Dumpsite stench irks Ombudsman



MASERU – Ombudsman Advocate Tlotliso Polaki dispatched a letter to the Maseru City Council (MCC) via the Ministry of Local Government Principal Secretary (PS) on March 20, requesting a report in a bid to break the deadlock surrounding the intractable Ha Tšosane dumpsite issue.

To this day the report is yet to land on Polaki’s desk.

Residents near the site have for several years been complaining about the pungent stench that pervades their homes as well as the health risks and perennial fires posed by the landfill, without a breakthrough. As the unresolved tale of the dumpsite drags on, it also emerged this week that way back in 2018, a proposal was tabled in which a German firm was willing to set up a sustainable waste management system at the Ha Tšosane dumpsite.

The system would have seen a more sustainable waste management of the dump, including extraction of gas from the waste, thereby not only cleaning the environment but also creating employment. Public Eye heard this week that the plan came to nought, after it was shot down in the complex power play and red tape at the ministry of local government. In an exclusive interview with Public Eye yesterday, Advocate Polaki revealed that despite being given seven days to respond, the PS has not yet done so, even after a follow-up message sent by Ombudsman on Wednesday this week.

The persistent issue surrounding the Tšosane dumping site has driven villagers to take drastic measures, including the closure of gates and roads, to halt further garbage disposal. The pervasive odour and hazardous conditions continue to torture residents. In recent developments, the police Special Operations Unit (SOU) visited the Ha Tšosane community on March 28 to suppress an unrest.

During the encounter, the villagers reiterated their unwillingness to vacate the site until MCC honours their agreed-upon engagement timeline. The villagers were seen holding placards, some bearing messages such as ‘Garbage must be removed’, ‘Dump it at Pitso Ground’, and ‘Eliminate rats, cockroaches, and ants’.

The Ombudsman’s role as the public protector encompasses addressing ecosystem degradation and human rights violations. However, her office’s involvement in court matters is limited unless human rights violations are implicated in the delay of judgment. Advocate Polaki said: “There is an incident among the community members of Ha Tšosane who, to date, have not received dispensation of judgment and have been dragging since 2021. As the Ombudsman, my mandate is to follow up, especially by writing a letter to the registrar with regard to the issue of dispensation, because this is a violation of human rights.”

The initial internal draft letter outlining the Ombudsman’s concerns to the PS read as follows: “There has over the years been a huge outcry from the Ha Tšosane residents regarding the dumpsite located in the said area, which also serves as a refuse collection site for the bigger part of Maseru. “Ha Tšosane residents for a long time have complained that the stench coming from the dump is a health hazard on their lives. The dump not only affects human life negatively but it is also a cause of environmental degradation.

“The Ombudsman Act of 1996 section 7 (6) (b) under duties and functions provides that whenever it comes to his notice, whether as a result of investigations undertaken by him or upon his own observation, that there exist certain conditions, practices or tendencies that are a cause of, or likely to result in or conducive to degradation, depletion, destruction or pollution of the natural resources, environment or the ecosystem, the Ombudsman shall then notify the specified authority concerned and recommend any preventative or remedial action as he may deem fit.

“The Ombudsman wished to establish from your side, interventions that you have made to date in trying to resolve the undesirable effects on the Tšosane community that are caused by the dumpsite. The Ombudsman is aware that there is also a study that was conducted regarding the said dump and requests the ministry to share such report and information with the office within seven days of the receipt of this letter,” read the letter.

The office of the Ombudsman confines its mandate to, amongst others, receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public against the government, government ministries, corporations, and their officials that relate to maladministration, violations of human rights, injustices, corruption, and the degradation of the ecosystem. On the other hand, a resident of Ha Tšosane, Kelebone Tšilo, said recent developments indicate that though they have not ceased protesting, they have decided to hold back after receiving threats from the police.

He noted that with the community having taken legal action against MCC four years ago, they are awaiting judgment and have sought assistance from the Chief Justice in that regard. Tšilo said they wrote a letter last Thursday to the Ombudsman and the National Assembly regarding Standing Order No. 79 to intervene and are awaiting responses. He highlighted the challenge they face with stakeholder engagement, emphasising the need for it to start with them.

He cited a proposal by a German company from 2019 to 2021 that aimed to generate fuel from the dump but was declined by the Ministry of Local Government, the ministry responsible. “During the visit of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s office last year, the Minister of Local Government did not make it, and we suspect it was on purpose. We are caught up in the fights between people in power who have turned the dumpsite into a scheme.

“Even if the dumpsite could be turned into something that the community could benefit from, at this stage I cannot say they would agree, but if we could at least have stakeholder engagement, everything could work.” Tsilo added: “I also do not believe there is anything that could come out of the waste as it is no longer soft waste. There are no public health protocols that have engaged with us or any kind of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the place that we have seen for the area.”

Former Mayor of Maseru, Tholang Sefojane, when asked for comment, said during his tenure in office, various parties approached him with proposals to mitigate the hazards caused by the dumping site. He cited proposals ranging from collaboration with MCC to separate garbage and create an incinerator for hazardous materials to recycling and generating gas from garbage, part of which would employ community members in the area.

Sefojane said while these proposals were presented, no actual assistance was provided. Landfills for municipal solid waste are a source of biogas. Landfill gas with a high methane content can be dangerous to people and the environment because methane is flammable. Methane is also a strong greenhouse gas.

Biogas contains small amounts of hydrogen sulphide, a noxious and potentially toxic compound when in high concentrations. Biogas, also known as renewable natural gas (RNG) or biomethane, is an energy-rich gas produced naturally by anaerobic bacteria in municipal solid waste landfills and is called landfill gas.

According to a 2008 draft of the Lesotho/Maseru Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, the city’s waste management efforts have failed to keep up with its growing population and industrialization. The draft states that the current waste management practices are unsustainable, resulting in damage to the city’s natural resources (including its drinking water supply) and to the health of its residents, while potentially reusable and recyclable resources are being wasted.

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