The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has been slapped with a M240 million lawsuit for failing to pay ground rent from as far back as 1991.
The Land Administration Authority (LAA) has petitioned the Land Court division of the High Court to order the LHDA to pay its outstanding ground rent amounting to M240 265 097.38 accrued from 1991 when the LHDA started occupying the land in question.
The LAA is a government body responsible for land administration and registration among other land related matters.
The LHDA is the implementing authority of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP II).
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.
Although the LAA's court papers do not state the location of the land in question, it is listed as plot number 36242-042.
According to the LAA, the LHDA was afforded the 86, 37 square kilometres of land on 14 November 1991 by then Interior Minister in terms of the Ministerial Grant of Title.
The LAA therefore, argues that the LAA was liable to pay ground rent as per section 77 of the Land Act 2010 as amended. Section 77(1) states that, "There shall be payable ground rent in respect of leases, unless a lessee is exempted from such ground rent as the minister (of Local Government) may, by notice published in a gazette, determine".
The LAA states in its court papers that it took several initiatives to remind the LHDA, through letters, of its obligation to pay ground rent. However, the communication was ignored by the LHDA hence the lawsuit.
"The applicant (LAA) specifically pleads that the respondent (LHDA) breached its obligation as conferred by the law (section 77 of the Land Act 2010) in that there was and there still remains failure or neglect to perform in terms of the lease conditions, which include amongst others, the obligation to pay ground rent annually as and when it falls due.
"The applicant served some reminders in the form of Letter of Demand and ground rent bills on the respondent. However, the respondent still has not paid the ground rent debt. The applicant specifically pleads that the respondent has despite formal and written demands, neglected and or refused to effect payment of ground rent to date and is thereby aggrieved as a result.
"The applicant specifically pleads that the respondent is indebted in the amount of M240 265 097.38 as ground rent and the said non-payment is both illegal and legally reprehensible, and for that reason the applicant is aggrieved," the LAA states in the Land Court application.
The LAA therefore, prays the Land Court to order the LHDA to "pay the outstanding ground rent and arrears owed the LAA in the amount of M240 265 097.38".