Govt leaves road unfinished

• Deadlock over compensation forces govt to leave road unfinished • Govt tried to use soldiers, police to forcefully remove land owners • It’s not clear if environmental impact assessment was done

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By ‘Majirata Latela

The ministry of local government and chieftainship has decided to abandon the Maputsoe Road Networks project which was only 80 metres from completion, following disagreements with some residents over compensation packages.

The M214million 16.3km long road upgrade project was undertaken by China Geo Construction in 2018 and is meant to relieve traffic from Sir Seretse Khama Road and to develop the ever-growing town of Maputsoe.

Maputsoe, Lesotho’s second largest town, is located in the northern district of Leribe in Lesotho; it shares a border-post with Ficksburg in the eastern Free State, with a shared population of over 300, 000 with Hlotse, in the Leribe district, as per the 2016 population and housing census with a thriving textile industry after the capital, Maseru.

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Like all big projects, the construction work was bound to affect people. In this case, the road would eat into people’s yards, and they expected to be compensated. They demand compensation on their terms, while government on the other hand feels the demands are unreasonable.

Three obstinate residents of Ha Motlalehi are adamant they should be compensated for the land that will be taken to make way for the 1km portion of the tarmac road that passes through the village.

And they have vowed not to budge to make way for the road unless they get what they want. 

Lesotho’s Land Act of 2010, as amended, under section 51 (1) and (2) – Expropriation and acquisition of land for the public interest – says where it appears to the minister in the public interest that land is required for purposes of development, the minister may, after consultation with the relevant allocating authority and by notice published in the Gazette, declare any area of land for development.

“The following shall constitute circumstances under which land may be expropriated in the public interest – (a) setting aside land for the development of agriculture by modern farming techniques; (b) construction or development of a new residential, commercial or industrial area; or (c) development or reconstruction of existing built-up area.”

theReporter visited Maputsoe this week to get view point of the residents who unlike their counterparts elsewhere, do not enjoy the luxury of a tarred road on their door step.

One of them, Thabang Taemane, said they are currently waiting for further negotiations with relevant stakeholders, as they had indicated in no uncertain terms that they cannot just part with a portion of their yards without getting anything in return whereas people in other villages have been recompensed.

“The problem started when the engineer and the contractor changed the location of the proposed road because they deemed it too expensive to construct on the initially planned location.

“The challenge then began when we brought up the issue of compensation in line with the Land Act of 2010. That is the only reason we have not allowed them to slice out our land and there is still no road construction here.

“Before construction of the road, community gatherings were held and people were asked to forego three feet of their land. Some of us would have to give up six feet in order to accommodate the seven-metre wide road.  We tried to work all kinds of compromise but they were not willing to meet us half way,” Taemane said.

He added that members of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Services have even tried to force them to give up their land, but did not go ahead with their plan when they heard the residents’ side of the story.

 “We are not opposed to any kind of development but we also need compensation, that is what we have told the minister during his visit here; he promised to get back to us after ‘sitting down’ with his officers,” he further said.

The councillor for Motlalehi ED4, Chabalala Lipholo says the Maputsoe Urban Council has tried to enlist the help of the local chief to get the community members to see reason, but to no avail.

“I even tried to get the police to talk to the people but this too didn’t work. I don’t know what these people want as compensation, apart from what I hear between the corridors that they are demanding ridiculous amounts of money. When I approach them they say they do not want to talk to me because I cannot give them what they want. That is why I called the minister to intervene,” Lipholo said.

He further claimed that the council was told its role in the project was only observational and that everything would be dealt with at central government level. He added that councillors do not even know how the recruitment of workers in this construction was done.

For his part, the ministry of local government’s chief engineer, Mooka Namoli yesterday said when the road construction started in 2018, public consultations were held and people were made aware that the development is not only for the country but also for them as the community members.

He said they were asked to cooperate and the compensation issue was discussed.

“They were told about the compensation process that would be used since the government did not have money to compensate everyone who would be affected by the construction of the road.

“One of the conditions was that the only community members who will receive compensation are those who would lose at least half of their land. The compensation would be in the form of relocation or construction of new house on the same site. We also took into consideration the size of each yard. Eating away three feet is a bigger loss to someone with a small yard.

“We tried all we could to reach consensus and show them that the amount of compensation is proportional to the impact on individual plots but they were having none of that. They wanted cash equivalent to a two-room house. The negotiations broke down, so government has decided to leave that section where the land owners do not want to shift. This means we have left the road unfinished. That’s something like 80 metres left.

“We have noted that the recent torrents have caused massive damage to some of the houses this past week, so the contractor – instead of repaying the money already paid to him – will repair those houses, and improve storm water drainage systems of the roads.”

It is not clear if an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conduct prior for this road construction project, but the National Environment Secretariat has on numerous times warned that big projects that commence without EIA certificates could still be halted and have their permits revoked.   

An EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.

According to the Environmental Act of 2008 section 108(3), the courts may order that any licence permit or other authorisation given under this Act and to which the offence relates be cancelled. The Act further stipulates that if the permit is not cancelled, the court may also issue an environmental restoration order against the accused.

The Act according to Section 4(1) (a)(b) and also (2) shows that every person living in Lesotho has a right to scenic, clean and healthy environment and has a duty to protect and also inform the NES of all activities that are prone to affect the environment.

Moreover, every person may, where the right referred to in subsection (1) is threatened as a result of an activity or omission which is causing or likely to cause harm to human health or environment, bring action against the person whose activity or omission is causing or is likely to cause harm to human health or the environment.