It was encouraging to see Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s recent reply to a Parliamentary question relating to the approach being taken by government to the appointment of Masupha Sole as a technical adviser to the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC). The appointment was contentious as Sole, who is a former CEO the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, was convicted by a Lesotho court for accepting bribes during the first phase of the megaproject.
Responding to a question posed by the Democratic Alliance’s Gareth Morgan on whether she was aware of Sole’s appointment at a time when plans were being made to develop the next phase of the project, Molewa said that she had not only objected to the appointment, but had backed that objection with a “comprehensive legal opinion”.
That seems to have been sufficient for the Lesotho Cabinet to have reconsidered its stance, and it has since reportedly indicated that Sole will have no involvement in the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), nor the LHWC. If implemented, it can surely be considered a long overdue victory in the ongoing fight against corruption.
But there was additional encouragement to be gained from the response, as Molewa indicated that an “anticorruption policy” was also being considered by the Phase 2 stakeholders, which included the World Bank, the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, the Lesotho Attorney General’s office, the LHDA and the LHWC.
The Cabinets of South Africa and Lesotho have already included a clause on corruption and good governance in the recently signed memorandum of understanding for the scheme, which will involve significant investment – the water aspect of the project is likely to cost around R7.8-billion and Lesotho is also hoping to implement a R7.6-billion hydropower project.
To operationalise this commitment, the LHWC will be establishing an independent oversight body that will be responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of all the procurement processes. A project management unit that will be responsible for the implementation of the project should also be in place by January 2012.
There is arguably little doubt that Phase 2, which should be completed by July 2020, is needed to ensure that South Africa’s economic heartland remains water secure. But given the size of the project, the potential for corruption remains a serious and ever-present threat.
These early efforts to avert such practices and instil a culture of good governance are to be welcomed. Hopefully, they will be fully supported by workable and wholly transparent enforcement policies, institutions and procedures.