‘. . . Not true some displaced families got only M14’
MASERU – The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has dismissed as false allegations by Amnesty International that it does not comply with international human rights standards on eviction of communities relocated to make way for dam projects.
LHDA also refuted as misleading a claim that the project was implemented without proper consultation with the people of Mokhotlong.
Executive Director of LHDA Tente Tente said LHDA’s “bottom-up” approach has ensured consultation and engagement with local communities from the inception of the project.
He said LHDA has, and still is working with local communities to understand their preferences for replacement of housing, livelihood restoration programmes and compensation, adding that an Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Polihali Reservoir was carried out in accordance with internationally recognised standards.
He noted that stakeholder engagement was extensive and commenced with the affected communities being sensitised to likely project related impacts.
Tente further said allegations that some displaced people were given as little as the equivalent of US$1 (about M14) as compensation are also not true.
“The fact is that resettlement has not even started. Not a single household has been resettled. In five cases where there was a requirement to move people temporarily to make way for construction activities, the LHDA has organised temporary accommodation for those households after consulting with them.
“LHDA is paying the rent on their behalf and in terms of compensation policy, they are due to receive a disturbance allowance which is more than M25 000 per household for this temporary relocation.
“Consultations with them on the choice of a house plan, choice of place to relocate to and choice of cash option, where they have alternative homes is ongoing,” Tente said.
He said it appears that Amnesty International is using the terms compensation and resettlement interchangeably.
“In this context of LHDA, compensation means payment in kind or other legal payment tendered for the property or resource that is acquired or affected by the project while resettlement means the process of addressing the effects of physical and economic displacement.
“Households are compensated for all assets affected by the project. The type of assets includes but are not limited to arable land, fruit trees, business premises, kraals and others,” he said.
Tente explained that compensation rates are determined by each asset type and the value of each entitlement is determined by the size of the arable land under a pylon.
“LHDA’s compensation process also provides for compensation payments per asset, which is why it is possibly for a beneficiary to have received a compensation value of M14. Over and above, a second payment – an inconvenience allowance of M1 000 subject to consumer index every year is paid to each household affected by the project. The two payments should therefore be added to get the real picture of the compensation for that particular household,” he said.
He said compensation is an ongoing process and it is progressing steadily, noting that LHDA has paid over 74% of the assets that are affected by the ongoing construction of roads, power lines and accommodation.
Tente said compensation and resettlement are not simultaneous for all the people who will be affected by the project.
“They are dealt with on an area by area basis as the land is required for the implementation of the project. Every possible step is taken – in consultation with the community and a multi-disciplinary project team – to limit the impact of the project on the people in the project area,” he said.
He said resettlement action planning is also a highly collaborative process where affected communities are extensively engaged from the process of asset registration, verification, compensation and relocation.
LHDA is engaging with villagers who are going to be relocated and took into account the villagers’ input regarding relocation sites and the house designs.
Tente further said it is not true that thousands from 35 villages are at the risk of losing their homes and livelihoods as claimed by Amnesty International.
He said an estimate of 2 300 households will be affected by the implementation of Phase II of the project, of which only 340 households from a total of nine villages will be physically relocated.
He said the number of physically displaced people has been significantly reduced due to extensive consultations with affected communities and other stakeholders.
This comes after Seinoli Legal Centre that was representing the Halejone community affected by Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase I won a case against LHDA and, as a result, the community was paid M840 277.93.
Ha Lejone community lost its grazing land and natural resources in 1998 during construction of Katse dam.
Seinoli Legal Centre representing the community’s Liaison Officer Mothusi Seqhee noted that Ha Lejone community and LHDA reached an agreement that the community will be compensated annually for 50 years but LHDA ceased payments in 2004 without explanation to the community.
He said as a result in 2012 Seinoli Legal Centre with the support of its partners Promotion UK intervened and assisted the impoverished community, deprived of resources they needed to live sustainably and lodged a case with High Court of Lesotho.
In 2015, a court order was issued which validated the community’s right to compensation and directed part payment of the compensation owed which amounted to M280 000, to enable the community to comply with LHDA’s accounting standards.