By Jariatu Bangura
Members of the Parliamentary Water Committee have accused stakeholders in the water sector of putting the lives of Sierra Leoneans at risk due to improper regulations of sachet and bottle water producing companies.
MPs expressed frustration and disappointment in the sector for their blatant disregard in doing the right thing by shutting down water companies that produce unpurified water for public consumption.
They noted that there were a lot of water companies operating across the country with only 59 having valid licenses to operate.
As for the Ministry of Water Resources, lawmakers said it was disappointing that a whole ministry doesn’t have a comprehensive database of companies producing sachet and bottle water.
Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Doris Bah, said her directorate is responsible to developing policies and procedures, and monitoring and formulating standards operating procedures within the directorate to ensure healthy environment.
She said the issue of accessing pure drinking water across the country was very challenging, hence the need for concerned stakeholders to come together and find ways to address the issue.
“We are all defaulters, I can say. If you go to the field, there are a lot of issues-no proper regulations to bring defaulters to book. You will see people staying in one small corner and fetching water from the well and producing sachet water and take it to the public without checks from both the ministry of health or Standards Bureau. The water sold out to the public is being recycled and we continue to drink contaminated water,” she noted.
Madam Bah stated that before any water company begins operations, the first point of call should be the ministry for environmental site visit, but that things were done the other way round.
She added that most of the companies would always start operations and selling contaminated water to the public before going to them for certificate of environmental and sanitation checks.
She revealed that only two hundred and eleven (211) water companies have gone to the ministry for the certificate and paid consultation fees.
Chairman of the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC), Emmanuel Mannah said they have identified 369 companies producing sachet and bottle water, and that only 59 have valid licenses to operate.
He said as at last year, they have closed down 65 companies albeit some have started renewing their licenses.
He said they were challenged with closing down business places due to the lack of positive response from the Sierra Leone police.
He said they sent written correspondences to the Sierra Leone Police to provide them with security during operations,but gotten no response.
Director of Water Resources in the Ministry of Water Resources, Augustine Tucker failed to provide the actual number of companies producing sachet water across the country on the basis that his office lacks logistics to operate and perform supervisory functions.
He said as a ministry they have only visited three out of the 369 water companies due to the lack of logistics and that they only rely on information provided to them by EWRC and Standards Bureau.
He said they normally request for complete database of water companies from EWRC when the need arises, adding that whenever information is not provided, they undertake site visit.
“I am constrained as a secretariat, I don’t have vehicle and sometimes I would have to ask for a ride from EWRC when we want to go for monitoring. Even to come here for this meeting, I was given a ride by them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the committee requested for a flow chart of the EWRC and the list of water companies that have been shut down and the MOU signed with the Sierra Leone Police, a comprehensive breakdown of license fees utilized with supporting documents (bank statement).
The committee also requested for the list of 211 water companies that have sent in their applications for environmental checks by the Ministry of Health together with evaluation reports of those certified companies.