By Majirata Latela
The ministry of public works and transport has admitted that it has failed the community of Ha Tseka in Maseru after budgetary constraints led to the abandonment of the construction of a footbridge that connects Ha Tseka to Ha Penapena two years ago.
The M1.2million project is said to have commenced in the 2017/2018 financial year, only for the bridge to be left unfinished when funds were not allocated to complete in the next financial year. As a result, people’s lives have been put at risk as they have since resorted to using homemade wooden ladders to climb the bridge and make it across.
Upon its visit to the bridge that links two constituencies of Ha Abia and Qeme on Thursday, theReporter saw men, women and children climbing the ladders to make it to the top and walk to the other side of the Phuthiatsana River. Those with heavy baggage cross with the help of donkeys.
The director general of the Roads Directorate, Seboka Thamae, told this publication that the contractor who was engaged to construct the bridge is not to blame for the unfinished project as he had done his job and is currently waiting for the department to pay him the remaining money in order to finish the bridge.
“Due to budget constraints, the ministry has not been allocated funds to build and complete footbridges for three consecutive financial years – 2018/2019, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021; that is why we have not been able to finish that bridge.
“When the contractor left the project, he had left trusses on either side of the bridge and upon realising that people are now using them too, we ordered the contractor to remove those trusses so that people can see that the bridge is not ready to be used.
“However, people have not stopped using the bridge as they made their own ladders which they are still using. Yes, we understand that it is out of desperation that they are doing that, but we cannot condone that behaviour because they are putting their lives at risk,” Thamae said.
He added that they have realised that apart from putting people’s lives at risk, this also taints image of government. He added that the department is working hard to make sure the bridge is completed.
“Now that the first quarter of the financial year has passed and we still haven’t received money for the current budget, we are looking at the second quarter and hoping to receive funds to complete the bridge,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, public works principal secretary, Mothabathe Hlalele, in March intimated that bad roads do indeed disrupt people’s lives, such that some are unable to reach hospitals and schools, adding that the ministry cannot just sit back and watch people suffer and is committed to coming up with a solution.
The chief of Ha Tseka, ‘Malineo Tseka, said they had for many years been pleading for a bridge that connect Ha Abia and Ha Tseka, which will be the shortest route that people can use to go to town and back.
“Many of our residents work in Maseru, especially at the textile factories and this is the shortest route they can use to get to work on time. We have pleaded to the government for more than five years to help us build this bridge.
“The only course open to us over the years has been crossing the river and risking drowning. Sometimes people fail to report to work when it rains and the river overflows, because they it is costly to travel via Masianokeng and they cannot afford it.
“It take an hour to walk from Ha Tseka to Masianokeng and the only reliable mode of transport is by bakkie due to unusable state of the road. However, when the construction of the bridge started we were happy that our problems has finally been solved,” Tseka said.
She said three years ago when they finally thought the bridge was about to be completed, the constructor left with a promise that he would come after a week to finish the job, but he never showed up until last month.
“We used to cross the river almost every day and yes casualties were there; people drowned while some got injured.
“It was only last week when a woman fell into the river while attempting to cross it; she lost all her belongings which were washed away by the river. Luckily, a 14-year old boy who was nearby saved her from drowning.
“Old people like me who cannot climb the ladders continue to run the gauntlet of crossing the river. It is easier now to use the river especially during the day when the water is not too cold and there are dry patches,” she said.
Chief Tseka related how earlier this year they were slapped with a court order directing them to remove thee ladders, with the ministry of roads warning that it would not take responsibility for people that got injured while using the unfinished bridge.
She said last week a man fell off one of the ladders while attempting to climb it and was admitted to hospital with minor injuries to the head and a fractured arm.
Meanwhile, one of the residents of Ha Tseka, Thabang Mohapi, said other than using the Masianokeng route they have at all times been using the river to get to town and other places because it is less costly and it saves time.
“We have no choice; even though it is risky to cross the river, we have to use this route so we can save money to buy food. Our village is isolated like an island; there are no developments taking place and there are no jobs. We have to go to Maseru town to get jobs,” he said.
Mohapi, therefore, appealed to government to at least finish the bridge so that they can find jobs. He said crossing has other risks such as getting waylaid and mugged by robbers.