Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro has failed to explain why a rural water supply project in the Tsikoane constituency has cost more than M205 million and is still not delivering water more than a decade after construction started.
The project, which was launched in 2011 to supply water to over 20 000 people living in 32 villages in the Leribe district, was supposed to cost M125 million and be finished by 2015. The villages still have no running water and the project is now M80 million over budget.
In March last year, Majoro’s update to the nation on this project explained that an extra M45 million would have to be pumped into the project and gave it an ambitious six-month deadline for completion. The project still failed to meet the deadline.
During this March update to the nation Majoro also explained that there was still no water coming out of the taps in the Leribe district, and the reason was simply that “the taps could not draw water”.
“A design was made for the project, and the tanks were built, but the taps couldn’t get water,” Majoro said, asking government officials rhetorically if that was really the reason.
Majoro blamed the surveyors for this failure. But, on closer inspection of the project, MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has established that a 2005 feasibility study, which was conducted at the request of the department of rural and water supply before the project started, found that the project was not feasible. Majoro has not updated the nation on this project since March last year.
The department’s chief engineer, Lehlohonolo Ntlama, told the MNN that the study’s results revealed that the Tsikoane water project wasn’t possible “because there weren’t enough water sources.”
The study found that there was no way the project could supply Tsikoane and neighbouring villages with water but these findings were ignored.
Majoro’s press attache, Buta Moseme, defended his boss saying that everything Majoro presented to the public about the Tsikoane project could not be pinned on him as “It was from consultations with ministry of water officials and he did not say it off the top of his head”.
An authoritative source close to the project implementation told MNN that Majoro did not consult contractors on information he presented regarding the project in his 31 March 2021 speech.
More and more funding
In a separate interview, Ntlama said that the reason an additional M80.5 million was pumped into the project last year was to pay for capacity intake work, testing, and getting the project up and running.
This M80.5 million is made up of M45 million and M33 million, which are two tenders given to Unik Construction and Sigma Construction to redesign Hlotse intake systems and fix old infrastructure for project testing and commissioning in Tsikoane.
A senior Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) official who spoke to MNN on condition of anonymity, said the decision to supply water to Tsikoane from Hlotse was “imposed” on the water utility company by the politicians without naming them.
“We don’t know what led to the approval of this project, but water problems in Hlotse have been known for a long time. There was no way WASCO would be able to apportion water to Tsikoane,” said the official.
Despite the red flags, Ntlama alleged that the late Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources [now Ministry of Water] Bataung Leleka proceeded with the project under political pressure as Lesotho was gearing up for the 2012 general elections.
Ahead of May 26 elections in 2012, Leleka resigned as the principal secretary of the ministry to contest the elections under the newly formed Democratic Congress (DC), which had just split from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
Monyane Moleleki, who was the minister of natural resources when the project was approved, told MNN that he did not remember seeing any feasibility study that was against the Tsikoane project.
He said that if that was true, Leleka was the only one who could have ignored the study recommendations and gone ahead with the project “because that was how he worked”.
Samonyane Ntsekele, a former minister of water and legislator for Tsikoane, told MNN that he didn’t understand how the project was approved even though there were signs that it would fail.
Ntsekele said that they tried to fix this project by building more tanks and a treatment plant in the Hlotse River to increase the amount of water that could be taken in, but that also didn’t work.
One of the villagers at Ha Mokoana in Tsikoane, Moqochoa Mafobane, told MNN that the community has given up on getting water from this project because they were neglected for years when their representative in parliament [Ntsekele] was minister of water.
Mafobane said the closest water supply they have is from an unprotected well that is easily contaminated by rainwater. He said those waters usually dry up during droughts.
The Director of Sigma Construction, Napo Makara, said that the Tsikoane project was supposed to get its water from boreholes. From there, the water was supposed to go to pump stations and then to steel taps in Tsikoane, Matukeng, Linotsing, and other nearby villages.
But, after Sigma started working and doing assessments, they found that water from the boreholes could not serve the Tsikoane community and its neighbours.
The project was put on hold as stakeholders rethought their approach to the water supply. Makara said it was later agreed that the Hlotse water treatment facility managed by Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) would be the source of water.
However, Ntlama informed MNN that a thorough review of the project found the water supply in the Hlotse plant could not serve the water needs of the Tsikoane communities.
When the project began in 2011, Tsikoane needed 1 megalitre of water per day but the Hlotse plant could not help meet this need as it was only producing 1.9 megalitres per day. Hlotse’s water production was never enough to meet its needs and Tsikoane’s as well.
At the moment, it is estimated that Hlotse needs 8 megaliters of water per day, but it only makes about 3 megaliters.
Ntlama also said that the ministry of water, through WASCO, had to hire Unik Construction to do the work needed to increase the amount of water that could be taken from the Hlotse River.
But this was denied by a WASCO official, who said that their project to improve Hlotse’s water intake capacity was not done to fix the mess in Tsikoane. Instead, the official said, the project was always in the pipeline because Hlotse has had problems with water for a long time.
Minister of Water Kemiso Mosenene and his Principal Secretary, Malefetsane Nchaka, respectively, ignored all efforts to explain why the project is still incomplete.