Minister storms Polihali

 

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Labour and Employment minister Moshe Leoma on Wednesday this week led a team from his ministry in a random raid at the HSPY joint venture camp site to examine its compliance with the country’s labour laws.

HSPY is a construction firm contracted by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) at Polihali in Mokhotlong. It is a joint venture of a local company Structuretone Construction and three South African firms Hillary Construction, and Polokwane Surfacing and Yarena civils.

In recent months the contactor’s name has been tainted by allegations of poor labour practices which include racism and sexual abuse. Public Eye reported in March that the multibillion maloti Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) was marred by allegations of sex for jobs and racism against Basotho workers.

This paper further reported that the protagonist at the centre of the allegations of sex for jobs and racism was a South African, Pieter Botes, who is employed as a project manager by the HSPY joint venture contracted to build a road between Ha Seshote and Polihali dam.

Implemented by LHDA, Phase II of the LHWP involves construction of the Polihali dam and reservoir, a water transfer tunnel and associated access roads, bridges and telecommunications infrastructure.

While efforts to get a comment from LHDA were unsuccessful, the ministry of labour confirmed yesterday it had stormed the construction firm adding the random raid was led by the minister, Moshe Leoma.

“On 28th April 2021 the Minister of Labour and Employment Honourable Moshe Leoma, Inspection Officers and LMPS Officers conducted an inspection at HSPY JV camp site at Ha Seshote,” the ministry said in a statement.

The purpose of the site inspection was to ensure and verify compliance with section 165 of the Labour Code Order 1992.

“This section protects Lesotho citizens’ employment rights from infringement by non-citizens of Lesotho as well as to ensure legal employment of non-citizens,” read the statement.

The statement further explained that the minister’s visit to the specific company’s site was to respond to several complaints from Basotho workers about non-citizens working for HSPY JV without work permits.

“The inspection resulted in four (4) non-citizens (South Africans) being arrested for contravening Section 165 of the Labour Code Order of 1992. One of the 4 was further charged for contravening section 18 of the Labour code order 1992. The 4 were remanded in custody at Ha Lejone Police Post and will appear in Court in due course,” the statement concluded.

Public Eye has established that Botes is among of the four workers arrested.

Both the Chief Executive Officer of Hillary Construction, Trevor Freestone, and director of Structuretone Construction Esaieh Kometsane Letuka did not answer questions Public Eye sent to their email addresses.

In March, Freestone said his company did not respond to the media. “We will thus have no further engagement with you,” he said. This was after a thread of emails that included correspondence between employees of the joint venture was leaked to Public Eye detailing the extent of Botes’ alleged aggressive behaviour and exposed a litany of his misdemeanors resulting in an exposé in the Public Eye titled: Sex for jobs at Polihali.

In the report Botes came across as aggressive, arrogant and racist.

“I understand that you are under pressure, however, you need to have the emotional intelligence to conduct yourself in an acceptable manner,” said Freestone in an email to Botes in December 2019.

“I have also received various complaints from other parties about your aggressive behaviour. I do again understand some of your frustrations but still that is no excuse. We have enough issues to deal with, so let us not complicate our lives,” Freestone noted. He added: “I am sure you have your side of the story, which you are welcome to express. Please treat others with respect that they deserve and do not let it happen again.” In March, Letuka also confirmed to Public Eye that Botes called him “a Mosotho idiot”.

“About his violence and insults to other Basotho colleagues that he is supervising including impregnating women around nearby communities, I was once approached by one police investigating officer about this matter and I referred him to Freestone as I have heard on a number of occasions that Mr Botes refers to me as a Mosotho idiot that he cannot listen to or give any respect. So I have distanced myself from any issues related to him,” he said.

In December 2019, The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) released an updated report on the progress of the LHWP II. This followed a number of actions by OUTA since 2017 to apply pressure on authorities over the delays of this critical project. OUTA said LHWP II should have been delivering water to Gauteng in 2019 but indicated that it was about eight years behind schedule.

LHWP is a multi-phased project developed in partnership between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa to provide water to the Gauteng province of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was signed in 1986 and is considered Africa’s largest water transfer scheme. Phase I of the project was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004.

The official ground-breaking function for Phase II took place in November 2019 and was attended by South Africa’s minister of human settlements, water and sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, and the then Lesotho’s minister of water Samonyane Ntsekele. When complete, Phase II will increase the current supply rate of 780-million cubic metres a year incrementally to more than 1,270 million cubic metres a year.

 

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