LHDA defends compensation policy

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Silence Charumbira

THE Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), has launched a broadside at some civic society organisations for “inciting” local communities to reject agreed compensation packages in lieu of their displacements ahead of the planned construction of the Polihali Dam in the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP Phase II).

Three weeks ago, local communities in the Mokhotlong district vowed to stop the construction of the proposed Polihali Dam, scheduled to begin next year, if their demands for higher compensation are not met.

The communities are demanding lifetime compensation from the LHDA for the loss of their land.

However, the LHDA has said it will only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements.

The Polihali Dam is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national phase two of the LHWP.

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 a 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 create 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 on 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 local communities in Mokhotlong, have since joined the Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) organisation and, are threatening to disrupt the dam construction if their demands for increased compensation are not met.

SOLD describes itself as a civic human rights organisation committed to promoting social justice among communities affected by dams, mines and other large infrastructure developments.

The organisation was established in 2004 after some of the communities affected by Phase 1 of the LHWP claimed that they had not been compensated while others had only received compensation several years after the completion of the Katse and Mohale dams. It seems it is the one that has particularly attracted the ire of the LHDA.

SOLD National Coordinator, Lenka Thamae, said the organisation was watching the Polihali developments with keen interest and threatened to use their “numbers to ensure that the project comes to a standstill”.

However at a meeting with local editors in Maseru last Friday, the LHDA defended its “generous” compensation policy while also seeking to address the shortcomings of the compensation packages that were offered to local communities during phase one of the LHWP.

The LHDA took a swipe at civic society organisations whom it accused of inciting villagers to reject compensation packages which the authority claimed the very same CSOs had helped to formulate. It did not name any specific CSOs but it is common cause that SOLD has been championing the onslaught against the authority.

Gerard Mokena, Polihali Branch Manager for Social Development and Environment, said there was a “broad consensus” that the authority’s compensation policy was very generous. The villagers had only indicated that they needed training in financial literacy and entrepreneurship to enable them to make the most of what they would receive from the LHDA.

He said the LHDA had responded by engaging local financial institutions to train the villagers to ensure that they were financially literate. It was therefore surprising to now hear of complaints regarding the inadequacies of the compensation packages yet these had been formulated in consultations with the CSOs, he said.

“We are not saying we are not going to listen to the people’s views but intensive consultations were held before the Phase 11 compensation policy was approved,” Mr Mokena said.

“The NGOs were happy with the policy that we developed together but it is surprising that they are now attacking the same policy that they said was well done. They agreed that there was proper public participation in the formulation of the policy,” he said.

The LHDA insists that its new compensation policy is very generous with awards as high as M2000 for each fruit tree and M11 685.06 per household for ash heaps where they dump residual coals from domestic use. The ash heaps are also used as graves for still-born babies.

The villagers will also receive M200 for every square metre of their garden land which is taken over by the project, M14.60 per square metre of arable land and M0.20 for range land. They will also be compensated for wild vegetables, medicinal plants and other assets on the range land.

The LHDA also said that it had been wrongly criticized for the local communities’ lack of access to water and electricity despite their being in close proximity to the Katse Dam and hydro power plant constructed during the first phase of the LHWP.

LHDA Divisional Manager for Development and Operations, Reentseng Molapo, said the blame should be directed at the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) and the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) who had the mandate to ensure the distribution of electricity and water respectively.

“The government only mandated the LHDA to transfer water to South Africa and to generate electricity for Lesotho but there are other institutions like the LEC which is mandated to transmit and distribute the electricity,” Mr Molapo said.

His sentiments were echoed by LHDA Chief Executive Officer, Refiloe Tlali, who said while her organisation had done well in its mandate of transferring water and generating electricity as stipulated by the LHDA Treaty, some government agencies had nonetheless failed to capitalise on the LHWP’s facilities to ensure locals benefitted from them.

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