SA minister accused of stalling mega water project

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South Africa’s Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane

South Africa’s Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

South Africa’s Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, has been accused of derailing Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) by delaying to approve companies selected by Lesotho to work on the multimillion-maloti project.

According to sources within the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), which oversees the project, five companies were approved by the commission in July this year to start working on the project but Ms Mokonyane had still not given the go-ahead.

Although the project—which comprises the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong and a network of tunnels transmitting the water to South Africa as well as electricity generation—is jointly owned by the two countries, South Africa calls the shots because it is funding the construction of the dam.

However, according to LHWP sources, the minister’s delay to approve the selected companies is adding to the cost of the project.

Water Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) Khomoatsana Tau yesterday confirmed to the Lesotho Times that there were delays on the part of South Africa regarding the project.

Mr Tau said: “We are aware and worried about the delay by the South African minister (Mokonyane) to approve contracts forwarded to her some months ago after we approved them on our side. This obviously has negative implications in terms of the financial costs of the entire project. I have since made attempts to meet with the South African delegation to discuss this issue, but so far, I haven’t been successful.”

The Lesotho Times made repeated efforts to get a comment from Minister Mokonyane’s office this week to no avail.

The LHWP is being implemented by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and South Africa’s Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), while the LHWC oversees the project.

According to LHDA spokesperson, Masilo Phakoe, Phase II began earlier this year with construction of “advance infrastructure” that include the design and supervision of access roads, geotechnical investigations and demarcation of the reservoir.

“Phase II’s implementation was scheduled to commence with the construction of advance infrastructure in 2015 and the construction of the dam and tunnels in 2017. Delivery of water and hydroelectricity generation by Phase II is expected in 2022,” he said.

However, a highly placed source in the LHWC told the Lesotho Times that because of South Africa’s delay to approve contracts, “it is obvious that this project is not going to be completed on time and its costs are going to balloon.

“Administratively, the project costs M15 million per month, and this is the money that has been wasted for the past four months that we have spent doing nothing because our work has been stalled since the contracts have been awaiting approval by the South African government,” the source said.

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