Africa

Ombudsman releases report on Lesotho Highlands Development Authority and affected communities

Thabo Thakalekoala
AllAfrica.com
August 6, 2003

Maseru: Mafisa says LHDA should pay interest on delayed compensation for communities affected by the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project’s Phase 1B.

The long-awaited final report by the Ombudsman, Sekara Mafisa on the complaints by resettled communities against the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) is out and recommends, amongst others, that the LHDA pays interest at the commercial bank lending rate in terms of section 39 (2) of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority Order No. 23, 1986 on all compensation outstanding at the time of the inquiry.

The 151-page report was released last week by the Ombudsman at Ha Molengoane in the Machache area of the Maseru district. The report follows an intensive formal inquiry into the complaints of resettled communities against the LHDA about various matters, the most important of which related to the compensation programme and policy of the world-renowned water project. The communities were resettled from Ha Mohale in the Maseru district to other areas in the mountains, foothills and lowlands to make way for the construction of the massive Mohale reservoir of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

A total of 172 witnesses testified before the inquiry and 26 resettled communities were visited for site inspection.

During the formal inquiry, all resettlees complained bitterly about the delay on the part of the LHDA to pay compensation such as disturbance allowance, minimum threshold, cash for arable land or delivery of grain in those cases where grain constituted the mode of compensation.

The communities further complained that the late payment of compensation was not accompanied by payment of interest on the outstanding amounts.

They complained that compensation rates were very low and their standard of living was far lower than before resettlement as the amounts of compensation for their lost assets were too little to keep them going for one year.

The Ombudsman’s report recommends that future payment of all compensation be effected timeously failing which “it should be accompanied by interest at the commercial bank lending rate.”

“This delay in the payment of compensation monies subjects the already traumatized resettlees/relocatees to unexpected hardships,” says the report.

On the inadequacy of compensation, Ombudsman Mafisa recommended that the resettlees use the two avenues open to them in order to have the compensation rates revised or increased including an appeal to the Chief Executive of the LHDA and make proposals for the revision of the policy.

“It is recommended that the communities be involved truly and in earnest in the revision of the Compensation Policy,” states the report.

The report states that compensation for communal assets should be enjoyed by both the resettled and host communities by expending the funds on development projects such as construction of access roads, water supply, electricity and income-generating activities to avoid polarization of communities and alienation of the resettled community by the host community.

“We endorse the idea of cooperatives as a means by which these funds may be accessed by the beneficiary communities. The communities also have a right to suggest ideas on how best they can access these monies without taking any risks,” says the report.

On public infrastructure and amenities, Mafisa recommended that the LHDA builds access roads to Ha Ratau, Ha Mosalla and Ha Tsolo, and considers rehabilitating roads from Ha Nqekhu to both Ha Makotoko and Ha Makhale, and from Nazareth to Ha Moji.

The report says there a real need to provide health facilities at Ha Makotoko and Ha Ratau, the largest of the resettled communities in the Machache area as the communities have to travel long distances to access health services at Nazareth.

The report also touches on the need to build schools, provision of water and electricity and construction of footbridges in the areas occupied by the resettled communities.

Furthermore, the report states that the LHDA has negligently failed to conform with construction specifications in some respects by failing to erect separate rondavels on the sites of the resettled communities.

“We propose the following options for election by LHDA: partial demolition of the main houses provided it does not affect the rest of the buildings and out of the measurement of the demolished room and erect a rondavel; or erection of a rondavel without the partial demolition of the house; or negotiated settlement of this breach mediated by the Ombudsman. We expect LHDA to choose an option acceptable to it and to advise the Ombudsman of that choice within one month from receipt of this report. It is then expected to implement its choice within two months from the date of the choice of an option,” recommends the report.

Mafisa’s report calls for cooperation between the resettled people and the LHDA, adding that the latter cannot succeed in its administration of the compensation programme if the affected communities do not meet it a fraction of the way.

The importance, according to the report, of a healthy relationship between LHDA and non-governmental organizations cannot be over-emphasized.

“While both NGOs and LHDA must make real efforts to repair their damaged relations, the burden is heavier on LHDA as a public institution to take the lead in this respect. The NGOs are a good vehicle to carry a good image of this public institution to the world around us and LHDA needs this vehicle,” it adds.

The report called on the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, the overseer of the project, to carry out its obligations to the LHDA in terms of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Treaty, adding that the LHDA is charged with a heavy responsibility under the Treaty and the Order and it is likely to slip up in its performance.

Speaking after the presentation of the report, the new Chief Executive of the LHDA, Liphapang Potloane said: “We have heard the contents of the report. What is left is for the LHDA to consider them with the purpose of addressing our shortcomings.”

Lesotho’s Chief Delegate in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission Sixtus Tohlang said, “We applaud the manner and the way the ombudsman intervened to solve this problem. We also thank the affected communities who stood up and fought for their rights. We already have people in place assessing the damage done by the construction of the St. Michael’s to Ha Mohale road and we are also addressing the Ha Thetsane issue.”

Mothusi Seqhee of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a non-governmental organization monitoring Lesotho Highlands Water Project’s activities said: “We have scored in that the Ombudsman has recommended that LHDA pays delayed compensation with interest based on commercial bank lending rate. He has also said that the compensation policy of the LHDA be reviewed as it is inconsistent with Article 17 of the Constitution, the Treaty and the LHDA Order. As for the once cold relations between us as the TRC and the LHDA, I think we are moving in the right direction as they [LHDA] have started engaging us in consultations and meetings.”

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