METOLONG — There are rumblings of discontent in Metolong, a village about 30 kilometres north-east of Maseru.
Metolong is the site of the giant Metolong Dam, one of Lesotho’s biggest water projects in recent years.
Construction of the dam is scheduled to begin in October and is expected to finish in 2012.
The project seeks to provide clean water for industrial and domestic use to people in urban areas.
But public opinion appears to have turned against the project.
Ha-Sekantši villagers who have given up fields to make way for the dam say they are not happy with the way they have been treated by the Metolong Authority.
They say authorities from the Metolong Dam and Water Supply Programme (MDWSP) promised to compensate them in February for moving away to pave way for the project.
But three months later, the promised compensation is still to materialise.
The villagers say no one from the project has ever come to tell them what is causing the delay and when they can expect payment.
The Ha-Sekantši villagers say although they rely entirely on their fields to grow their food they acknowledge that the project could change their lives for the better.
Still the villagers have mixed feelings about the project.
‘Mamokhele Pali, a 52-year-old mother of six, says when she and her husband gave up their two fields to pave way for the project it was with the hope that something good would come out of it.
Now Pali says she has begun to wonder if she did the right thing by surrendering the fields.
She says the authorities from Metolong have failed to deliver on their promise to give them compensation in February.
“I am beginning to wonder if we did the right thing to give up our fields,” Pali says.
She says no one from the Metolong Dam project has bothered to explain why their money has been delayed.
“We were expecting to get the funds by February. That has not happened. No one from the project has come to tell us why.
“We only heard rumours that the date had been postponed to April. This is now May and we are still waiting,” says a visibly upset Pali.
Pali says now that she has lost her field, she expects to struggle to feed her family if she does not get the promised compensation.
“I would struggle to feed my family if I do not get the payment as promised. The fields are the only source of income and food for us as my husband and I are not employed.
“My fields produce about 23 bags of maize altogether (Each bag weighs about 80kg). It is a lot of maize which I sell and also feed my family with. One bag sells at M250.”
Pali would not reveal how much she had been promised by Metolong Authority.
She also says she is not sure if her fields are to be taken over permanently or on a temporary basis.
‘Mamolibeli Majoro, the local chief’s assistant, says delays by Metolong Authority to process compensation for the villagers could spoil the good relationship the community had built with the owners of the project.
Majoro says she is disappointed that Metolong Authority had breached the “agreement” it had with the villagers.
“The people are disappointed that they have not yet received their monies. I am one of those people. We are terrified,” Majoro says.
In fact, she says she already has mixed feelings about the compensation promise.
She doubts if the figures being thrown around will sustain the families for the rest of their lives.
“I do not think the amounts are worth the fields people have given up. I wonder if the money will carry the families through.
“I think it would be much better if people get land elsewhere where they would continue to produce their own food.”
She said most of the people who have given up their fields were earning a living through farming.
“Most of the people in our village live entirely on agriculture. It is very important to them.”
Majoro says she is also aware of the massive improvements the dam would bring to the lives of people.
“We already have a proper road thanks to the project. But I still doubt if our lives will improve. We will not enjoy any of this development if we are not totally happy.”
Mokete Libaba says he has depended on farming food crops his entire life.
The past planting season was the first he had not produced any food.
Libaba says he feels he has lost.
“I feel like I made a huge loss. This is the first time I have not produced food in the fields.
“Now that I have not received my compensation, I feel like a real loser,” Libaba says.
Libaba is among a group of farmers who failed to plant their fields because of the relocation plan last farming season.
He says if Metolong Authority fails to pay him his compensation he would take his fields back and reuse them.
“No one will stop me in the next planting season. I will take back my fields and start producing food,” he says.
The planting season begins sometime in October.
The community relations manager at Metolong Authority, Maile Maile, says the villagers are entirely to blame for the delay in getting their compensation.
Maile says it is true that people were supposed to have received their compensation in February.
But the authority failed to release the funds because about 74 people did not have passports and therefore bank accounts.
“We failed to give out the monies because most people did not have bank accounts and passports. We asked them to apply for passports so that they could apply for their bank accounts.
“They did not do that even when we specifically invited immigration officers to their village so that they could be in a better position to access the passport services,” Maile says.
Only 18 of 74 people took advantage of the opportunity, Maile says.
He says the authority would not give money to people without proof that they were the rightful recipients.
“We need valid identification first before we can give out money. We also need people to have bank accounts because we are going to give out big amounts of money.”
He however says that the authority is still determined to help the Metolong people to apply for passports so that they can be able to get their money.
“We are going to finance their passport applications. We will give every person about M125 (for the passport application fee).
“We will even reimburse the 18 who had already applied for their passports.”
Maile says Metolong Authority has a policy to compensate villagers who would lose their property because of the water project.
The resettlement and compensation policy seeks to evaluate the losses families and businesses incur during evacuations.
The policy seeks to ensure that people who are negatively affected by the project are compensated in a timely manner in keeping with the country’s laws and international best practices.
The policy rate says that for permanent loss of arable land, the seller will get about M7 per square metre.
Temporary land loss is valued at M0.43 per square metre for a year until the end of the project by 2013.
The authority also says any resettlement should be effected in a systematic manner.
“The objective is to ensure that direct compensation is accompanied by livelihoods restorations.
“It is also to ensure that the affected people participate in the planning, implementation and monitoring of impact mitigation measures aimed at improving their lives,” the Metolong resettlement and compensation policy says.