The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation convened virtually to deliberate on and adopt the report of the Committee’s oversight visit to Lesotho.
During the discussion, the consensus among all Members was that the 1986 South Africa Lesotho Water Treaty must be reviewed. Members also agreed that it was absolutely necessary for the Department of Human Settlementd, Water and Sanitation and the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) to brief the Committee on the treaty as well as many other issues that emerged from Members’ inputs in this meeting.
Members expressed disappointment at the lack of guidance provided by the Department and the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) entity on their oversight visit. A Member expressed the view that had there been a competent official from the Department and the entity, who had accompanied Members during the visit, there would not have been so many clarity-seeking questions in this meeting.
Members raised the concerns of the TCTA being a company owned by an American company and developed economies such as Italy that benefitted from Africa’s resources, whereas there was no clear indication of who the primary recipients from those international investments and business exports were. Members also expressed concerns on the issuing of quota and work permits as well as the disgruntlement of individuals, as the end date of the project was getting nearer.
Members enquired about the oversight role of TCTA; TCTA’s contingency plan for sustainable water supply should the current climate change challenge persist; the short payment of Lesotho government on the R160 million commitment; the economic spin-off sectors as a result of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP); the issue of compensation; the 300-megawatt increase for the hydro-power station; the status of Namibia on the project; a potential candidate who could take charge of TCTA after the current engineer went into retirement.
Members emphasised that the project must benefit the people of Lesotho and suggested that the inclusion of those that grew Marijuana plant should benefit from the project. Members stressed the importance of reducing the negative sides of downstream on the people living in surrounding areas and monitoring the accommodation that had been built in the area.
Members commended the excellent work this project has accomplished, as it was an exemplification of the joint work of both South African and Lesotho people.
The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting and asked Members to observe a moment of silence for the challenge that the country was facing. On behalf of the Committee, she sent condolences to colleagues and their family members who had passed on during the pandemic.
The Chairperson proposed to play the video for those who had not gone to Lesotho for the Committee oversight visit.
The Committee Secretary confirmed that the Committee had received two apologies. One was from Ms S Buthelezi (IFP), as she had to be with the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the other apology was submitted by Mr S August (GOOD) due to unforeseeable circumstances.
Draft report on the Committee’s oversight visit to the Kingdom of Lesotho
The Committee’s Content Advisor, Mr Thomani Manungufala, took Members through the report.
After finishing the report, the Chairperson asked Members if there was any input that Members would make on the report.
Mr M Mashego (ANC) added to the list of recommendations that the review of the 1986 South Africa Lesotho water treaty must be included in the report. He stated that the circumstances under which the agreement had been reached between the two governments in 1986 no longer reflects the true reality of today. Therefore, it is important to include the review of the 1986 treaty in the report’s recommendations.
Ms M Mohlala (EFF) noted a huge omission of the Department of Water and Sanitation in the report. She also complained about the lack of initiative from the representative, Mr Baloyi, from the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA). Instead of taking the lead, Mr Baloyi was just following Members throughout Members’ visit. Ms Mohlala had raised this issue before, and now she reiterated that since TCTA is the implementing agency there. The Committee would need a much more experienced person to engage with Members and inform them on details of the project.
Ms Mohlala said that the objective of the report was not compatible with the Committee’s mandate. The report emphasised collaboration and strengthening relation with Lesotho Parliamentary Committee, but the mandates of the two committees are different. Although she did not think that the Committee would have an issue of South African ambassadors playing an oversight role, she believed that such a conception misplaced the priority, as the TCTA was the implementing body that represented South Africa and thus was in a better position to play the oversight role.
Ms Mohlala also said that the Committee could not reach a resolution without receiving briefings from the TCTA and the Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation.
Ms Mohlala raised the issue of TCTA being a company that was owned by an American company in the fish farming industry. She had raised this issue in the past, that other international big players such as American companies come to Africa and use Africa’s resource. She wanted to know how Africans benefiting from such an arrangement apart from employment opportunities.
Ms Mohlala noted during the Lesotho Parliament visit that there was a challenge around the issuing of quota and work permits for the Highlands Water Project (LHWP). She asked this question in relation to her concern about the 1986 Treaty, as it affected people who were working in Lesotho. What has been done since then?
Ms S Mokgotho (EFF) enquired about South Africa’s progress in addressing the delays of issuing work permits, to skilled South African workers, by Lesotho government. She commented that this was important, as it was affecting project progress.
Ms Mokgotho asked if the Committee had asked the TCTA what their contingency plan would be if climate change persisted to the extent that dams could not cater sufficient water to South Africa in future.
Ms Mokgotho noted that the Lesotho government had committed R40 million to second phase of the project. However, this figure was still way below the required R160 million. Did anyone bring up the matter to the Lesotho government during the visit? She further asked what South Africa could do if Lesotho government was unable to commit to the R160 million that was agreed upon.
