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Fighting corruption in the water sector of Sierra Leone

Most people in Sierra Leone are of the notion that water is a free gift and that one should not pay a cent to afford it. The government holds the notion that to maintain water service delivery sustainability, the masses must be in a position to pay water rates and other charges, so as to pay workers, secure more machines, and also repair and construct more water resources.

This conflict is adversely affecting the operations of the Water Resource Ministry in ensuring that the people, especially the poor that are in deprived communities, are accorded pure and affordable drinking. As a result of this gap between the rich and the poor in accessing water, there are a lot of social, economic, and environmental impacts on water resource management.

As the struggle between the rich who can opt for all means to secure water at all times, and the poor who struggle, some business water companies and some officials are having a field day in embarking on corrupt practices that are affecting the water service delivery system in various parts of the country.

Illegal water tapping

It is a common practice for the youths to either divert the flow of water from the main resources to the households by illegally using rubber pipes and charging inhabitants to pay money that goes into their pockets.

As a result, those paying their bills go without the service for some time. This situation has degenerated to the point that in broad daylight, along the major streets of the city, people are visible with cans or buckets in their hands destroying the pipes to scoop water. The unfortunate aspect of this situation is that most of these pipes are located in drainages that are very filthy or near poor sewage facilities, thereby polluting the drinking water or serving as breeding grounds for the transmission of water-borne diseases.

This issue can be addressed if effective an monitoring mechanism is instituted to protect the structures for effective water service delivery and educate the people on the dangers involved.

Illegal business practices

Another disheartening corrupt activity in the water sector is the act of private water companies not going through the correct processes involved before selling their products to the masses. For a water company to be accorded the right to operate in a state, it must be registered, samples of the product tested, and later the structures evaluated. Today with the desire to exploit the masses, some of these private water companies waste no time after registration and start processing and selling untested water to the public.

Recently, for example, the management of Family Care Water implicated the management of Sierra Spring Water for using their brand. According to the report, the management of Sierra Spring Company is currently being investigated by the Aberdeen Police Division on allegations ranging from forging and using Family Care Water Company brand to packeting and selling water to the public.

This issue came to light when the head office of Family Care Water was stormed by the Sierra Leone Police, the media, and some customers on the grounds that some of the water plastics sold to the public contained a lot of particles that will affect the human system.

With this dismal situation, a team from Family Care Water contacted [the intellectual property offices of] Roxy Building to inquire if there was any other organization or company in the country that had registered with that name. As there was none, the search team mounted an investigation. On Thursday, they were able to locate a hideout at 27 Gordon Street. In the said building, it was realized that Sierra Spring Water had a lot of packet Family Care Water bundles that were to be sold to the public.

The Office of Standards Bureau was alerted to the issue. Inspector Martin attached to the Water Industry of the Sierra Leone Standards Bureau visited the scene and placed the company under lock and key with the message that the manager of Sierra Spring Water must report on Monday, 20th October 2015 to help in the investigations. The management was to explain how they acquired the brand of Family Care Water, the process of registration to establish a water company and other relevant documents.

Speaking to the Public Relations Office of Standards Bureau Mr. Abu B. Bah on the said issue, it was revealed that when the matter was brought to their attention, Inspector Elvis Mohamed Koroma was dispatched to the scene and the following findings were made: The management of Sierra Spring Water was using the plastic roll (sachet) of Family Care Water to packet. It was realized that the packet water sold by Sierra Spring was not tested at the Standards Bureau so the officer was left with no option but to seal the door. Already samples have been collected for analysis and this will lead to a police investigation and charging of the matter to court. All efforts were made to get the side of the manager of Sierra Spring Water Company.

This problem can be addressed if Standard Bureau embarks on massive on-the-spot checks of these water companies to ensure that they comply with the laid down procedures at all times and that defaulters are fined or have their licenses seized.

Illegal contracting

In the area of awarding contracts for the establishment of boreholes or standing pipes in many places, during the dry season, most of these facilities are non-functional on the grounds that the contractors failed to actually reach the water level. In a situation where this happens especially in the provincial areas, most of the pipes are either sold to scrap metal business people or criminals have a field day with this equipment.

If such a situation is to be addressed, credible contractors that have vast ideas in drilling for water must be awarded the right to undertake such a venture.

Reposted with permission of the author. To view the original article, visit the West Africa WASH Journalists Network. Click here to learn more about WIN’s water integrity programmes around the world.


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