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Youths want Polihali project stopped

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho has resuscitated its seemingly desperate effort to convince government to halt the long-awaited construction of Polihali Dam until a hydropower station for generation of electricity is built.

Polihali Dam is partly Phase Two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) that was originally scheduled for completion in 2018 but has been repeatedly postponed.

It is a strategic intervention to improve water availability in Gauteng, South Africa, comprising two major reservoirs enclosed by a 145m dam wall which will send water through a series of tunnels and along the Ash River in the Free State into the Vaal system.

But the concerned youths, organised from different political parties and other social groupings, argue it is “criminal” to build the dam before construction of a hydropower station, in line with the 1986 treaty between Lesotho and South Africa.

The treaty provides for construction of both the dam and the power station for Lesotho to benefit from electricity generation, while South Africa harvests water.

The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has seen copy of the youths’ letter dated October 19, 2018 and addressed to the clerk of the Senate, in which they contest the dam’s construction.

They argue construction of both the dam and hydropower station are “mutually exclusive, as a matter of law according to Article 4.1 of the 1986 Treaty on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) between Lesotho and South Africa”.

They therefore contest: “No component should exist without the other! It is a Holy Cow”.

Article 4.1 reads: “The purpose of the project shall be to enhance the use of water of the Senqu/Orange River by storing, regulating, diverting and controlling the flow of the Senqu/Orange River and its affluents in order to effect the delivery of specified quantities of water to the Designated Outlet Point in the Republic of South Africa and by utilising such delivery system to generate hydro-electric power in the Kingdom of Lesotho.”

The Clerk of Senate Selete Molete has already responded to the forum’s letter and invited them to make presentations before the august House on November 14. The Centre has also seen a copy of the Clerk’s succinct response.

At inception, according to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), the highlands water project was designed to include five phases implemented over 30 years and expected to transfer about 70 cubic metres of water per second to South Africa.

LHDA is an implementing authority for the multiphase project on the part of the Lesotho government.

The project’s first phase, already completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004, was split into subphases 1A and 1B.

The main physical features of Phase 1A are the Katse dam, the transfer tunnel from Katse to ‘Muela Hydropower station, the Muela Hydropower station and appurtenances and the delivery tunnel to the border with South Africa. Phase 1B involved the construction of the Mohale dam and the diversion tunnel to Katse dam.

Both phases also involved the construction of infrastructure such as tarred roads, feeder roads, bridges, camps, health facilities as well as environmental and social programmes.

But phase two, according to LHDA, consists of “two separate but related components”, water transfer and hydropower generation.

The water transfer component of phase two comprises an approximately 165-metre high concrete faced rockfill dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu rivers, and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.

The LHDA also says the hydropower component of phase two, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites.

“Its exact form will be determined on completion of the further feasibility studies,” LHDA states on its website.

It expects phase two to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.

According to Article 8:(2) of the phase two agreement signed in 2011, the implementation of the Kobong Pumped Storage Scheme “is subject to agreement on the outcome of a joint feasibility study”.

The youth league forum believes this is tantamount to breach of the 1986 treaty.

In the letter to the Clerk of Senate, the forum requests that the Ministry of Water should “state clearly what the feasibility studies have revealed so far” and to also “reveal at what level are the feasibility studies”.

“Our understanding is that the complete broad-based feasibility studies on hydropower will reveal all viable conventional hydropower generation options. In this case, it is advisable that the Ministry of Water should only consider hydropower generation options within the LHWP and not outside the project.

“In a case whereby the Ministry of Water will consider hydropower generation options outside the LHWP, that particular act will be in breach of the 1986 Treaty on LHWP between the Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa.”

In 2013, the forum threatened to launch a lawsuit to stop implementation of the phase two until Lesotho and South Africa dealt with the outstanding issues like the governance of the project, the funding model, the power component and taxes.

The group said it was worried that the agreement, signed in August 2011, does not serve Lesotho’s interests.

The main concern was that the second phase of the project was skewed towards the benefit of South Africa while Lesotho “will just be a not-benefiting tank that will store water for its rich neighbour”.

In January 2014, after countless futile efforts to get attention of the authorities, the forum submitted their petition to the Senate’s petitions committee. Following their submission to Senate, the forum had a meeting with the then minister of energy, meteorology and water affairs Tšeliso Mokhosi.

However, according to the forum, only some of its concerns were addressed “in a satisfactory manner”, but “our key areas of concern were not addressed” and this resulted submission of the second petition to Senate in March 2014.

The Senate then petitioned Mokhosi and his technical team to a meeting at which it was resolved that the ministry and the forum should work together hand-in-hand to address concerns raised by the latter and subsequently hold a joint press conference to inform the public about the progress made.

The forum told Clerk that: “The joint press conference between the committee, the ministry and youth leagues forum has not taken place because our concerns have not been fully addressed as yet.”

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