Mr L Basson (DA) described the trip as “an eye-opener” to what people could do together for future generations.
Mr Basson commented on the R160 million matter. He said that Members should look at it from South Africa’s perspective. Because the project is crucial for South Africa to get water in future, he cautioned Members against including any recommendation that would rush Lesotho to pay. He stressed the importance to build a good relationship with Lesotho.
Mr Basson said that the Committee currently had two things that Members needed to deal with. The first was for them to sit down with the TCTA and ask them to tell Committee how the entity planned on its way forward towards financing the project. The second was for Members to look at the 1986 Treaty. He said that it is a balance because Lesotho would always want to get more from South Africa but South Africa wanted to pay less.
Mr Basson commended the stellar work done by the Committee. It was truly representing South Africa’s interest for Members to work together across political lines and be a united front. He suggested that it might be necessary to include some wordings of gratitude for the hospitality that Members received in Lesotho.
Mr M Tseki (ANC) concurred with Mr Basson on the good work and welcoming reception that the Committee had experienced in Lesotho.
On the objectives, Mr Tseki suggested that the report needed to include the fact that the visit was also about looking at the economic spin-off of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. From his observation, he found that there was a broad range of economic spin-offs there as a result of the project. For instance, the report should include fishes, etc.
Mr Tseki mentioned that they needed to check the ownership of the lodges in surrounding areas and suggested that people who had been displaced be potential beneficiaries of these places.
Mr Tseki enquired whether it was possible for compensation to be paid out in the form of legacy investment in the business project so that it could benefit their families and communities.
Mr Tseki emphasised the importance of receiving briefings from TCTA and the Department on the review of the 1986 Treaty so that Members could engage with them.
Mr Tseki commented that he and other Committee Members did not get much useful input from the representative from TCTA. Mr Baloyi was under-capacitated and it was a drawback for that visit.
Mr Tseki wanted one or two sentences inserted to the report, which would outline the role of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
The report sought clarity on the 300 megawatts increase for the hydro-power station.
Mr Tseki reminded everyone of the possible disgruntlement of individuals and indicated that it should be explicitly stated in the report how the Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation as well as the government of Lesotho planned to deal with people’s disgruntlement. He asked for a 50-year project, people’s patience would wear thin as the end date is near and he asked if it would create problems in future in terms of the facility’s security.
Mr Tseki emphasised the importance of the property around the lodges benefiting the people of Lesotho. And since those growing the marijuana plant used the same water, they also needed to benefit from the project.
Mr Tseki added that since Namibia has not agreed on something in the report, the report needed to state that the Committee wanted to know the status of Namibia on the project.
Mr Tseki sought clarity on the working permit matter.
Mr Tseki stressed that the impact of downstream must be strictly controlled in all these dams to mitigate the negative side. Although it is inevitable that people will be affected, people should not be affected too much.
At last, Mr Tseki added that this project was done by both the people of South Africa and Lesotho. There are participants that had been educated in both Lesotho and South Africa. He thought it was necessary highlight this in the report.
Ms N Mvana (ANC) mentioned that there was the issue of people from South Africa that were not being employed as Lesotho people would. She said that it could be due to the licensing and permits issue and asked the point to be included in the report.
Ms Mvana indicated that the report must also show encouragement of the Committee to localise their businesses and buy from South Africa.
Ms Mvana noted that the person who was in charge of the TCTA had told Committee Members that he was going into retirement soon and there was a young and energetic man that accompanied their visit who could take over. She believed that the report should also indicate that the Committee supported this young man take over once the current TCTA person went into retirement.
Ms Mvana said that the report must also include having a meeting with Lesotho government even if the meeting had to be conducted virtually.
Ms Mvana said that the progress in terms of how far dams are right now needed to be checked so that South Africa could get water to the Orange River Dam.
Ms Mvana said that the report also needed to mention that the accommodation that had been built there needed thorough monitoring. Otherwise, those buildings would be taken advantage of and not being used for their intended purposes such as accommodation for tourists.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) commended the Department’s effort and the Chaiperson’’s leadership in making this report possible. She said that the report was well compiled and had covered a wide range of issues.
On the issue of the treaty, she recommended Committee Members should be exposed to the treaty so that they could understand the background of the treaty in order to make meaningful inputs.
Ms Sihlwayi said that the evaluation of the programme performance of the two governments was very loaded. That performance would be informing Members whether or not South Africa had benefitted from the programme. Hence, she thought it should be offloaded from the objectives because there was finance and funding that had been given to the programme. One needed to get the efficiency and effectiveness of all those issues that had been raised. In the end, the important question was if the programme was sustainable. She agreed with Ms Basson’s view that the relationship between South Africa and Lesotho was very unique and suggested not to rush to a conclusion.
