. . . contractor leaves electrification mid-stream
MASERU – Ha Setenane residents have been living without electricity for a decade now though the rural electrification project kick-started in their village two years ago.
Ha Setenane was left in limbo after the engaged contractor ditched villagers at the last minute.
The project is run by the Rural Electrification (RE) unit of the government with the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) as the implementing agency.
LEC then engaged PHAKS Construction and Electrical to electrify over 700 households.
Villagers in the area have kept faith that the intend to deliver electricity to their homes would someday gain traction even though it came after 19 years, with the community having formed the power consumer group (scheme) as early as 2000.
Setenane residents and six surrounding villages came together and formed the scheme so that government would meet them halfway with the process. The villages include: Ha Koranta, Ramonts’oe, Mahloleng, Ha Khati, Ha Makopela and Ha Mafeto.
Although there are no noticeable developments in the villages, they are aware of the government’s policy on rural electrification and the subsidised cost hence formation of the community power scheme.
According to the policy, villages are advised to contribute M2 000 per household or pay a minimum of M500 with the remaining balance will be settled as customers buy electricity over seven years.
The seven villages came together and contributed over M367 000 which was paid to LEC in 2017.
When officials from LEC introduced the contactor (PHAKS Construction and Electrical) to the villagers at a Pitso in June 2017, villagers thought finally their power breakthrough had come to pass but exactly two years down the line, villagers still live in the dark.
The contactor left the village in September 2017 after working for only three months, citing financial challenges. Eighty percent of the project was already completed at the time, with only service connection left.
Villagers who spoke to Public Eye said there was no formal explanation as to why the project had been stopped but later learned that the contactor was facing financial difficulties.
This was confirmed by the electricity committee members who said the contractor informed them that his limited funds could no longer allow him to carry on with the mandate.
One of the committee members, ’Malisema Ramorena in an interview with this publication, said the contactor informed them he has not been paid so he had decided to stop the electrification programme.
Ramorena said the contractor promised to go and negotiate payment with the employer – LEC after which he would resume work once payment had been settled.
Villagers were expecting to be connected by December 2017 following the contractor’s promise that he will have completed all that needs to be done as early as November 2017.
Romorena added that they were briefed about the government’s policy on the rural electrification project and the procedure that each household has to follow for their household to be electrified.
The gathering was attended by the village’s residents and those from the neighbouring villages, area chiefs, as well as the community councilors.
At the briefing those who were not part of the already existing scheme were advised to join by paying a minimum joining fee of M500 of which the remaining M1500 would be deducted as customers recharge their electricity units over a set period.
Most of them even started buying electrical appliances hoping they would soon be living a different life altogether.
They were informed that that the contactor would complete his task within six months and that all members of their scheme would have been connected with electricity in December when the project would be completed.
“We were made to believe that it would not be too long before we are finally able to use electricity in our homes so we started buying electrical appliances,” one the residents, Mareatile Lebea, said.
She said they got the shock of their lives when months and years passed by without a clear explanation of what the hold-up was about, let alone electricity supply.
“Neighbouring villages whose projects started after ours got connected while there is still no progress with ours,” she added.
Lebea noted that there was also never a gathering to explain the delay or what went wrong.
Another committee member, Majelase Ramorena, said they held a couple of meetings with both LEC and the Rural Electrification unit and she was personally responsible for communicating with them and sometimes comes to their offices in Maseru.
Ramorena was assured by December 2018 LEC would ensure the process was completed once their offices re-open in January 2019 but the project manager at the Rural Electrification unit, Leloko Mokhuts’oane, said their project was not run by the government but by the Lesotho Water and Electricity Authority which ran out of funds while still in the process.
Ramorena said Mokhuts’oane explained that government had promised to assist with finances so that the project could be completed but Mokhuts’oane said government was not involved in the process from the beginning.
Mokhutsoane told Public Eye in an interview on Monday this week that the project had to be put on hold because of lack of funds since the scope of work had increased.
He said LEC as the implementing agency informed his office in 2017 that the project was put on hold because they ran short of funds allocated to it.
He also said the project could not be completed in the past financial year because it was not on the priority list of the villages selected by his office.
Mokhuts’oane explained there are over 500 registered power groups waiting to be assisted and that with the budgets cuts experienced by different government ministries including the ministry of energy, it is difficult to cover all schemes.
“It is also a challenge to cover all villages in the priority lists because of our budget,” he said.
“The area you are talking about has been added to the priority in the current financial year and it is expected to be completed this year because the minister has approved that it be relaunched . . ,” he added.
He further pointed out that regime change affected the area and left the project incomplete.
Mokhuts’oane noted that money collected through the electricity schemes is too little to complete the rural electrification as millions of maloti are needed for the process.
For the Ha Setenane Project, Mokhuts’soane said the project will cost the government over nine million.
When contacted by Public Eye Motsekuoa Phalole of PHAKS E Construction and Electrical said his employer – LEC instructed him to stop operations and would tell him when to continue with the process.
Phalole further explained that money paid to him was insufficient to complete the project but said he was ready to be recalled to complete the task at any time.