MASERU – Villagers in Ha-Seshote in Thaba-Tseka are up in arms against construction companies they accuse of damaging their houses when blasting rocks during the building of a road to the Polihali Dam.
Two construction companies – HSPY and Rumdel/AC Joint-Venture – are building the road, one on the west side of Ha-Seshote Mountain and another on the east. Other villagers from Liseleng, Ha-Salemone and Ha-Lekiba in the same area have also complained about the damage to their houses.
The community accuses the two companies of damaging their houses as they carved open a mountain to make way for a road. The road is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHDA)’s many projects heralding the actual construction of the Polihali Dam, a joint project between Lesotho and South Africa.
What infuriated the villagers was the two companies’ contemptuous approach when carrying out their work. They never bothered to inform them when they were about to do the blasting, they said. The blasting would frighten their livestock, they said.
Chief Kose Sekonyela of the area said the contractor does not communicate with them on critical issues including when the blasting process would be done.
“Failure to do this leads to devastating consequences on the part of the people in the area,” Chief Sekonyela said.
Previously, the chief said, the contractor would delegate two people to inform the community that the blasting would be done on a particular day.
“But now that no longer happens,” the chief said.
“When the blasting occurs our livestock skip kraals and run around in the village.”
He said when they are informed in time they are able to prepare for the situation. He said the sound caused by the blasting is just unbearable for them.
“We have to make ourselves ready for that thunderous sound,” he said.
Chief Sekonyela said the blasting had caused cracks on their homes which the contractor has left unfixed. He said he believes the poor communication happened after the contractor cut off electricity to their homes during the operation. So when they complained about that, they were beaten up by the police.
“I think this is what has caused the tiff between us,” Chief Sekonyela said.
The LHDA’s Public Relations Manager, Masilo Phakoe, said they are aware of the Liseleng Ha Salemone and Ha Lekiba communities’ grievances. Phakoe said these grievances were raised during engagements with the LHDA including two public gatherings in May.
He said some of the concerns such as the contractors’ poor communication regarding blasting notifications to communities were raised for the first time to the LHDA.
“We immediately started with investigations and the processes to address them,” Phakoe said.
Some complaints which include damage to properties as a result of blasting incidents, he said, were recorded through the Complaints Management Procedures, which is a tool that communities are encouraged to use to report complaints.
“The LHDA continues to closely monitor the situation and can confirm that repair works are in progress,” Phakoe said.
He said as part of its efforts to continue to foster better working relationships with the communities, the LHDA held another gathering in June. A consultant and the contractor presented a roadmap at the gathering, with timelines on when community complaints would be addressed.
He said the community leaders including Chief Sekonyela were present at the meeting and acknowledged the contractor’s commitment to make amends.
He said they are doing their best to restore relationships, use existing community structures and project tools to communicate and comply with the LHWP Phase II implementation guidelines and protocols.
The guidelines include blasting notifications and evacuation procedures. Thabo Thelingoane, the president of the Blasters Society, said blasting like all other fields need a person who is knowledgeable and skilled.
“Extra caution has to be exercised when blasting is done,” Thelingoane said.
Failing to uphold a high level of caution could have dire consequences on the community and the environment itself. The problems could be thick and fast.
He said he could not disclose all the information regarding blasting because he is in the business and his competitors could emulate his concepts. Before blasting could start, Thelingoane said a blaster has to visit a site to assess any damage that could be caused.
He said in some places, they have to tell the affected people that they have to be resettled because the damage caused by the blasting to their homes could be massive. Such people have to be relocated.
“There are some places where we do not have an option but to tell the people that their environment is irreparable,” Thelingoane said.
Thelingoane said when blasting is done around homes, definitely there would be damage such as cracks on the homes. Then they would be able to fix those cracks. Also, the animals, both domestic and wild would run away because of the heavy sound.
But because they are in business, this has to be controlled and managed. To accomplish their task, Thelingoane said they sometimes have to go as far as South Africa to hire sophisticated machinery.
“The machines could cost as much M18 000 per hour,” he said.
He said the time of blasting tools cost depends on the area they are going to work on. He said every blaster should know what to do when they got to the field. Thelingoane said the blaster has to visit the place first, assess it and see how they could charge it.
He says the blasting should not be bungled. The Commissioner of Mines, Pheello Tjatja, said explosives in Lesotho are regulated through the Explosives Proclamation of 1958 and Explosives Regulations of 1959 as amended.
He said the Act regulates how explosives can be used in the country. The Act says the explosives are administered by the Commissioner of Mines and Police with powers bestowed on both of them.
It provides for the registration of the manufacture, storage, sale, transport, importation, possession, and use of explosives. Efforts by thepost to get comment from HSPY and Rumdel/AC Joint-Venture were not successful last night.
Deadlock over reforms
MASERU – THE government’s plan to use state of emergency powers to recall parliament to pass the reforms faces serious resistance from the opposition and legal experts.
