Rights activist tears into parliamentary committee

Rights activist tears into parliamentary committee

Staff Reporter

MASERU

A democracy and human rights activist with the Transformation Resources Centre (TRC), Tsikoane Peshoane, has attacked a parliamentary committee for issuing a “biased report on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project”.

Tsikoane said the report by the Portfolio Committee on the Natural Resources, Tourism and Land which was tabled in Parliament last Wednesday was misleading.

He said although MPs are the people’s representatives in Parliament they seem “blank on relations between the LHDA (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority) and the communities affected” by the construction of both Katse and Mohale Dams.

“Someone is using this Parliament as a tool to rebrand LHDA public relations on dealing with the affected communities,” Peshoane said.

“The House has been misled in this report,” he said.

The report, handed to the House by the Kolo MP Teboho Lehloenya who is also the chairperson of the committee, paints a rosy picture of both Phase One and Two of the LHWP as a driver of economic development.

It praises the first phase of the project for “advanced infrastructure work such as construction of roads, erection of power transmission lines and construction of campus houses”.

Talking about the assessment of the Environmental Action Plan (EAP), the report says it “consisted of four interrelated components focusing on compensation, resettlement and development, the preservation of the rural environment and heritage, public health and rural development plans”.

Talking about the Katse Botanical Garden, which was built following the plant rescue mission in 1995 and 1996 before the setting up of the Katse Reservoir to rescue plants for conservation, the report says it “promotes a better knowledge and understanding of the alpine flora of Lesotho through propagation, cultivation and conservation of indigenous plants”.

“It serves as an educational centre for local communities, as well as scientists, students, and the visiting public,” the report reads.

Other activities at the garden have resulted in the assembly of a large seed bank and scientific and horticultural collaboration with other regional and international botanic gardens, the report says.

The MPs also observed that “local communities are now visibly proud to be associated with the showcasing of their national flora”.

“Some villagers are participating in plant propagation projects focused on commercially viable species, which bring revenue to areas of high unemployment,” the report reads.

About the phase two that will see the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong, the MPs have observed that 172 villages will be affected, five of which will be fully submerged in the dam.

The report says 98 villages have been consulted, 10 298 people consulted on different issues, compensation policy drawn, labour recruitment guidelines written as well as putting in place livelihoods restoration programmes.

It praises the phase two because of “reliable cost effective water supply to South Africa” and “increased electricity independence for Lesotho”.

The report says some people who have been fully compensated in phase one are still ploughing their former fields and therefore causing siltation and environmental degradation throughout the catchment areas of the dams.

It recommends that the government, the LHDA and other related ministries should take necessary steps to stop the people from ploughing the fields.

It also recommends that the ministries of forestry and tourism “should deliberately and jointly work to ensure that project’s catchment area is covered with indigenous and appropriate vegetation, sourced from Katse Botanical Garden”.

However, Peshoane said it is not true that during phase one Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was done.

He said the then Lesotho and South African “governments were not people’s governments. It was only done in phase one when Mohale Dam was built”.

“This report portrays as though ESIA was done,” he said.

“It is incorrect to portray as though ESIA was done. What was done is environmental baseline studies,” he said, saying that was not necessarily meant to consult the communities.

“In the ESIA, consulting the people is fundamental, it is a prerequisite,” Peshoane said.

“This report is biased and inaccurate. It is improper that people’s representatives are used against the aspirations of the people. By adopting this report the House has misled itself,” he said.

The TRC Programmes Officer Hlalele Hlalele added that 86 percent of the report talks about infrastructure with the remaining 14 percent about the people.

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