Liberia Voted Off IMO Member Council

Liberia has lost its coveted seat on the 40-member Council of the International Maritime Organization, relegating the country to floor membership and a demoted level of influence in the world maritime body. The IMO is the United Nations' specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

in a brief statement on LinkedIn, the Chairman of the Liberia Maritime Authority, Dr. James F. Kollie, said: "We fought a great fight today at the IMO but we lost. Liberia will not be on Council this biennial (2020 to 2021). However, we will put the pieces together and return for another fight. Hats off to the London team and all those who supported us."

The Council is the executive organ of IMO and is responsible, under the Assembly, for supervising the work of the Organization.

Between sessions of the Assembly, the Council performs all the functions of the Assembly, except that of making recommendations to Governments on maritime safety and pollution prevention. The 40-member Council is divided into three categories -- A, B and C -- according to the magnitude of Members' technical capacity

Partly helped by her status as the world's second largest shipping registry, Liberia has since 2012 enjoyed its coveted erstwhile position in the Council's Category C. This category comprises 20 states with special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world. However in this year's Council election, Liberia was the only country voted out of its Category and one of two countries voted out in the entire process. Liberia, being one of the five African countries on the Council (all of them in Category C), was replaced by Kuwait.

Category C Member States that were retained on the Council are Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.

The only other member state voted off the Council was Sweden (Category B), replaced by Argentina. Category B comprises 10 states with the largest interest in international seaborne trade. Other states in this category include Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

The Assembly of the International Maritime Organization has elected the following States to be Members of its Council for the 2020-2021 biennium:

Category A, however, comprises 10 States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services, all of which retained their spots on the Council. They are: China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States.

'Tight ship'

Liberia has had a seat on the IMO Council since 2012, during he administration of then President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. At the time, the country was rising on a tidal wave of renewed vigor in global maritime affairs. This was due not only to the size of its shipping registry and significant increments in the registry's gross tonnage, but great efforts were being made to enhance ship and port safety. That, and with intense lobbying, how could the nation with the world's second largest shipping registry not have a seat on the Council?

In 2012, Liberia won her seat on the 40-member Council with 112 votes. Retaining that seat for another three terms (2 years per term), Liberia earned an impressive 117 votes in 2017, securing the country's reputation as an influential member of the Council.

During the period, the Liberia shipping registry reached a high of 4,400 active vessels with170 million gross tons.

Needless to say, the Liberia Maritime program ran a 'tight ship' until things got political back home around the middle of 2018 that led to the colossal displacement of the country in the global maritime sector.

Turbulence over Tenure

It can be recalled that since June 2018, during the infancy of the Administration of President George M. Weah the government, in its attempt to secure high-profile political appointments for some of its supporters, ran into a turbulent dispute with the country's Permanent Mission of Liberia to the IMO, seated in London, UK, which the President tried to replace. The issue, which went viral on news and social media, quickly raised the president's ire against tenured positions, which the Permanent Mission to the IMO was protected by. As the President refused to relent on the issue, the matter ended up at the Supreme Court of Liberia, which mandated the Government to back off and all the Permanent Mission to function.

Similar issue ensued between the President and the Executive Director of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), in which the President ordered the Executive Director, which was a tenured position, to be changed by one of the President's own choosing -- a violation of the LEITI mandate. Months later, when Liberia became threatened with being delisted from the global EITI community, the President was constrained to correct his mistake.

Though Liberia did not get delisted from the IMO, similar damage has been done to the company's reputation as a result of the President's stubborn persistence against the sanctity of tenured positions. Since he ordered a halt to the transfer of funds needed to operate the Permanent Mission to the IMO and refused to have the Government approve the diplomatic passport for the head of the Permanent Mission, the officer's functions came to a standstill, with no room to pursue Liberia's maritime interests with friendly nations. The Permanent Mission, according to reports, has not been paid for over 10 months.

Nevertheless, the Permanent Mission has continued to drive the country's cause, leading key efforts at the Council level of the IMO. Among them was the motion proffered by Liberia to expand the IMO Council from 40 members to 52, given that the IMO membership had proportionally expanded now to 173 nations. The Liberian Permanent Mission also support a move by Australia to expand the tenure of the Council from two years to four years. Both landmark moves were endorsed by the IMO's Technical Working Group and must pass through a process of working out details before being finally enacted into iMO policy. Liberia has indeed been making strides that affect the very workings of the IMO.

Repercussions

in the Council election on Friday, November 29, 2019, Liberia, once a vibrant Council Member State, came 24th out of 24 member states vying for a place in the Council's Category C. Barely scraping 100 votes, the country also surrendered yet another seat of the African states on the Council to one from the Middle East.

Without a seat at the Council, a member state cannot influence critical decisions at the IMO. As a mere floor member, Liberia will now have to rely on the graces of friendly nations to speak on its behalf.

With out a seat at the IMO Council, Liberia's influence in the global maritime sector has been diminished. The country will no long be able to decide who serves as secretary general of the IMO. SG is beholden to the Council.

Also, Liberia's double capacity as a council member and as the world's second largest shipping registry made it a force to contend with. Now, without council membership Liberia can no longer be able to influence regulation that will affect the ship owners and influence other critical decisions in the maritime sector.

Every two years, more than 170 member countries meet at the IMO assembly in London to elect members of its governing council. The newly elected Council will meet, following the conclusion of the 31st Assembly for its 123rd session (on Thursday, December 5), and will elect its chair and vice-chair for the next biennium."

Until 2021, Liberia will be wallowing in shallow waters, waiting for a chance to prove itself at the place where it matters more -- the Council. And when that time comes, who knows whether the conditions will be the same?

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