Friday, April 19, 2013

South Africa, Lesotho Presidents to Tackle Water Project Issues

SA, Lesotho presidents to tackle water project issues


SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma and Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane will meet soon to discuss the first phase of the Highlands Water Project in Lesotho, the country’s foreign minister said in Pretoria on Thursday.

But Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister, Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa, declined to disclose the "issues" to be discussed by the two leaders.

According to reports, Lesotho is said to be unhappy with certain provisions of the treaty that established the Highlands Water Project. The mammoth project includes the construction of the Polihali Dam worth more than R8bn to provide water to Gauteng and other provinces in South Africa.

"The 1986 treaty makes South Africa liable for taxes on all expenditure related to the project," the Mail & Guardian reported in December. "The net effect of the 1999 agreement is that South Africa receives Lesotho’s water tax-free."

According to the article, South Africa pays between R35m and R45m every month for water from Katse and Mohale dams. "A further difference is that, under the 1986 treaty, the water project belongs to Lesotho and South Africa is no more than a customer," the report said. "Under the 1999 agreement, the project is jointly owned by the two countries."

PreventionWeb released an index showing South Africa had areas with a high risk of water stress. Water stress is classified second behind "water scarcity" on the scale of severity, according to the UN.

Corruption was also discovered in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in 1999, including the bribery of a senior in charge of the project by multinational consortiums, according to US based non-profit organisation, International Rivers.

Mr Tsekoa said he and South African International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane underscored the need to expedite the implementation of the project. "We brought from Lesotho a commitment from the government that the Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase two implementation is imminent.

"In the next few weeks, the leaders of our two countries … will be meeting to finally deal with whatever outstanding issues."

Ms Mashabane said power utilities in South Africa and Lesotho were working together to ensure sustainable energy provision in both countries.

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