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» 12.02.2010 - Lesotho to focus budget on alternative revenue creation
» 05.10.2009 - Lesotho signs $25 million agreement with WB
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Politics | Economy - Development

NGO calls for audit of dam construction tenders

afrol News / IRIN, 10 April - Following allegations of corruption, a local NGO has appealed for an audit of the tenders allocated in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), the world's largest water transfer operation.

"Bribery for tenders goes along with compromising of workmanship standards. We can only pray that, despite this, standards for constructing these kind of dams was not compromised, as it would be a double punishment to the people living around the Katse and Mohale dams," said Mabusetsa Lenka of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), an NGO fighting for the rights of communities displaced by the multi-dam project.

Lenka urged the government to audit the LHWP tenders before construction of Phase 2 began.

Mohale and Katse dams, the first phase of the LHWP, were built on the Senqunyane river in the Thabaputsoa mountain range in southern Lesotho at a cost of US $4 billion, to supply water to neighbouring South Africa's rapidly expanding industrial hub in Gauteng province.

The appeal came a few weeks after reports of a second bribery case in connection with construction of the two dams. Lesotho's former representative to the Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), Reatile Mochebelele, and his deputy, Letlafuoa Molapo, have been accused of accepting a bribe to the value of about $163,965 from Germany's largest engineering consultancy, Lahmeyer International.

Several companies involved in the project have been investigated after allegations of corruption and bribery. Lahmeyer, the second firm to be convicted, was fined more than a $1 million in 2003 for paying a bribe to an official. Acres International, a Canadian construction firm, was convicted of bribery in 2002.

Acres maintained it was not aware that money paid to its local representative, the now-deceased Zalisiwonga Bam, was being passed on to the former head of LHWP, Masupha Sole, who is serving a 15-year prison term.

A recent crack in the wall of the Mohale dam has sparked safety concerns, bringing corruption allegations back into the spotlight, said the TRC. "It is very scary when more people are being charged of bribery in different cases and, at the same time, the dam walls are cracking. It makes one wonder if the dams are safe at all," Lenka commented.

Borotho Matsoso, head of the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences, told a recent press conference, "It is obvious that Masupha Sole was not the only one." Earlier in the year he remarked, "We suspected there were others whom we had not yet touched. As we went along with this case we found payments that have been made, and at that stage we were not sure who had got the money."

The TRC pointed out that while allegations of corruption have plagued the project, compensation had yet to be paid to some residents displaced by construction of the dams.

More than 30,000 people, mostly subsistence farmers, affected by the building work had to opt for either an annual compensation of between $49 and $290 for 50 years or a lump sum payment of up to $13,000, explained Lenka. "Those farmers who wanted the lump sum compensation had to submit business plans. Some of them did - as far back as four years ago - and nothing has happened."

The project has four phases and is expected to be completed in 2015, provided funds are made available in time.

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