Polihali contractors fight on

STAFF REPORTER

MASERU – Basotho contractors fi ghting for a bigger stake in the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project will not back off until the water authorities relent and share available jobs equally between locals and South African firms. Public Eye can report the peeved contractors will not drop litigation mounted against the Lesotho Highlands Water Authority (LHDA) despite growing concerns the court fight could threaten Gauteng’s water security.

Consortium of Lesotho Contractors (CLC) chairman Mokhele Likate was yesterday unfazed by howls of protest from South Africa on the ramifi cations of the litigation, saying the LHDA could end the squabbling instantly through an out of court deal. “The spirit of the water treaty (entered into) between Lesotho and South Africa is that work should be shared equally as much as possible. “We are not going to relent until the position of the LHDA shifts and makes an amendment which conforms to the demands of the Basotho, which demands are in compliance with the treaty between the two countries.”

The CLC represents some 30 companies in the country, and believes crucial tenders for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project cannot be awarded because they are skewed in favour of South African businesses. Should the consortium win its case, conditions of tenders on the multi-billion-rand Polihali Dam development – which are currently in the process of being awarded – could be sent back to the drawing board. This, in turn, could further delay a project already five years behind schedule.

Likate said the “spirit and letter” of the water deal enjoined better resourced South African fi rms to “assist and transfer skills to Basotho so they can compete internationally”. This is glaringly absent from the current process which hit the skids when the CLC rushed to court after its offer for talks to the LHDA was rebuffed. “The LHDA later tried to bring into the process a factor of recognition of Category A contractors but this was too late. It was a good gesture but it came too late,” Likate said.

The CLC has, however, not shut the door on an amicable end to that legal jousting with the LHDA, adding “to save time, we are willing to stop this unnecessary litigation if the water authority accedes to our demands. “Basotho contractors that have been disadvantaged are as good as any but the companies cannot access the billion rand contracts because the business that they attract does not generate that kind of capital. “The LHDA must be magnanimous and own up to say ‘I need to amend the requirements’. We want to see traction of this project too,” Likate also said.

The Lesotho Highlands Project supplies 40 percent of Gauteng’s water. The Polihali Dam development is a vital element in Phase 2 of the project, and it is tenders for this contract that are at stake. According to the South African Department of Water and Sanitation, further major delays could put Gauteng’s water security at risk, which would have a knock-on effect on the region’s and that country’s economy. Phase 2, which is estimated to cost in the region of R24 billion, will increase the amount of water Gauteng gets from Lesotho from the current 780 million cubic metres a year to 1,255 million cubic metres a year – an increase that is vital to meet growing demand.

“The department is concerned about the court case,” Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau told the media this week. “Such an interdict to stop the works could have severe consequences on the completion date of the Polihali Dam and subsequent water deliveries to South Africa.” Ratau said the current deadline of 2025 for Phase 2 still stood, “barring the outcome of the court case”. “It is essential that this date remains as it will be able to cater for the continued importance of Gauteng as the economic hub, including supply to Eskom and Sasol. Gauteng continues to attract people for various reasons including work, business, school, health care and other factors. These needs, and the fact that the National Development Plan dictates that there is a possibility of huge growth, impact on why the (Polihali Dam) project is critical,” he said.

LHDA spokesperson, Masilo Phakoe, said that “delayed water delivery and increased costs” could be expected if there were any further delays in Phase 2. The court battle is over three contracts for the Polihali Dam:

• The Polihali north-east access road;

• Advance infrastructure civil works at Polihali Dam and Katse Dam; and

• Construction of the Paliholi diversion tunnels.

The CLC said in papers that the procurement guidelines used by the project authorities “favours South African companies to the exclusion of Lesotho companies”, and also accuses the LHDA and LHWC of overlooking their duty of capacitating local companies and making them participate in the process. The CLC is arguing that the requirements of the company tendering for the work – which must be “Grade Z” – “completely loses sight and perhaps overlooks the economic disparities between the two countries”.

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