Corruption in the water sector – a perspective from Sierra Leone

Mustapha Sesay is a member of the WASH journalists network and a West Africa Water Integrity Ambassador. He is one of the participants of the regional Water Integrity Training that was organised in Cap Verde in December 2013.

The high rate of corruption in the Water Sector continues to have devastating effects on the lives of the deprived and marginalized communities in developing countries to the point that many die from either contamination or water related diseases.


20 Years of Neglected Water Facilities in Taiama, Moyamba District

According to the Program Manager of the Sub-Saharan capacity building programme on water integrity at SIWI (Sweden) Mr. James Leten, the past ten years had witnessed a period in which over thirty billion dollars US$ 30 billion fund invested in the Water Sector in developing countries go into wrong hands.

If we are to make a reverse of this dismal situation where the billions of dollars invested in the water sector is reflected in the lives of the ordinary person, there is the need to put mechanism in place to monitor water projects at all stages and heads of water institutions give account of how funds are utilized.

Today, we hears of billions of bilateral contracts signed, extravagant talk shows and radio programmes on plans to improve the water sector but at the end of the day, the water situation is either dismal or remains the same

How long must this situation continue where the wealthy and those highly placed in society enjoy and access pure and safe drinking tap water leaving the majority of the poor community to trek miles for just a bucket of water? When will the deprived and marginalized on the hill top areas, the slums, camps and remote villages say “we too can now boast of pure drinking water?

When will our politicians stand by their manifestos by providing pure and affordable drinking water for their subjects?

Every day, millions are dying slowly as a result of lack of accessing pure drinking water. At some point in time,
Governments in various places tend to shift the blame on the masses and on the other hand the masses shift the blame on the Government for not meeting its responsibilities.

The issue of accessing pure and affordable water is a fundamental human right but this is not given the much needed attention.

Corruption in the water sector is ripe and involves all classes of people ranging from the ordinary man, politicians, Heads of Water Institutions and even Non-Governmental organizations working in this sector.

Report on “Corruption in the water sector” by Water Integrity Network in a book titled “Training Manual on Water Integrity” states that in the sub-Sahara Africa, forty-four percent (44 %) of the countries are unlikely to attain the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water eighty-five percent (85%) are unlikely to attain the sanitation aspect.

Estimate by the World Bank report suggests that twenty –forty percent (20 – 40%) of water sector finances are being lost to dishonest practices.

Talking about corrupt practices in the water sector there are lots of reference points to make in the case of Sierra Leone.  As a result of greed and selfishness, we today tend to embark on the following activities that in turn affect the effective operation of the water service delivery system.

The process of awarding contracts for the implementation of water service delivery projects, too much concentration of water programmes in the cities rather than the rural areas even though they too are paying taxes to the Government,

Refusal to pay for water rate bills regularly to the water sector, Removal of pipes or water facilities machines parts for sale as scrap metal. Substandard projects by some contractors and the lack of transparency and accountability by some authorities and the marginalization of certain areas that already have water service delivery structures only to be rehabilitated but due to certain unknown reasons, the inhabitations continue to go for years without pipe born water and the proliferation of water industries operated in the houses of most people.

It must be noted that Kambia District is a melting pot in the country as people from all parts of the country and neighbouring Guinea converge to do a weekly trade activity. As a result of this, there is the need for a sound sanitation practice and access to pure drinking water so as to avoid the outbreak of cholera. Unfortunately when this was not adhered to, it was a breeding ground for the spread of cholera that affected the lives of many people in the country.

Kambia District, with a population (2010) of about 308,929 (Statistics Sierra Leone), has the lowest percentage (27%) of households with improved source of drinking water in the Northern region and below the national average (57%). There are 992 protected water points in the district, out of which only 549 are functional. Of the 443 non-functional water points, 106 are partially damaged, while 270 are completely broken down. These non-functional wells are mostly as a result of the lack of maintenance or a defined strategy of sustaining the operations of the water points.

One major excuse advanced last year was that some of the inhabitant refused the payment of Le 15,000 (Fifteen Thousand Leone) monthly water rate bill per household and that almost halted the effective operations of JICA & Sierra Leone Water project.
In Moyamba District, Kori Chiefdom Taiama, water infrastructure that had been abandoned for almost twenty years is slowly becoming a zone for scrap metals as youths are seen either climbing the tanks, the machine rooms to grab whatever they could.

Kori Chiefdom hosts the oldest provincial University in the country; Njala University yet, access to pure and affordable drinking pipe born water is a dream to be actualized. In morning, it is survival of the fittest to get water from boreholes or wells with hand pumps.

In the city of Freetown, the search for pure and affordable water has forced many to embark on unhealthy practices at the detriment of the little water delivery service.

Though the Government intends to shift the low water service delivery in the city to the pressure on the Guma Valley Dam, to many this is not acceptable as there are other quality dam around the city that must have been developed to supply other parts of the city. Most people who cannot get the flow of the Guma Valley water to their respective communities in the east or mountainous places cut pipes to scoop water whilst others embark on illegal connections.

It is hearts bleeding that long lines are visible around a single pipe born tap and many spent hours without getting water. At these points, illegal fees from buckets or gallons on the grounds that the money is used for cleaning the tap.

In mountainous region of the city, precisely Allen Town or the Wilberforce area, community bore holes exist which are controlled by certain individual for which a minimum sum is paid.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that the locals lack the contents of chemicals to clean the water wells or improve on the status.

With regards to substandard work or political influence, some organizations working on the construction of water wells are under pressure to select areas closer to the houses of traditional authorities rather than looking out for ideal sites that will maintain water throughout the year. With such poor judgment, politically influenced or substandard wells do not survive the retention of water in the dry season as a result the wells are not up to the task for which they were constructed.

Although the Acting Director of Sierra Leone Water Company SLWACO Mr. Bangura disclosed to one local media of development in the water sector, this has not still change the dismay situation of the masses as millions continue spend the rest of the day scouting for water in the city not to mention those in the remote areas of the country


Pompidou Ground well at Barrack Old Road kissy

The lack of access to pure water supply is still a major concern especially in the in the eastern parts of Freetown where it is either you are up till 12pm or 4am to get water. Thunder Hill is one of the most deprived communities with children abandoning their schools in search of water by using wooden trolleys to secure water on commercial basis.

Alpha Kamara, the caretaker of the Pompidou Ground well in kissy, in an interview revealed that access to pure water is still a major problem at Thunder Hill as the Pompidou Ground Well is serving hundreds of residents on a daily basis from various communities including Lowcost, Brima Lane, Portee, and Jollah Terrace among others, being the only source of water during the dry season. He nevertheless cited the poor sanitary state of the well, noting that some residents use it for drinking purposes which has a negative impact on their health.

The statement of “we have signed contacts with companies and plan to construct modern water facilities in various parts of the country is not a news to us so we want action now.

We have already commenced a crucial period in the year, the Dry season that will witness the drying up of streams and rivers so what is the Ministry of Water Resources going to do to address this situation?

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