- Published on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 14:47
- Written by Sheriff Z. Adams
Ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor once referred to the former Bureau of Maritime Affairs, now Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) as his “pepe bush”. So was the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), which collapsed soon after the war in 2003. OTC was notorious for alleged human rights violations and gun running. However, Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) manages the affairs of the institution, but under a totally different and perhaps more resourceful and transparent group of individuals with vetted credentials.
The current management team took over in 2008 when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed Binyah Kesselly head of the authority. Kesselly is the son of an astute Liberian politician and academic - who passed the senate examination. He took over at the time when the Maritime bureau was going through recession…which by all accounts needed a team spirit to revive the institution.
The government of President Johnson-Sirleaf sought to restructure the program based on prior challenges and recommendations by several key players, including partners. Interestingly, the control and management of the maritime fund became a matter of concern of both local and international community. The Taylor regime depended heavily on money from the program just as previous interim arrangements before and after the former president. Hence, there was a change in the flow of funds as the government the weighed the options regarding the control and management of the money. The flow of maritime money was also a concern of the international community (such as the US, UN and EU) who were particularly concerned about how the fund would impact on the lives of the Liberian people.
Notwithstanding, when President Sirleaf took over in 2006, she envisaged that Liberia could become a successful following reform …that vision is becoming a reality, and the new leadership at the Maritime Authority is charting a new course. Hence, to start the process of transition, an Act to transform from the BMA to the LMA was passed into law by of the National Legislature in 2007.
In 2008, the President set a clear, new agenda for the International Registry, one that subscribed to three main tenets: - Greater Revenue Sharing, More Liberian Participation and Greater Transparency. However, the Taylor regime had attempted to initiate a reform at Maritime, but the vision was a belated because he had little in office. The maritime Program was under the supervision and management of the International Trust Company (ITC) when Mr. Taylor expressed serious reservation over the handling of the program, especially when ITC allowed ships to join the Marshall Island…that enraged the Taylor government which necessitated the transfer of the program to International Shipping and Corporate Registry (LISCR). In 1999, the Taylor government also made a strategic decision to sever ties with the IRI, and start anew. As the result, the government signed a Ten Year agreement with the Liberia International Shipping and Corporate Registry (LISCR); the Registry, at the time with only 1,700 vessels, was nearing collapse, barely holding on to second place in the World. Notwithstanding, LISCR grew the program on a slow but steady pace amidst several national conflicts and Governmental challenges. Between 2003 to 2005, the program underwent immense scrutiny by European Union, US Congress and United Nations. Today, immense progress has been made and there’s no doubt that the reform by the Johnson Sirleaf government has accelerated the maritime program that subscribes to international best practice. Last week, Liberia’s maritime chief took time off to recount the successes and challenges of the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) and the vision for the coming years.
Commissioner Binyah Kesselly said Liberia’s maritime program has transformed and is making tremendous progress towards the social and economic development of a country after it was once ragged by armed conflict. He explained how Liberia’s maritime program has emerged out of the dark days of decline and mistrust which actually prompted several clients – in the past - to abandon flying the Liberia flag for other registries, primarily due to the horrors of the civil conflict.
With the continuing path of rapid progress and achievements made since the elections of President Johnson-Sirleaf in 2006, Liberia is now the world’s second largest registry. Giving an insightful PowerPoint of the maritime program, Commissioner Kesselly traced the early years of the registry, provided reasons for the decline of the program and revealed the current status of the program by highlighting the challenges and successes made thus far under the regime of President Sirleaf. According to the Maritime Chief, today, Liberia is one of the leading registries in volume, and is also listed as the best in term of safety & quality on all major classification.
Addressing publishers and other members of the press corps recently, at the regular press conference organized by the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism, Commissioner Kesselly said the vision of the Liberian government is to focus strategically in areas within the maritime sector can either have a direct or tangential maritime impact on the national (and global) economy. “It also suggests that we must begin to expand into areas that may seem outside the realm of the prototypical maritime sector. In short, we must rapidly develop and enhance our domestic maritime sector and ensure that it is the predominant contributor to our GDP,” the Maritime Commissioner stressed. Commissioner Kesselly believes that the Bureau has made immense progress since the elections of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005, and is becoming a maritime nation.
A new management was recruited and hired in early 2008, ushering in a new corporate style of leadership. The team was given two clear mandates: one to ensure that the BMA undertook strategic market analyses of several maritime programs including competitors – Panama, Marshall Islands, Singapore, Greece, Hong Kong, The Bahamas, South Africa and Ghana to name a few; and two, to ensure that the current LiMA leadership manage and commercialize Liberia’s Maritime Domain. “We must transition from a Nation with a leading Maritime Program, to a Leading Maritime Nation,” Commissioner Kesselly quoted Madam Sirleaf as saying. He said the president’s vision suggests that Liberia must now start to strategically focus on areas within the maritime sector that either have a direct or tangential maritime impact on the national (and global) economy or we must begin to expand into areas that may seem outside the realm of the prototypical maritime sector. In short, he added that Liberian must rapidly develop and enhance its domestic maritime sector and ensure that it is the predominant contributor to our GDP.
The LiMA has a huge responsibility not only to turn the program into a global hub but to ensure that funding is available to support focus areas, especially the completion of the Liberia Maritime Training Institute (LMTI), job creation components; the construction of a World Class Center of Excellence and Corporate Headquarters outfitted with state of the art technology and educational facilities that will enhance the learning and placement experience in maritime competencies, and is symbolic of the Authority’s positioning in the global maritime industry as the 2nd largest in the world. Maritime is also talking with ship owners by which trained Liberian sea Fearers would be employed on ship flying Liberian flag. However, this issue requires preparation so that Liberians are adequately trained and are prepared to perform when employed.
The reason why some Liberians are clamoring over the management of the LiMA is due to the manner in which past regimes handled the Liberia Maritime Program. In the past, international best practice was not observed, therefore, the need for audit (as is being seen in the Johnson-Sirleaf administration) was consciously not entertained. Hence, the program was grossly mismanaged without any shadow of accountability.
At the press conference, Mr. Kesselly stated more than 20 different areas that require training. For example, Maritime does not have a Microbiologist or other specialists who are trained in specific areas of marine life. Today, there is a brain drain in almost every sector of the country, and the Maritime Authority is no exception. Liberians must understand that Maritime has the mandate to transform the institution from years of decadence to becoming the premiere maritime body in the world. This is a serious responsibility that requires serious money and time.
Under the current administration, the LiMA has developed regulations that puts the interest of the country and people first. For example, the first ever Maritime Strategic Plan was developed. Maritime also put into place mechanism that ensures the Port of Monrovia is ISPS Compliant; drafted and Co-sponsored (with Belgium, France, Greece, Republic of Korea, USA) United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851 – concerning Piracy in the Gulf of Aden; accepted as a full member of the UN Contact Group on Piracy; drafted and signed the Declaration, Condemning Acts of Violence Against, Seafarers ( with Panama and the Marshall islands), and developing stronger Regulations to protect the Maritime domain in the wake of oil exploration.
Importantly, there are different training opportunities that are packed by the Maritime Authority that ensure young Liberians benefit through the enhancement of training and development of local marine content.