Min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties may im­pede Poli­hali Dam con­struc­tion

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

THE long-awaited con­struc­tion of the Poli­hali Dam which is sched­uled to be­gin next year faces new hur­dles af­ter the Min­istry of Min­ing con­tro­ver­sially awarded li­cences to three min­ing com­pa­nies to prospect for di­a­monds at the dam site.

The Poli­hali Dam is due to be con­structed in terms of the bi-na­tional Le­sotho High­lands Wa­ter Project (LHWP Phase II) but the min­ing min­istry went ahead and is­sued li­cences to three com­pa­nies, namely, Poone Di­a­monds, Ledi Tae­mane and Tha­galu-data Ma­trix.

The Le­sotho Times has also es­tab­lished that the two Min­istries of Min­ing and En­vi­ron­ment also gave the min­ing com­pa­nies the green­light t mine de­spite strong en­vi­ron­men­tal reser­va­tions raised by the Le­sotho High­lands De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (LHDA) and the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in Mokhot­long.

LHDA Pub­lic Re­la­tions Man­ager, Masilo Phakoe, said they raised ob­jec­tions to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Plans (EMPS) which were sent to them last year by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment on the grounds that the EMPS did not pro­vide a “cred­i­ble pic­ture of the po­ten­tial im­pacts of the pro­posed min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on the en­vi­ron­ment and their mit­i­ga­tion”.

The LHWP is a multi-phased project to pro­vide wa­ter to the Gaut­eng re­gion of South Africa and to gen­er­ate hy­dro-elec­tric­ity for Le­sotho. It was es­tab­lished by the 1986 Treaty signed by the gov­ern­ments of Le­sotho and South Africa.

The project en­tails har­ness­ing the wa­ters of the Senqu/or­ange River in the Le­sotho high­lands through the con­struc­tion of a se­ries of dams for the mu­tual ben­e­fit of the two coun­tries.

Phase I of the LHWP, con­sist­ing of the Katse and Mo­hale dams, the ‘Muela hy­dropower sta­tion and as­so­ci­ated tun­nels was com­pleted in 2003 and in­au­gu­rated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is cur­rently in progress. It con­sists of two sep­a­rate but re­lated com­po­nents: wa­ter trans­fer and hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion.

The bi­lat­eral project which is es­ti­mated to cost at least M23 bil­lion, is ex­pected to pro­vide about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its op­er­a­tions.

The wa­ter trans­fer com­po­nent of Phase II com­prises an ap­prox­i­mately 165m high con­crete faced rock fill Dam at Poli­hali down­stream of the con­flu­ence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Or­ange) Rivers and an ap­prox­i­mately 38km long con­crete-lined grav­ity tun­nel con­nect­ing the Poli­hali reser­voir to the Katse reser­voir. Other Phase II ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude ad­vance in­fra­struc­ture (roads, ac­com­mo­da­tion, power lines and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion) and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial mit­i­gat­ing mea­sures.

De­spite the im­pend­ing con­struc­tion of the Poli­hali Dam on the same site, the Min­ing Min­istry still ap­proved the prospect­ing li­cences to the three com­pa­nies.

The com­pa­nies have not com­pleted the prospect­ing ex­er­cise and should it yield pos­i­tive re­sults, then full scale min­ing op­er­a­tions are sup­posed to be com­menced.

Given the fact that less than 10 months re­main be­fore 2019, the year the dam con­struc­tion is sched­uled to be­gin, it has be­come in­creas­ingly clear that the min­ing op­er­a­tions can­not be un­der­taken with­out im­pact­ing on the con­struc­tion work.

More­over, the LHDA Pub­lic Re­la­tions Man­ager, Masilo Phakoe, this week said that the LHDA was about to be­gin the con­struc­tion of ad­vance in­fra­struc­ture for the dam in the ar­eas tar­geted for pro­posed al­lu­vial di­a­mond min­ing.

Mr Phakoe said the al­lu­vial min­ing would there­fore in­ter­fere with the op­er­a­tions and neg­a­tively im­pact the con­struc­tion pro­gramme of Phase II of the LHWP.

He con­firmed that the LHDA re­ceived a let­ter from the En­vi­ron­ment min­istry in­tro­duc­ing the three com­pa­nies to the au­thor­ity and that the three com­pa­nies were in­tro­duced to the lo­cal Mokhot­long com­mu­ni­ties. The let­ter was writ­ten last year in May. He how­ever, said the LHDA never re­ceived any En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Assess­ment re­ports which were nec­es­sary to en­sure that any ac­tiv­i­ties that were con­ducted within the LHWP project ar­eas were done in an en- vi­ron­men­tally and so­cially friendly man­ner and that the neg­a­tive im­pacts were ei­ther avoided or mit­i­gated.

He said “the grant­ing of min­ing li­censes in the LHWP Phase II area will im­pact the en­vi­ron­ment and com­mu­ni­ties in the area”.

“The min­istry did not send us En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Assess­ment re­ports but the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment did send En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Plans (EMPS).

