Water Price Hike – Liberians Resort to Cheap, Unsafe Drinking Water
Monrovia – The hike in the price of sachet mineral water on the Liberian market is creating serious hardships for consumers that are already accustomed to purchasing a sachet for LD$5.00.
Report by Willie N. Tokpah – [email protected]
“For the past years now we all understand that there are hike in price of gasoline, hike in rate of foreign exchange especially United States Dollars but the price of water had been constant.”- Mohammed Prosper
The prevailing economic situation is even making matter complicated as many see the increased in the price of a sachet of water – an essential commodity – as the worse instance of the economic downturn.
Water was sold for LD$40.00 or LD$50.00 per sac to retailers who onward sold a sachet of water to consumers for LD$5.00 or sometimes three sachets for LD$10.
Over the past weeks, the price of a sac has sharply increased from LD$40 to LD$100, while retailers are selling each sachet to consumers for LD$10. This is a price consumers consider too exorbitant and cannot meet their daily income.
Mixed Reactions over Price
The hike in the price of water has sparked mixed reactions from consumers who are shifting blame on producers, while producers are blaming government for the rise in the rate of United States Dollar on the Liberian market and increased taxation on the production.
With the twists and turns between producers and consumers, the new prices of water remain the same. And some are calling for the government to make interventions by controlling the price.
Furthermore, water producers under the banner Liberia Water Producers have passed a memorandum of understanding calling for the increment in the price of water, while arguing that the new tax imposed on them influenced by the rise in the exchange rate is a major factor.
Unsafe Drinking Water Now on Sale
Some citizens say the increment of a mineral water sachet is constraining buyers to go for home-produced cold water locally known as ‘big bag’ – which may not be safe for consumption.
The ‘bag water’ is water taken directly from wells and bagged for sale, but there’s often concern about the purification of such water, and hygienists say, it exposes consumers to water-borne diseases.
Producers Express Concerns
Mohammed Prosper, Manager of Prosperity Mineral Water Company in Neezo, Paynesville, says the hike in the price of water is the result of the alarming exchange rate between the US dollar and the Liberian dollar. Prosper said the inflation is affecting production cost.
“For the past years now we all understand that there are hike in price of gasoline, hike in rate of foreign exchange especially United States Dollars but the price of water had been constant,” Prosper said. \
“Actually we do not buy our material in Liberian Dollars but US Dollars, and we are selling in Liberian Dollars, a situation that is causing hardship for production”.
He told FrontPage Africa, the Ministry of Commerce is aware of the situation local water producers face relative to cost of production, saying “once cost of production increased, price of locally produced mineral water have to increase”.
According to him, there are some producers who have bridged the MOU signed by members of the Liberia Water Producers calling for the LD$100.00 increment in the price of locally produced water sag.
Prosper said a taskforce has been setup by the group to enforce the sale of water from its previous price of LD$40 to LD$100, and said violators will be slap with a LD$75,000.00 fine.
“The US rate has serious negative impact on our production, because if you go to buy a ton of plastic for US$2,000 and some more dollars, that will cause you about LD$200,000,” said Prosper, Manager of Prosperity Mineral Water.
He named Liberia Plastic Incorporated and Duraplast Incorporated as two plastic production factories in the country that have increased their plastic prices since the US dollar rate increased.
He also said the increased in tax by government is another factor responsible for the hike in the price of water.
FrontPage Africa gathered that government through the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation is planning to place taxes on borehole wells used by some water production companies since government considered it a mineral producing source.
“Some of our members are using wells while others are with the water and sewer but the difference is not much because you have to used electricity for both to be pump to the tank which is cost intensive and we want our price to be in uniformity,” Prosper said.
An official of the Liberia water producers old a local radio station that it is important for government to collect taxes, while clarifying that a press conference will be called to provide more details about the new prices.
But Prosper noted that the provision of subsidy by government to various water production companies will help reduce the price of water on the Liberian market.
He warned that an attempt to ignore this will reintroduced the sale of big-bag water which will not be healthy for the livelihood of citizens.
“I think the government needs to decide on this because the Cholera Unit at the Ministry of Health is closed due to the production of mineral water and producing big-bag water without the Cholera Unit is disastrous and might increase water borne diseases.”
Another person who is seriously concern about the hike in the price of water is P. Manasseh Conto.
He says the failure of government to control foreign currency especially the US Dollar has created negative impact on the Liberian Economy.
Conto, like many other Liberians, agreed that the increase in the US rate is seriously affecting the sale of various commodities on the Liberian market including essential commodity like water.
“As we look at things, I think the country has reached to a place where we need God’s intervention and all that we can as people in moving forward.
The suffering of our people is just too much with the most common thing in society, water, experiencing a hike in price is something that claims attention,” Bishop Conto said.
Speaking with FrontPageAfrica, Bishop Conto said he sees a dangerous situation for Liberia if nothing is done to address the hike in the price of water on the market.
He said the hike in the price of water was strange to Liberians because water is most common in the country.
Conto noted that the sale of water at a higher price will reintroduce the sale of unprocessed big-bag water which is sometimes not safe.
The Bishop further stated that sale of the ‘big-bag’ mineral water is likely to expose Liberians to water-borne diseases.
He says if government sets a proper mechanism that will aid in reducing the cost of production of locally produced products; it will curtail the hike in prices.
Commerce Ministry’s Response
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce says water producers have agreed to drop the price of sachet water.
Ministry of Commerce Director for Public Affairs Mitchell Jones on Wednesday said a meeting was held with the producers to find solution to increase sachet water.
“We are surprise to see the hike in the price of water, however, being the ministry responsible for commodity price, we invited all of the water producers and we all met and asked them what has caused the increase in the price of water,” Jones said.
The Public Affairs Director said: “Base upon our discussion we were told that the increment was due to the increase in the price of plastic which subsequently lead to the increase in sachet water.”
Jones said the commerce ministry is planning to also meet with the plastic producers to finally resolve the hike in price.
“We decided first to meet with the water producer before meeting with the plastic producers,” he said.
Jones said the whole sale price is LD$75.00, while the retail price is LD$5.00.
“We came to one understanding that the bags of water will be sold for seventy-five dollars while a bag of sachet water will be sold for five dollars,” Jones said.
“The water producers will be coming out with a press statement, we want to tell the retailers not to take advantage of the situation to sell above the stipulated price.”
Jones said the Ministry of Commerce inspectors would be all out, adding that producers also highlighted the exchange rate as one of the factors for the increment.
“Our people cannot afford to buy a sachet of water for LD$10,” he said.