. . . scores of families left stranded after energy project fails to take off
Scores of Thabana-Morena families are now stranded after leasing 400 acres to Green Rhino Energy Holdings in a deal in which the villagers had been promised M12 000 per acre, M900 every three months for the next 25 years and jobs at the electricity plant the firm was establishing on the piece of land.
The villagers claim the offer had been “so good” most had surrendered all their fields, on which they were supposed to plant their crops last December, to Green Rhino, which was represented by its Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lineo Maluke.
But after Ms Maluke’s project failed to take off due to “squabbles” within the local council and “politics”, the villagers have not been paid the promised funds, and now face starvation because they had not planted any crops hoping to buy whatever they would need through the promised windfall.
The residents are also angry with Ms Maluke, whom they accuse of abandoning them and failing to explain what happened to the deal.
As if the villagers’ complaints are not enough, some Green Rhino Energy Holdings employees are angry with Ms Maluke, and accuse her of failing to pay them since their engagement in December last year.
The employees, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Ms Maluke had allegedly promised to start paying their salaries in January but had not done so up to now.
“We were employed to work in different departments; from office administrators, human resource officer, electricians, and so on, and all in all, there were about 38 of us. We signed appointment-letters in December and she promised to start paying our salaries in January,” one of the workers told the Sunday Express.
“Lineo told us that she had already had sealed the deal with some councillors and villagers, who had agreed to give her their fields.
“There was even a construction company that had started building a road to the village where the plant was going to be located, but the contractor left after Ms Maluke could not pay him.”
According to the worker, Ms Maluke reportedly told them that her company was a subsidiary of Green Rhino Energy in England and Wales.
“When we started questioning why we were not being paid, she made excuses that company funds were being held at the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) and once they were released, she would pay our salaries but until today, she has not done anything for us.
“We recently discovered that her claims that her company is a subsidiary of Green Rhino in England were not true. Most of the times, she claims that the money has been sent yet those people know nothing about her.”
The Sunday Express paid a visit to Ha Sekhele, where angry villagers threatened to beat up the news-crew “if you are from Lineo.”
One of the angry villagers was Ms ‘Malimpho Maakhi, who said she did not know how she was
going to provide for her 12 children.
“Lineo’s offer sounded too good to be true. She offered us
M12 000 an acre and my field was five acres, so I had already calculated how much I was going to get. She also said per quarter, we would get M900 for the next 25 years and also that she would offer our family-members jobs at the electricity plant she was building,” Ms Maakhi said.
“What hurts most is that we had already tilled the land when she came with this offer and we had to stop planting because, according to her promise, we were going to be getting a lot of money, almost like salaries.”
Another Ha Sekhele villager, Mr Letsie Sekhele, said the Green Rhino project had “actually caused problems in our homes”.
He continued: “Our children and wives are now angry that we gave our land to Lineo but she has not paid us anything. She has not even given us a ‘sixpence’ yet she made us remove the maize we had already ploughed on the fields, claiming that she would pay us all the expenses. She told us that the project was going to start soon, so we could not continue with the ploughing.
“Until today, as I speak with you, she has not come to us to tell us what is delaying the payment.
“That woman has disappointed us because the last time she was here, was in January. She made promises that she has not fulfilled. We are in debt now because she made us borrow money from moneylenders so we could open bank accounts, with the impression that at the end of January, she would pay us all the money but until today, we have not received anything. Her promises were very enticing, and one could not resist her.”
Another villager from Ha Turupu threatened the Sunday Express crew when approached for comment.
“If you are Maluke’s partners, you should not dare set foot in our village because you have caused trouble for us. We have heard enough of her lies. We have started ploughing our fields and she must never come here again.
“I repeat this once more so that she can understand, what will happen to her if ever she comes here,” he said.
According to the irate villager, who refused to disclosed his name, Ms Maluke would slaughter sheep for the villagers “for a feast”, saying she was welcoming them into her family.
“She would slaughter sheep for us and have a feast, and we didn’t know that all the time, she was making fools of us. Tell her to take her money elsewhere because we don’t want to see her again.”
Contacted for comment, the Makoabating community council Chairman, Mr Bofihlala Makotoko said he could not talk to the Sunday Express because the matter was being dealt with by their lawyer.
“We know about Green Rhino Energy Holdings but we have some issues with them that are currently being dealt with by our lawyer. Our lawyer can talk on our behalf as he has written to them but they have not yet responded to his letter,” he said.
Ms Maluke, on the other hand, said she was shocked to hear that the villagers were angry with her.
She admitted entering into deals with the community, but insisted she had not deserted the villagers and that the reason why her project was not yet off the ground was due to some malicious politicians (names supplied), as well as lack of an energy policy.
“The company was officially established in Lesotho in December last year and it’s a project that plans to produce water, solar and wind energy. It is not a branch of any organisation; it is an independent company.
“We have investors from South Africa (SA), Angola and Bulgaria. Green Rhino Energy Ltd was going to bring investment into the country and create the much-needed jobs for our people.
“But the initiative has not yet started as the authorities have told us that there is no policy that regulates renewable energy projects.
“However, there is a 2002 Act for renewable energy that gives guidelines on how to deal with independent power-producers even though there is no clear policy, so we don’t understand why we are not being allowed to go ahead with our project. There are people, who are currently operating mines without any policy, so
why can’t the same happen with us?
“We have made presentations before the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) about this project and we are still waiting for their response.
“Currently, I have 14 staff members, with whom we are going to build this project. We have a surveyor who is monitoring social responsibility projects in Thabana-Morena, as well as the construction of the road leading to the plant. For the project, we need about 4 000 employees (skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour) so this project is going to benefit our people.
“We had volunteers on the project but we could not pay them as the money is meant for the projects and the project has
not started yet, as you are aware of.
“We have helped some villagers with their poultry projects and they have enjoyed the profits. We are planning to build pit-latrines for community members, and install electrical wiring for 80 households that are situated near the plant, for free.
“We are going to build a hotel and still the community will have direct involvement in all this. We are also going to do organic farming projects as we have realised that most people are no longer interested in farming, so the community at large, is going to benefit,” she said.
During the interview, Ms Maluke called some council members who pleaded with her not to stop the project.
“The council is actually divided; some members are on my side whereas others are not due to some political reasons. I have been informed that some top politicians have actually gone to
the funders to sabotage this project.
“Because of the problems I have been encountering, I am planning to go to another country to do the same project but I cannot say where because the same people will go behind my back and sabotage me again,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ms Maluke said the villagers can start utilising their land until she is ready to start the project.
“There was a public gathering where the villagers were told that they should start ploughing their fields until the project has started. We will compensate the villagers for their fields which they did not use in the last planting season, and we apologise for the inconvenience we might have caused the owners of these fields.”