‘We need to  jerk up wasco’

‘We need to jerk up wasco’

MASERU – Access to clean water is one of the biggest problems in Lesotho. Although the problem is magnified in the rural and remote areas, those in urban areas are also struggling. In 2019, Leo Hellen, the United Nations Human Rights expert, aptly described the impact of the water problem on Basotho. “In Lesotho, water, sanitation and hygiene lie at the centre of poverty cycle in which two out of three Basotho live in poverty,” Hellen said. “The lack of those services both drives vulnerability particularly for those who are already at risk; rural women, orphans etc.

Water and Sanitation are a bottleneck that holds them back from improving their lives, making choices on their way of living and expanding their freedom.” It is within the government’s ability to ensure that every Mosotho has access to water. The question is why this is not happening. Our reporter, ’Mapule Motsopa, this week spoke to Water Minister Nkaku Kabi to understand why the government is struggling to provide water to the people.

What problems have you identified since you were appointed the Minister of Water Affairs?
I found loans that were not paid. These loans were for grants that were given to the ministry for projects. I learnt that the country was already paying those loans but the services were never rendered. A lot of money was allocated for service delivery but projects were shelved. Before my appointment 65 percent of Basotho, mostly in the rural areas, had some form of access to water but most of the water sources had dried up because of droughts.

Taps don’t have water in the villages, not because they have been vandalised but because sources have dried up. We had to start afresh. This led us to emphasize the importance of preserving rangelands and pastures which are the main water sources. We held consultations with herd boys, councillors and chiefs and we are in the process of meeting with Principal Chiefs on how to address this issue.

We have got M700 million from the GIZ (Deutsch Gesellschaft fϋr Internationale Zusammenarbeit) to fence off water sources and educate the public about the importance of wetlands. We are working with the European Union (EU) on a project with an almost similar agenda.

How much do you think is needed to deal with the water crisis?
I will not be able to estimate with figures but rather time. Conditions were that between now and 2030, every Mosotho would have water but the Prime Minister instructed the ministry that it should take only four years, until 2026. We will do all the projections and calculations to cover the whole country by 2026. So, I will ask civil servants to do the study. We still have to do feasibility studies, designs amongst other things. Climate change is not in our control even though we can put certain measures to ensure environmental protection.

I believe teaching people will help them understand the importance of preserving rangelands, which is something that has not been happening for years and many water sources have been destroyed especially in the mountainous regions. Rangelands ought to be protected as they will help our country in the long run.

What do you think is the best way to address water scarcity in villages across the country?

We can’t reach all areas at once as we wish. We can’t build dams the way we want because of international laws that give other countries with which we share rivers equal rights to tap water from the river. We still have to talk with them first when we build a dam. Our experience with Metolong and Katse Dams taught us that we need to prioritise people downstream.

How much is Lesotho getting in royalties for selling water to South Africa?

We get M97 million monthly.

Does it make sense to export water when thousands of Basotho don’t have water?

I think it does because as a landlocked country, underdeveloped, we have massive water connections of over 200 000 brought by royalties from selling water. If we didn’t have them, with our shaky economy, we wouldn’t survive. Water has covered the challenges of inflow capital and it helps communities that are in need. It helps us conserve to avoid Katse drying up. It would be embarrassing as a country blessed with water not to conserve our resources.

Wasco seems to be failing to deliver water to the majority. What do you think is the problem?

It’s very sad and I am disappointed with Wasco. People are deployed and are believed to have the capacity as they are experts. The expectation is that since they are paid salaries, they have to do their job efficiently and expertly. It is sad that it takes over six months to fix a burst pipe, it translates into failure to do their job, one cannot fail to manage their own system. Wasco is underperforming. Bribes are also paid for connections.

What a shame! It can’t even afford to buy meters and those available are rationed.
They are being paid for nothing. And if it can be managed by someone who knows how to run it properly, it can make a lot of money. It is unfair that people who don’t want to work are in office. But in Lesotho, it’s business as usual when there is no service delivery. It is a bad culture.

The solution, in most cases, lies in boreholes and pipes from main water sources and in some places but it takes years if not decades for villagers to get this from the government. Why?

Sometimes our contractors leave their work half done and we try to sue them but since they are connected in courts, cases take forever. Sometimes we are forced to pay for the same service twice because people are desperate for water. Sometimes maintenance machines are stolen. There is a possibility that contractors are behind this but I might be wrong though. That’s how heartless people can be.

How much has the government lost because of such shoddy jobs?
I may not be precise with figures but it’s a huge loss. It is almost close to a quarter of the ministry’s budget.

What do you think are the reasons behind poor service delivery?

Civil servants sometimes underperform because we are so much more interested in our own pockets and how we will share the money. We are neither determined nor dedicated. We are also too lenient. People are supposed to go home if they fail to do their jobs but they don’t because they don’t care. Often blame is shifted to politicians because they didn’t apply for the positions but we forget there are people hired to do the job.

How do you explain the fact that some people affected by water projects have not been compensated?

From 2005 and before, people have not been compensated by the LHDA. The employees there are Basotho but they don’t feel pity or sympathy for their own people. Some people died but their children still have not been compensated for their land. There is money from South Africa but people are concerned about their own pockets. Maybe laws are overprotective of these officials.

What have been your achievements to date?

We connected people from Ha-Senekale, Ha-’Matholoana, Thaba-Bosiu, which is something that was expected since the completion of the Metolong Dam a long time ago. This is one of the big breakthroughs. Councillors will be the ones running water connections when decentralization happens. Wasco is not happy about that decision but the question is, why do you get angry yet you failed to connect people since 2018? When you fail to fix burst pipes within Maseru, what more of those outside in the districts? It’s surprisingly weird, funny at the same time. Even if this decentralisation fails we would still have learned crucial lessons.

’Mapule Motsopa

Previous LEC pushes for 30.9% tariff hike
Next Council owes M7 million in rentals

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