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Consultants' work on Lesotho Water Project questioned in wake of R113m contract

Questions are now being asked about whether the consultants did, in fact, carry out the work or if the project simply failed to implement the recommendations.

FILE: An aerial view of a dam from phase 1 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. Picture: http://www.lhda.org.ls/

JOHANNESBURG - The Lesotho Highlands Water Project has found itself at the centre of controversy for the R113 million it paid to consultants to conduct environmental and social impact studies for the construction of the Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.

Part of the consultant’s mandate was to also design resettlement plans after it was established that 534 households with approximately 2,500 people would be affected.

Questions are now being asked about whether the consultants did, in fact, carry out the work or if the project simply failed to implement the recommendations.

Communities are demanding answers but not much explanation is being offered.

More than 20 grievances have been lodged by angry communities in Mokhotlong and yet there are very little answers from those in charge of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

Communities are demanding compensation while construction of advanced work has started.

Four South African companies are at the centre of the controversy.

The joint venture of Lima Rural Development and Thaha was awarded a R71 million contract while Makhetha Development Consultants were awarded a R30 million tender for resettlement planning.

Meanwhile, Environmental Resource Management Southern Africa was awarded two contracts of R8.7 million and R4.9 million respectively to conduct environmental and social impact assessments.

These companies were contracted to engage communities and advise the project on the impact on their lives, as well as the best resettlement, compensation and benefits.

Eyewitness News reached out to all four and asked to what extent they can be held responsible for the standoff. None of them have responded yet.

But after paying R113 million, the project has been left to face irate communities and answer questions that should have been answered before the first excavators arrived on site.

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project said the Polihali Dam community protests would delay construction and additional water transfer to South Africa and escalate costs if they continued.

Disgruntled communities in Mokhotlong said if they were not paid, work on their land should also stop.

The project said it had explained that payment of compensation included checks and balances that took time and assured them that they would be paid, but didn’t say when.

“In short, we have consulted communities and agreed how things will be done, but when things do not go as expected or as fast as expected, the communities lodge the grievances that we see now,” said project spokesperson Masilo Phakoe.

Phakoe said they had explained why compensation was delayed.

“We have explained that the process for payment covers many steps. It includes checks and balances to ensure integrity of payment processes,” he said.

Phakoe said if the grievances continued, delays wouldn’t be avoided.

“The project is implemented against a very tight schedule and continued protests will lead to delays and lead to increases in costs.”

The question is who will foot the bill if costs are escalated? And who will be held responsible?