Ms Sihlwayi said that a wide range of issues such as labour relations, compensation, skills-building, and work permits could all contribute to the complication of the programme if not being managed appropriately.
Also, she mentioned the issue of Namibia, saying that the delay in the project was also an issue of concern. As most of those issues involve government funding, she believed it would be vital for Members to know more details about those issues.
Ms Sihlwayi suggested for the Committee to spend a whole day working on this report to understand more details about the matters arising from the report, as this report was rich in content. Members needed more details and time before they could apply their minds to it.
Mr Mashego commented that, in terms of Committee procedure, he thought the report needed to be adopted before the Committee could start implementing its recommendations.
Mr Mashego complained about the disappointing experience that Members had encountered with the Department official, Mr Sithole. Mr Sithole had left Members in the middle of a trip. What then was his mandate? As for Mr Baloyi, he was just a photograph in the meeting rather than a delegate of the TCTA from the Department. Later on, Members listened to the CEO, who complained to them but Members were not able to understand much of the complaint. Mr Mashego remarked that it was just a worrisome situation and Members needed the Department to provide clarity on that.
Mr Mashego said that the majority of the fishes are being exported to Italy with only a tiny fraction of the produce being provided to local retail markets such as Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, and Spar. The Committee needed to understand who benefitted from the sales of the fish export to Italy.
Mr Mashego informed Members that the older gentleman to which Ms Mvana had referred was Leon. The gentleman had indicated to Members during the visit that he was retiring. Mr Mashego agreed with Ms Mvana that the very young and energetic black man should take over after Leon retired.
The Chairperson reminded Members that although both portfolio committees of Lesotho Parliament and the South African Parliament had agreed to review the treaty, they were not executive branches of their respective governments. The Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation still needs to come to the Committee. The Department needs to be made aware of Members’ observation and recommendations on the Lesotho visit. Hence, it is important to adopt the report before Committee could start implementing its recommendations.
The Chairperson also agreed that the Committee needed to invite the Department to provide a briefing to the Committee on the treaty so that Members could ask questions in order to deepen their understanding. After receiving this briefing, the Committee can then resolve to make recommendations on the content that it rendered appropriate to put into the treaty.
Committee Content Advisor’s Inputs
Mr Manungufala noted the consensus among Members that the treaty needed to be reviewed and that this be highlighted it in the report.
He said that it would need to be added to the report that the Department and TCTA needed to explain their lack of support during Members’ oversight visit to Lesotho.
He noted the Committee’s intention to work collaboratively with the Lesotho Parliamentary Committee to discuss the issues that needed to be addressed. He said that a virtual or physical meeting could be arranged.
Mr Manungufala said that the report would include community empowerment and suggested that the second round of procurement for fish-farming companies would adhere to the need to benefit the people in the areas. He would put it into the report’s recommendations.
Mr Manungufala noted the Members’ concern on the impact of climate change on the Lesotho project, which would extend into a challenge of water availability in future. On this question, he suggested that TCTA entity, together with the Department, provide some insights on how they planned to intensify measures to deal with the increasing climate change impact on the project. He would include it in the report.
Mr Manungufala said that the South African government was assured by the Lesotho government that it would honour its R160 million commitment. Members just needed to see how this would unfold.
Mr Manungufala commented that Members’ visit to Lesotho was more of a study tour than an oversight visit. The infrastructural funding model that Members had learnt during this trip could be insightful and be imparted to the Department.
Mr Manungufala said that the local procurement principle would be re-emphasised in the report.
Mr Manungufala indicated that he had informally interacted with TCTA and was of the impression that one gentleman had been earmarked to succeed Leon, who was going into retirement. The Committee Advisor would include it in the report.
He agreed that the objectives could be expanded before the report was finalised and circulated.
On the hydro-power station matter, Mr Manungufala responded that the matter was still under investigation. An economic impact assessment was underway. Once that process was concluded, a hydro-power station would be built in that area.
On the issue of downstream water, Mr Manungufala explained that Members would have noted during their visit that there was water being discharged from the dam that was to be used in nature reserve. The standard of water treatment and maintenance was to ensure aquatic life organisms in the ecosystem in order to cater for people who live by the downstream, who were using the same water.
Mr Manungufala said that the no-objection letter from Namibia was not as a high-risk issue. The Department was getting a guarantee to secure funding from international banking institutions. The purpose was to state that the country that was to be affected by the development that South Africa intended to build should be notified. He indicated that he would include the no-objection letter into the report’s recommendations.
Ms Mohlala emphasised the importance of strengthening governance challenges, funding capacity as well as other big companies involved in the Lesotho Highland Project.
Ms Mohlala remarked that if the Department had sent a competent representative to accompany the Members during the visit, Members would not have had so many questions now.
The report was adopted by the Committee.
The Chairperson thanked the Members and Committee support staff for attending the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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