MASERU — Prime Minister Tom Thabane will soon meet South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to discuss issues that are threatening the smooth implementation of the Highlands Water Project.
This was said by Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa during a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday.
Tsekoa however refused to give further details on the agenda of the meeting.
The planned meeting between Thabane and Zuma comes at a time when the Lesotho government is under immense public pressure to renegotiate terms of the phase two agreement of the water project.
During the press conference Tsekoa said he and South African International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane underscored the need to expedite the implementation of the project.
“We brought from Lesotho a commitment from the government that the Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase two implementation is imminent,” Tsekoa said.
“In the next few weeks, the leaders of our two countries . . . will be meeting to finally deal with whatever outstanding issues.”
Critics say the agreement which was signed by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government is tilted in favour of South Africa.
Of major concern to the critics is that the deal whose main component is the construction of the M8 billion Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong has clauses that override the 1986 Treaty between the two countries on the water project.
They say South Africa sneaked in the clauses that override the treaty to gain an upper hand in the project which was initially supposed to be owned by Lesotho with South Africa being no more than a customer of the water.
Most of the pressure on the coalition government to renegotiate the agreement has come from a group of youth sfrom political parties.
The youths are arguing that Lesotho got a raw deal when it agreed to South Africa’s demand for a blanket tax exemption on all costs related to the project.
This, they say, means that South Africa will be importing the water from Lesotho without paying tax.
Already, Lesotho has agreed to reimburse South Africa taxes it has paid since 1999.
The total amount Lesotho has to refund Lesotho runs into hundreds of millions of maloti.
The critics are also concerned that the agreement is vague on the inclusion of the power generation component in the project.
They note that the fact that the construction of a hydropower station is subject to agreement on the findings of a feasibility study means that there is no certainty that there will be a power generation component in the project.