A marathon meeting this week to build consensus on the use of state of emergency powers to recall parliament could not break the impasse.
The deadlock comes as Lesotho is reeling under pressure from the international and regional community to pass the reforms. SADC, which instigated and part-funded the reforms, has promised Lesotho hell if the reforms are not passed.
The United States might pull the plug on its recently approved M4 billion development aid to Lesotho. The African Union is said to have registered its disappointment with the government and insisted that the reforms be passed.
The EU, which contributed generously to the reforms process, is not playing the ‘carrot and stick’ game but gently pushing the government to find a way to complete the reforms.
Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told a meeting of political parties yesterday that the government will soon discuss how Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro can request the Council of State to advise the king to recall parliament to pass the reforms.
Rakuoane, a lawyer by profession, is still cautiously optimistic that it’s possible to use the state of emergency powers for the King to recall parliament.
That interpretation is however being rejected by some in the government and the opposition who believe the failure to pass the reforms is not an emergency.
The constitution defines a state of emergency as a war or a monumental threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty or life.
Monyane Moleleki, the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader, told the meeting that he doesn’t believe the reforms constitute an emergency that justifies recalling parliament.
“In general, it is unthinkable to recall a National Assembly which was dissolved constitutionally, officially or formally by His Majesty the King,” Moleleki said.
“The country finds itself in a difficult situation. Lesotho is constitutionally in a predicament and some urge us to consider the predicament an emergency.”
“Actually, there is no state of emergency in Lesotho today but just a predicament,” he said.
Even if the government goes ahead to use the state of emergency clause to reopen parliament there will still be disagreements over which Bill parliament should pass.
The majority of the officials who were in the now disbanded National Reforms Authority (NRA) accuse the parliament of dismembering the initial Bill they submitted.
They say the parliament sneaked in new amendments and removed others to create a Bill that doesn’t reflect the people’s views.
The Senate has reservations about the parliament’s changes and appears sympathetic to the NRA’s view that the Bill should not be outrageously different to what the people suggested.
The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), which facilitated this week’s dialogue, is reportedly not hostile to recalling parliament but wants parliament to pass the initial Bill from the NRA without changes.
MPs however insist they will not take instructions from any other institution because only parliament has the power to make laws.
But even if they agree to reopen parliament and find each other on which Bill to pass, there is likely to be another problem.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane believes there is no legal loophole that the government can use to recall parliament.
“There is absolutely no loophole to use for that. There is no state of emergency to justify such,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The law is the law. You cannot violate it because you have created your own crisis by failing to do things on time.”
He said even if the government insists on violating the constitution by recalling parliament, the MPs will quickly find themselves in another legal jam.
He said several of the amendments that were before parliament require a referendum before they get royal assent. These include the changes to the Bill of Rights and changes to the structure of the judiciary.
“These are what we call double entrenched clauses and they are part of the Bill that some are saying parliament should be recalled to pass,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The trouble is that a referendum can only be held no less than two months and not more than six months after it has been passed by parliament.”
This, Advocate Maqakachane said, means there is no way the amendments can be legally passed before the October 7 election even if parliament is recalled.
His strong legal view is shared by several other lawyers who spoke to thepost.
That could indicate that there is a real possibility that a decision to recall parliament could be legally challenged. If that happens, the matter would no longer be in the government’s hands but would play out in the courts.
An epic legal battle might be looming.
Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn
MASERU – THE government has withdrawn security guards and a vehicle allocated to the official leader of parliament Monyane Moleleki.
The vehicle was taken away last Friday.
Moleleki could not be reached for comment but his Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesman, Thuso Litjobo, confirmed the development.
The position of official leader of opposition in parliament is equivalent to that of a deputy minister and is entitled to the use of a government vehicle and security guards.
Even when the King dissolves parliament and calls for fresh elections, ministers and their deputies do not lose their entitlements such as cars or security.
The same goes for the official leader of opposition in parliament, the Speaker and his deputy.
Litjobo said the withdrawal of the vehicle and security was meant to ensure that Moleleki did not have resources to campaign for the October 7 general elections.
He said this was unfair since all ministers and their deputies still have access to state resources to campaign.
“Our leader is still entitled to those benefits,” Litjobo said.
“We do not have the power to do anything about this.”
Litjobo said they were shocked when they learnt that Moleleki’s security, staff, salary and everything had been taken away.
“For now the only thing we can do as a party is to complain,” he said.
Moleleki has been the official leader of opposition in parliament since the establishment of the Moeketsi Majoro-led government in 2019.
The Thomas Thabane-led government which began its tenure in 2017, in which Moleleki was the deputy prime minister, collapsed and Moleleki’s party was the largest in the opposition, making him leader of opposition.
As the official leader of the opposition, the Constitution grants Moleleki some benefits.
Among these, he has an office, staff, salary, a vehicle, and free fuel.
Moleleki had qualified to be the leader of opposition with his 11 MPs although most of them have since joined other political parties.
The army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost that he was not aware of the removal of Moleleki’s security.
