Our impact: Accountability journalism causes shutdown of unlicenced sachet water company

The authorities in Ghana have been prodded to work once more by an investigative story by The Fourth Estate, an accountability journalism project of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

Following the publication of a story that exposed a black market of unregistered sachet water producers in Accra, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) announced on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, that it has shut down the operations of one of the companies/production facilities which was behind three brands of sachet water –  Perfect Ice Drinking Water, Aqua Link Drinking Water, and Leaders Drinking Water.

“The premises of Samdoe Enterprise was closed down as the company has been engaged in the production and distribution of unregistered brands of water products in an unlicenced, unhygienic manufacturing facility.

“The Authority’s Inspection Team uncovered major safety and quality issues, including operation in an unsuitable wooden structure, presence of open drains with algae and fungi growth, dirty filters, and no pest control regime,” the FDA’s statement said.

It also warned the public to “immediately” stop patronising the three brands aforementioned, while entreating retailers and distributors to “withdraw” the brands from the market.

There is an expectation that this closedown is the beginning of an FDA clampdown campaign on at least 144 sachet water producers in Ghana’s capital that have been in business even though they either are not licenced or have not renewed their licences issued them by the FDA expired.

Investigative story

The story had been inspired by the harrowing experience of a young journalist who had suddenly taken ill, apparently after drinking sachet water, and then received typhoid fever diagnosis at the hospital. This became a good lead for The Fourth Estate and soon an investigation was started into the sachet water industry in Accra.

As part of the investigations, Ghana’s Right to Information law was leveraged, with The Fourth Estate, among others, writing to the FDA for the list of all registered sachet water brands in Ghana’s Greater Accra Region.

After the list was furnished to it, a tour of some popular markets and lorry stations in Accra to collect water sachets, so as to ascertain the number of brands in circulation that are actually licenced by the FDA, was undertaken. From this search for used water sachets alone, The Fourth Estate counted 300 brands. And when it crosschecked with the FDA, it realized that 142 out of the 300 sachet water brands, sampled (47.3%) were not licenced by the FDA.

The Fourth Estate thus began an investigation into the production facilities behind these brands.

Visits to these production facilities confirmed that many of them did not have the FDA’s licence to operate, and those who did had not renewed them after they expired.

The investigation also revealed a trend of horrendously poor hygiene practices at the water production facilities. Pictures accompanying the story showed that the packaging of the water is done by sweaty, bare-chested men. They wore no gloves, bouffant caps or hairnets and had the tendency to dump bags of sachet water on the dirty bare floors of the production facilities.

Impactful story

The jolt to the FDA, under whose nose this black market of unlicenced sachet water producers operates, probably started during The Fourth Estate’s investigation because it contacted the Authority for the list of licenced water producers and later did the crosschecking for ascertainment of the fact that 144 had been operating without licence. However, the FDA actually sending inspectors to the facilities and eventually closing down at least one of the facilities means it was prompted by the story.

This is what convinced the FDA to shut down Samdoe Enterprise which produced sachet water and sold to the public from a facility within the precincts of a colony of algae and other germs.

Media fodder

Following the FDA’s shutdown of Samdoe Enterprise, the story has been carried by a number of media outlets, including MyJoyonline, and MyinfoGh.

About The Fourth Estate

An accountability journalism project of the MFWA, The Fourth Estate functions as an online newspaper with an editorial focus that is decidedly investigative. Through this project, the MFWA is both holding the feet of duty bearers to the fire of accountability and also rekindling the media’s commitment to professional investigative journalism in Ghana.

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