.

On his part, Minister Nkwinti said the treaty had always been continually reviewed and that every time the treaty gets reviewed, a protocol was issued.

“To date we have six protocols and all of those speak to the review of the treaty and the latest review of the treaty came in the form of the phase II agreement.  We have to now revisit governance issues related to the treaty but otherwise as it is, the treaty is quite dynamic and is being reviewed over the years,” Mr Nkwinti said.

Meanwhile, the two ministers released a joint statement emphasising the need to take concrete measures and strategies to implement the provision of the Phase II Agreement which seeks to ensure that companies registered in Lesotho and South Africa equally share the monetary value of all infrastructure works relating to the project.

The statement comes at a time when local companies have been complaining that they were being prejudiced by the LHDA which is allegedly awarding tenders to South African companies at their expense.

“They (ministers) affirmed the key tenet that all procurement processes shall foster competitiveness, transparency, cost effectiveness and quality.

“The ministers underscored the need for succession planning and building capacity for the sustainable operation and maintenance of the physical structures created by the project.

“Deliberate measures shall be taken to ensure that local Basotho are capacitated to carry out operations and maintenance of the infrastructure post construction phase. The ministers charged the officials to develop concrete programmes for capacity building and assessment of the impact of that intervention,” part of the joint statement reads.

 

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