THE appointment of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s son, Rethabile, to the influential and plum post of Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) chief delegate has ignited allegations the premier is deliberately placing relatives in strategic areas of the government to retain control even if he were to lose power.
Critics of the move have also questioned Mr Mosisili’s qualifications for the position given that he is a lawyer while the previous officeholders were Physics Professor Lebohang Moleko and Engineer Charles Putsoane.
The critics also point to the M180 000 the younger Mosisili will be taking home as a red flag for profligacy, which together with the M45 000 he makes as a government-appointed Letšeng Diamond Mine board member would amount to a M225 000 monthly income.
However, Water Affairs Minister Kimetso Mathaba yesterday scoffed at the criticisms in an interview with the Lesotho Times, saying Mr Mosisili was very much acquainted with the nitty-gritties of his new role as a chief delegate for the multi-billion maloti water and hydropower project.
The minister, who appointed Mr Mosisili, also claimed the appointment “came as a surprise” to Dr Mosisili who he said had no knowledge of the development prior to it being made public.
Mr Mosisili relinquished his deputy principal secretary (PS) position in the Water Affairs ministry upon being appointed LHWC chief delegate earlier this month.
The LHWC is the largest infrastructure partnership between the Lesotho and South African governments, and consists of three delegates from each of the two nations. The commission is tasked with implementing the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) — a multiphase initiative comprising several dams and tunnels in Lesotho and South Africa.
The LHWC is accountable to the two governments for the overall implementation of the LHWP. It advises, monitors and has approval powers on activities of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and the operations and maintenance function of the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), the two authorities charged with the implementation of the LHWP in Lesotho and South Africa respectively.
It is currently tasked with overseeing the estimated M26 billion second phase of the LHWP aimed at alleviating South Africa’s acute fresh water shortages.
Mr Mosisili’s predecessor, Mr Putsoane, left the post after a bitter fight to remove him before the expiry of his term in March 2017. The fight to remove Mr Putsoane was spearheaded by Mr Mosisili last year while he was an acting PS in the Water Affairs ministry.
Mr Putsoane, who was suspended during his last days as LHWC chief delegate, eventually negotiated an exit package with the government.
Sources privy to the matter told the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity that Mr Mathaba was initially reluctant to appoint Mr Mosisili. However, the sources said the premier had to intervene by “encouraging” the minister to appoint his son.
According to an LHWP official who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, the holder of the position of LHWC chief delegate needed to have the technical knowhow to meaningfully contribute to the implementation of the projects.
The source said the appointment came as a shock to many in the agency since the expectation was that a chief delegate would be appointed from within the ranks of the LHDA.
“The LHWP is 70-80 percent an engineering project with just 20-30 percent of the work requiring legal expertise,” said the source.
“So this appointment will condemn Lesotho to becoming just a rubber stamp with an unqualified person being appointed into a body regulating this gigantic bilateral project.”
A LHWC chief delegate, the source further argued, should have “integrity and honour” and “be respected by South Africans.”
“The respect is necessary to ensure the South Africans feel comfortable enough to pour in money for social responsibility projects beyond the purview of the project. Such projects positively impact on the lives of vulnerable communities.”
Another source in the Water Affairs ministry said while there were no specific qualifications required for a LHWC chief delegate. However, the precedent that had been set was for technical people to occupy the post.
“In the past, we had LHWC chief delegates like former ambassador and Physics Professor Lebohang Moleko who was succeeded by Charles Putsoane an engineer who also worked in the project.”
Political analyst and outspoken government critic Professor Mafa Sejanamane described the appointment of Mr Mosisili as an act of selfishness not meant on ensuring the best interests of the country.
He said Dr Mosisili was anxious to deploy his allies and family in all strategic areas of the government so that he could “rule from the grave”, referring to the premier remaining in control of the government even after leaving office.
Basotho go to the polls on 3 June 2017 after the successful passing of a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Dr Mosisili’s seven-party government by a four-party opposition bloc on 1 March 2017.
Six days later, King Letsie III dissolved parliament and eventually proclaimed 3 June 2017 as election day.
“If (prime minister) Mosisili loses the 3 June elections, which I think he will, he wants the next government to spend the first six months or so trying to untangle his web of corruption and nepotism,” opined Prof Sejanamane.
“The agenda of the country’s reforms and dis-entanglement from nepotism should be put in place now lest the prime minister brings the country to its knees.”
Basotho National Party deputy leader, Joang Molapo, an engineer who once worked in the project, accused Mr Mosisili of being “a drunkard” and described his appointment as “insulting”.
“Rethabile is a drunk. He has no special skills other than to be the son of Mosisili,” Chief Molapo said.
“His appointment is an insult to the thousands of Basotho with real talent and ability.”
Attempts to get a comment from Mr Mosisili were fruitless as his mobile phone rang unanswered.
The Water Affairs ministry’s PS Emmanuel Lesoma told the Lesotho Times he was tied up with work and said he would answer questions at a later time.
For his part, Mr Mathaba said Dr Mosisili had no knowledge of the appointment of his son as LHWC chief delegate and dismissed claims he was forced by the premier to make the decision.
“It came to him as a surprise that we had opted to appoint his son as the LHWC chief delegate. It had nothing to do with his relationship with the prime minister,” said Mr Mathaba.
The minister said there was “nothing special” in the recruitment process for a LHWC chief delegate.
“In any case, Ntate Putsoane’s contract ended at the end of March this year and we had to make a new appointment,” he said.
“It should also be known that while we were dealing with Mr Putsoane’s issues after his suspension, we had Mr Tsiu Khathibe as the acting chief delegate.”
Mr Mathaba said Mr Mosisili was already well versed with the LHWC in his capacities as deputy principal secretary and acting principal secretary of the ministry.
“He has also been representing the country in the ORASCOM (Orange-Senqu River Commission) which involves the regulation of water bodies in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. The post definitely needs someone with a legal background and he fits perfectly in that regard,” the minister said.
Mr Mathaba conceded that the appointment had been widely criticised in the country, attributing the negative reaction to political polarisation.
“Many local experts fear taking high profile jobs as a result of the polarisation in the country. They fear being criticised and associated with politics,” he said.