“The Khubelu River is one of the pri­or­ity rivers for the Poli­hali reser­voir. Tak­ing into ac­count the sen­si­tive lo­ca­tion of the tar­geted ex­plo­ration ar­eas in re­la­tion to the Khubelu River, the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided in the EMPS does not pro­vide a cred­i­ble pic­ture of the po­ten­tial im­pact of the pro­posed min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on the en­vi­ron­ment and their mit­i­ga­tion,” Mr Phakoe said.

“The project briefs did not pro­vide suf­fi­ciently de­tailed de­scrip­tions of the project en­vi­ron­ments or the pro­posed project ac­tiv­i­ties. There­fore, the na­ture of the po­ten­tial im­pacts aris­ing from the pro­posed min­ing projects can­not be as­sessed and man­aged ac­cu­rately.”

He said the gov­ern­ment risked a re­peat of the Swiss­bor­ough Case where it was taken to court by in­vestors chal­leng­ing the re­vo­ca­tion of the prospect­ing li­cences they had been awarded on the site of the Katse Dam which was con­structed dur­ing the LHWP Phase I.

South African busi­ness­man Josias Van Zyl and the Swiss­bourgh Di­a­mond Mines (Pty) Lim­ited ini­ti­ated sev­eral le­gal chal­lenges be­fore fi­nally los­ing their case against the gov­ern­ment in the High Court of Sin­ga­pore in Au­gust 2017.

Asked if the Min­ing Min­istry con­sulted the au­thor­ity be­fore award­ing the li­cences, Mr Phakoe said the LHDA was only given an op­por­tu­nity to com­ment on the en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment plans (EMPS) sub­mit­ted by the three com­pa­nies. He said the LHDA ex­pressed its reser­va­tions about the plans.

For­mer Min­ing Min­is­ter, Le­bo­hang Thotanyana, who was at the helm at the time when the prospect­ing li­censes were awarded in May 2017, de­nied is­su­ing them.

He said al­though the three com­pa­nies had been se­lected as the pre­ferred bid­ders, they were not is­sued prospect­ing min­ing li­censes be­cause they had not yet con­ducted the manda­tory En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Assess­ment (EIA) stud­ies to de­ter­mine the ef­fects of their op­er­a­tions on the en­vi­ron­ment and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties be­fore he left of­fice.

Mr Thotanyana left his job af­ter the 3 June 2017 snap elec­tions which ush­ered in the Thomas Tha­bane ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We did not give them li­cences. I left the of­fice of Min­ing Min­is­ter at a time when the com­pa­nies had been or­dered to carry out the EIA study and at the time I left, no one had been given a li­cence to mine al­lu­vial di­a­monds in Mokhot­long,” Mr Thotanyana said.

He how­ever, said the de­ci­sion to start pro­cesses to­wards the award­ing of the li­cences was taken out of the need to pre­vent a re­peat of a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion where the Katse Dam was built be­fore al­lu­vial di­a­monds had been re­cov­ered from its site.

For its part, the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry con­firmed that it cleared the com­pa­nies to prospect for di­a­monds.

The min­istry’s Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary, Motena Tšolo, on Tues­day told this pub­li­ca­tion that her min­istry ap­proved the three com­pa­nies’ EMPS as their main con­cern was to en­sure the di­a­monds were mined be­fore the Poli­hali Dam con­struc­tion be­gins.

Ms Tšolo said the clear­ance cer­tifi­cates were first is­sued in 2014 af­ter the li­cences were ini­tially awarded and the se­cond clear­ance cer­tifi­cates were is­sued last year af­ter the ex­piry of the first ones.

Ms Tšolo said it was im­por­tant to un­der­stand that the prospect­ing li­cences were first is­sued in 2014 and that the com­pa­nies were given two years to com­plete their work.

“We have a dam which will be con­structed in an area that has di­a­monds and so we are say­ing, let us ex­tract di­a­monds be­fore the con­struc­tion starts.

“Yes, it is true that we cleared the com­pa­nies be­cause th­ese di­a­monds are go­ing to ben­e­fit the en­tire na­tion and they need to be ex­tracted be­fore the con­struc­tion be­gins.”

“Th­ese is­sues date back to 2014 and they were go­ing to do it in two years but some­how that did not hap­pen.

“Right now, the is­sue is not so much about the en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues but the fact that the dam will soon be con­structed and the com­pa­nies were awarded time-bound li­cences but they didn’t carry out their min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Now the big­gest ques­tion is what will hap­pen when the con­struc­tion of the dam starts? And in my dis­cus­sions with the Wa­ter min­istry which is re­spon­si­ble for LHDA, we agreed that the com­pa­nies must dig out the sand in the river and sieve it at another place,” Ms Tšolo said.

She ques­tioned why the LHDA was blam­ing her min­istry when it was com­mon cause that it was Min­ing Min­istry that is­sued li­cences.

“It is very sur­pris­ing that the LHDA finds it eas­ier to blame the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and not the Min­istry of Min­ing which awarded the li­cence. They should start with the is­suance of li­cence and ask why it was awarded for a place ear­marked for the con­struc­tion of the dam,” she said.

Ef­forts to con­tact the three com­pa­nies were fruit­less as their tele­phones went unan­swered.

LHDA Pub­lic Re­la­tions Man­ager Masilo Phakoe

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