“Such things can be asked to the government,” Captain Lekola said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Buta Moseme, said the premier’s office is not responsible for the installation or removal of entitlements of the leader of opposition.
The government spokesman, Communications Minister Sam Rapapa, said the questions should be directed at the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.
Maema’s phone was ringing unanswered last night.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is the leader of parliament, could not be reached for comment last night.
ABC at war over Thetsane candidate
MASERU – A fight over who should represent the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the Thetsane constituency in Maseru spilled into court this week.
Two separate constituency committees which were elected on June 11 and July 2 respectively are now fighting over who has the right to preside over the selection of a candidate this Sunday.
The June 11 committee is made up of Silase Mokhitli, Semonko Lesenyeho, Mako Chobokoane, Khoale Thene, Thabo Nkesi and ‘Mathabo Makalanyane.
The July 2 committee is made up of Motinyane Motinyane, ‘Matsekiso Motinyane, ‘Matokelo Morie, Mphonyane Kekana, Nondabesithe Babeli and Lelimo Monese.
The June 11 committee filed an urgent application in the High Court yesterday seeking to interdict the July 2 committee from holding themselves out as the members of the constituency committee pending determination of their application.
The June 11 committee also asks the court to order the party’s spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, and the National Executive Committee to file a record of proceedings of the elective conference of July 2 for the constituency.
They say the court should declare the July 2 committee election null and void.
A lawyer representing the June 11 committee, Advocate Letuka Molati, in his certificate of urgency, said the July 2 committee prejudiced his clients.
Advocate Molati said the July 2 committee is unlawfully preparing the nomination of the candidate for the Thetsane constituency on Sunday.
“Applicants have no alternative remedy as the National Executive Committee of the All Basotho Convention is ignoring to pronounce itself on the matter such that the illegal body will prepare for the nominations of the candidates for the up-coming national elections,” Advocate Molati said.
The June 11’s representative, Silase Mokhitli, told the court in an affidavit that Masoetsa and Senator Mphonyane Lebesa conducted the July 2 elections fraudulently.
“On the 11th June 2022, my co-applicants and I were elected as members of the constituency committee of the All Basotho Convention for the Thetsane constituency no. 34,” Mokhitli said.
Mokhitli said there was a peaceful handover of power from the old constituency committee and he was elected as the chairperson of the new Constituency committee.
The newly elected constituency committee submitted reports to the NEC on June 13 that there was only one branch of Thetsane West that had abstained from the constituency committee elective conference.
“We worked very well as the new constituency committee with the NEC of ABC for a period of about two weeks without any complaint,” he said.
He said on June 24, he was surprised to get a call from the secretary general of ABC, Lebohang Hlaele, ordering him and the new committee to report at the party’s headquarters.
Hlaele also invited the old committee, Mokhitli said.
However, Hlaele was not in the office when they arrived on June 27.
Instead they found one ’Maseeng Maputsoe who was accompanied by Masoetsa.
Maputsoe asked why there were two committees in the Thetsane constituency.
Mokhitli said there was only one committee for which he was the chairperson.
He said there were no disputes as all went on smoothly.
Mokhitli said after the deliberations, Maputsoe left with Masoetsa.
“They said they were going to deliberate alone and when they came back they said they made the decision that there should be a repeat of elections in Thetsane constituency,” he said.
Mokhitli said they were not satisfied and they wrote the executive committee seeking intervention but they have not received any response to date.
Instead, Maputsoe and Masoetsa went to Thetsane constituency on July 2 to oversee the repeat of elections.
“They did not have any official document that shows delegation to them from the NEC of ABC,” he said.
“They conducted everything through dictatorship.”
He said during the elections Masoetsa announced that he had expelled two branches and dissolved the four remaining branch committees out of six.
“They then proceeded to conduct elections without verifying the cards of those who qualify to elect and he took 12 people from three branch areas,” Mokhitli said.
“He took 13 people from Thetsane West branch which had abstained when I was elected on the 11th June 2022,” he said.
When people objected, Mokhitli said, Masoetsa strangled one ’Mako Chobokoane with his clothing and one Semonko Lesenyeho came to his rescue.
“Masoetsa, when faced with another objection, assaulted ’Mako Chobokoane, and Lesenyeho intervened again,” he said.
He said Senator Lebesa “was electing on behalf of the electors”.
He said when Maputsoe was asked whether it was proper that Lebesa was writing ballot papers on behalf of voters, she said Lesenyeho could do what he wished.
“Masoetsa and Maputsoe scolded everyone who objected,” he said.
He said the results of the elections were not announced publicly.
Many people left in disgust, Mokhitli said.
“When there were about less than 20 remaining from the original number of more than 150 people Maputsoe announced (the results).”
Mokhitli argued that it would be wrong for people who were not rightly elected to prepare and hold an elective conference for the constituency candidate.
“The fairness and democracy shall not reign. It is clear that democracy is already under threat,” he said.
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