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02 Nov 2012 00:00
Lesotho locals on horseback attend the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase One inauguration ceremony in Mohale in Lesotho. (Reuters)
Tensions are simmering between the South African and Lesotho governments over the appointment of a fraud convict as an adviser to the giant Lesotho Highlands water scheme.
The South Africans have made it clear that they are unhappy with Lesotho's appointment of the scheme's former chief executive, Masupha Sole, as technical adviser to the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, which has equal representation from both countries.
Sole, former boss of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, was jailed for taking R5million in kickbacks from Canada's Acres International and German-based Lahmeyer International between the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The companies, which were also convicted and fined by the Lesotho High Court, had received lucrative tenders as consultants on the construction of the Katse Dam.
Sentenced to 15 years in jail, Sole was paroled in May last year after spending nine years behind bars.
Within three months he had been appointed adviser to the commission, despite objections by South African Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, the All Basotho Convention, which was Lesotho's main opposition party at the time, and the media.
His appointment comes at a time when South Africa has approved an investment of more than R9-billion in the construction of the Polihali Dam to supply more water to Gauteng.
As the water commission's chief technical adviser, Sole will provide policy direction.
The appointment irked Molewa, who immediately sought legal opinion from the attorneys general of both Lesotho and South Africa.
She told South Africa's Parliament in November last year that she was seeking legal opinion based on the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority's procurement policy.
She also invited the response of other stakeholders, including the World Bank, South Africa's Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, the water scheme itself and the water commission's legal officers.
"Both the Cabinets of South Africa and Lesotho have ensured that there is an inclusion of a clause that ensures anti-corruption and good governance in the recently signed memorandum of understanding for this development," Molewa told Parliament.
"In addition, the [commission] will establish an independent oversight body that will be responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of all procurement processes."
South African water affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau confirmed last week that no legal advice had yet reached the minister's office.
The Mail & Guardian understands that Sole's position is a political one and it is the prerogative of the Lesotho government to appoint or remove members of its commission team.
However, Ratau told the M&G that the South African government was convinced that Sole "is not a member of the commission" and "he will not advise the commission on anything".
New coalition government
"If the Lesotho government decides to keep him as its adviser, we have no problem – that's within their rights. But we're sure that he has nothing to do with the commission," he said.
"Our information is correct that Mr Sole has been effectively removed from the commission."
But Sole and the Lesotho government contradicted Ratau, saying they still considered the former chief executive a commission member.
Lesotho's minister in the prime minister's office, Molobeli Soulo, said the country's energy and water affairs minister, Timothy Thahane, had told the Cabinet that he would deal with the matter after the new coalition government was established in May.
Soulo said the Cabinet was still waiting for Thahane to reveal how he planned to proceed on the issue.
"The Cabinet has not discussed this issue because the Honourable Thahane said he was going to deal with it and it falls under his ministry," Soulo said.
"It will be wrong and misleading to say his majesty's Cabinet is shying away from the issue.
We are waiting for the Honourable Thahane."
Pressed on what he was planning to do with regard to Sole, Thahane said "the issue is still under discussion and the government will announce its decision once it has been finalised".
He agreed that "South Africa feels uncomfortable with Mr Sole, [who] was appointed under the previous administration.
Sole told the M&G that nothing had changed regarding his appointment as chief technical adviser to the commission.
"To the best of my knowledge I am a member of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, giving it advice as commissioned by the government of Lesotho," he said.
"I am still working at the commission, for the commission and with the commission."
Sources in the Lesotho premier's office have suggested that there is a reluctance to act against Sole, a senior member of the Basotho National Party, because it could disrupt the coalition government.
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.
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