Lesotho Times

Teyateyaneng man wins 27-year land battle

MASERU — The Ombudsman has recommended that a Teyateyaneng man whose land was taken by the government 27 years ago for a national project should be compensated, in a case that is likely to open floodgates for other land related cases.
The Ombudsman is an official appointed by the government to investigate individuals’ complaints against public authorities.
The Ombudsman works as a public protector against both the government and its utilities.
Tsokolo Matsau’s land in Teyateyaneng was taken in 1982 by the then Ministry of Interior which wanted to construct sewage dams in the area.
The project spearheaded by the then Basotho National Party-led government was meant to replace the bucket ablution system which at that time was used in most towns.
Matsau together with other villagers had to give up their fields to make way for the project and the government had promised that they would be compensated with other plots elsewhere.
Although a few of the villagers were compensated with land elsewhere most of them never did, forcing Matsau to start his 27-year battle for justice.
In September 2006 he dragged the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), the parastatal which took over the sewer dams when the interior ministry was disbanded, to the Ombudsman seeking compensation for the land.
WASA runs the water and sewer system.
The Ombudsman, Sekara Mafisa, said WASA took its time to respond and then denied liability saying the land was not being tilled when it was allocated for the sewer project.
He said the response they got from WASA to their request for clarification was “so weak both in substance and form”.
“It failed to shed any light on who was ultimately responsible for compensating the complainant for his loss” Mafisa said.
In their response WASA had argued that when the dams were constructed there were no fields on the site. 
“It had a lot more to hide in it than to reveal,” Mafisa added in his determination. 
The Ombudsman then set up a team to investigate the complainant’s allegations in light of WASA’s denials.
The team, Mafisa said, found that contrary to WASA’s denials there were indeed fields on the site before the dams were constructed.
“There were still demarcating marks (makorota) there clearly visible to a naked eye,” Mafisa said.
When confronted with the findings WASA “ignored answering allegations levelled against it but instead argued that the area had been set aside as a Selected Development Area (SDA) in terms of Sect 54 of the Land Act of 1979”.
Also, the letter said Matsau should “provide proof of his title to land”.
 “Realising that we were not making any headway with letter correspondence, we decided to call a meeting with all stakeholders involved in the dispute.”
Mafisa said the testimonies gathered from the inquiry revealed that the complainant had indeed been deprived of his land by the then Ministry of Interior and had not been compensated.
In his determination the Ombudsman said Matsau should be compensated.
“That in order to determine the value of the appropriate monetary compensation WASA, at its own cost, engages the Commissioner of Lands to carry out valuation of the land pursuant to the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Lesotho Water and Sewerage Authority Order 29 of 1991.”
He also recommended that because of its attitude which delayed the matter, WASA “pays interest on the principal at the rate of interest paid by a commercial bank for a savings account calculated from the date of this determination to the date of actual payment”.
He said WASA has to pay the compensation and interest within nine months from the date of determination.
Although WASA’s legal adviser Pheelo Masoabi had not responded to questions at the time of going to print, this paper understands that the authority is planning to seek a review of the decision.
Mafisa however told this paper in an interview that he was not worried by the prospects of having to defend his decision in court if WASA chooses to challenge it. 
“It is within WASA’s legal rights to petition the court for a review. It happens all the time but on my side I am prepared to meet them head-on. We have a strong case here and I am confident of success.
“The constitution says in cases where one has to be compensated for his loss that has to be done within a reasonable time. By any stretch of imagination 25 years is just too much even for the most patient,” Mafisa said.

Lesotho Times

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