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Political Interference Derails M2.4 million Land Reclamation Project

04 March 2024 by Pascalinah Kabi

 Est Read Time: 4 min(s) 5 sec(s)

Listen to the excerpt of the Natural Resources Committee proceedings in Sesotho:

Minister of Environment, Letsema Adontši, and Principal Secretary Maphakamile Xingwana led the ministry’s delegation during their appearance before the Natural Resources’ Portfolio Committee on February 29, 2024. Credit: Pascalinah Kabi

Lesotho’s Ministry of Environment has highlighted that the nation fails to realize the full potential of its M2.4 million investment in the land reclamation project due to political interference.

Thabang Moshoeshoe, the Chief Economic Planner of the Ministry, recently informed parliament that a political decision to transform the project into a job creation initiative has significantly undermined its effectiveness.

Moshoeshoe emphasised that this issue has become particularly evident amidst the recent trend of dwindling budgets allocated to the land reclamation program.

“Another challenge we face is the allocation of funds designated for land rehabilitation programs. You will be my witnesses that the intended impact is not realized primarily due to the utilization of the program as a job creation initiative across all 80 constituencies,” Moshoeshoe said.

Moshoeshoe made these remarks during the Ministry of Environment’s appearance before the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on Natural Resources on February 29, 2024.

“The truth of the matter is that community members would have benefitted from this programme by being employed but the impact of the land reclamation programme is not evident on the ground,” Moshoeshoe said.

During the meeting, the Natural Resources Committee was informed of the dire state of the land reclamation program, to the extent that the government resorted to unlawfully hiring underage children for the project.

Unlawful employment of underage children

The Ministry stated that the unlawful recruitment of underage children was only detected during the payment processing stage.

This occurred because mobile money applications did not permit the unspecified number of underage children to register, receive, or send money.

Nkuebe Lerotholi, the Ministry’s Director of Soil Conservation, informed the committee that the unlawful recruitment of underage children was only identified after they had already participated in the land reclamation program.

“Those permitted to work in the catchment areas are aged between 18 and 69,” Lerotholi said.

He added: “However, we faced a challenge regarding underage children participating in the program. Despite providing clear explanations on eligibility criteria before recruitment begins, this issue persisted. Mistakes during the registration process often go unnoticed due to the high volume of registrations and oversight by staff. Efforts are underway to address and rectify this issue.”

Lerotholi’s response stirred frustration among committee members, prompting Mafeteng lawmaker and committee chairperson Moeketsi Motšoane to urge Environment Minister Letsema Adontši and Principal Secretary Maphakamile Xingwana to rein in their staff.

Natural Resources Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Moeketsi Motšoane. Credit: Pascalinah Kabi

“Honourable Minister and Principal Secretary, these are unacceptable matters that should not even be brought before us. There is no excuse for hiring underage children.

“It is imperative that every individual recruited meets the necessary qualifications for employment. Simply stating that a 15-year-old was hired because they were mistakenly believed to be 12 years old is not justifiable. What are your recruitment procedures that fail to detect such crucial errors?” asked Motšoane.

Lerotholi’s attempt to defend the matter by claiming it was the first time the ministry encountered this challenge appeared to exacerbate the situation. Mekaling legislator, Thabiso Lekitla, contended that unlawful acts should not be categorized as challenges the ministry is dealing with.

“I respectfully request that the director refrain from characterizing this as a mere challenge. Shouldn’t there be rigorous verification processes in place within this ministry? We are mature enough to recognize that an unlawful act cannot be simply dismissed as a challenge,” Lekitla said.

PS urges committee support for depoliticization of land reclamation project.

Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Maphakamile Xingwana, expressed apologies to the committee for certain issues that “should not have occurred in the first place.”

Xingwana emphasized the importance of rectifying mistakes, stating, “I think the most crucial aspect is how to correct our errors.”

She expressed concerns that the current state of the land reclamation program does not align with the fundamental principles of integrated catchment management approaches.

“Integrated catchment management projects are not solely about providing job opportunities for clearing unwanted vegetation or simple employment creation,” she emphasized.

“We have reached a point where individuals working under the land reclamation program are assigned tasks such as cleaning cemeteries, which diverges from the core objectives of our ministry. The primary focus should be on understanding and implementing integrated catchment management principles to achieve our goals.”

Xingwana then appealed to the Natural Resources Committee for assistance, stating, “We are reaching out to you, honourable members, and humbly requesting your support.”

“As a ministry, we need to operate in accordance with the principles of integrated catchment management approach, following the successful practices of our past. Previously, there were typically only two integrated catchment management projects per district, spanning two to three years for completion. It’s important to recognize that impactful results cannot be achieved within a mere six months or one year.

“However, if we are granted the opportunity to implement integrated catchment management projects in line with established principles, we can effectively demonstrate the capabilities of our ministry. This approach will enable us to showcase how our ministry will realize its vision by 2027,” emphasized Xingwana.

She mentioned that the ministry has already identified a specific location to work on in line with the principles of integrated catchment management systems for the 2024/25 fiscal year.

“I kindly request that the honourable minister (Letsema Adontši) invites, at that time, this esteemed committee to accompany us to this location for a demonstration of best practices in integrated catchment management,” she expressed.

“We would like to commence this journey with the committee, allowing them to witness the degraded state of the area we will be addressing on the first day, and then revisit after we have made significant progress. I acknowledge the concerns raised regarding spending, indicating poor performance, and assure you that we are committed to working diligently to reverse this situation,” Xingwana concluded.

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