Liberia: Judiciary Played Part in Country’s Maritime Seat Loss


PERHAPS SOME LIBERIANS are yet to hear and know that their country is no longer going to wield that influence on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council floor. This influence loss was aided and abided by the Judiciary. It is going to be this way for the next two years – 2020 to 2021 – because your country lost the IMO Council election to little known Kuwait in terms of countries with the most number of registered ships flying the respective countries’ flags.

THIS LOSS MEANS Liberia would no longer be a major decision-maker at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the next two years, except at its general assembly after losing its seat on November 30th in London.

EVERY TWO YEARS, more than 170-member countries meet at the IMO assembly in London to elect members of its governing council. Losing a seat on the IMO’s Council means Liberia, which has the second-largest ship registry in the world, is now rendered a floor member with no power to make decisions.

WHAT LIBERIA’S LOSS also means is that its respectability has diminished even though all the vessels owners, who have the country’s flag on their ships, are not going to leave “tomorrow”. But in the long run, these vessels could move to other places, like the Marshall Islands and Panama. This happened during Charles Taylor’s regime. When the records were clear that Mr. Taylor was using the Maritime money to buy guns, most vessel owners left and registered with the Marshall Islands. This could just happen again with Liberia. This time not because we are buying guns but because we no longer have any influence to speak for ships flying our flags.

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.

AFTER BEING OUT of the Council for 11 years, Liberia ascended to the Council in 2012 and has since been consistent in maintaining the biannual seat until this year. 

LOSING A SEAT on the IMO’s Council means Liberia, which has the second largest ship registry globally (about 4,400 plus) is now effectively rendered a floor member of the IMO with no power to make decisions.

AFTER THE ELECTION, the head of Liberia’s Maritime Authority, Dr. James F. Kollie, posted on Facebook, “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.” Dr. Kollie was trying to soothe the pains from this loss that is going to have some negative effects on the nation’s maritime program, including its revenue intakes.

BUT, HOW DID LIBERIA get to the point of not maintaining its seat on the Council when, for the last eight years, it has been a very regular player rubbing shoulders with the representatives of other Council Members?

WHILE THE EXECUTIVE, headed by President George Manneh Weah, has a hand to blame for this negligence, the Judiciary, too, played a major role in this national disgrace that we would have to endure for the next two years.  

EVEN THOUGH MR. ISAAC W. JACKSON, who is Liberia’s Permanent Representative at the IMO, doesn’t want to be drawn into the “fries”, it is a known fact that he and this regime or the President are not on good terms. From the very beginning of this Coalition for Democratic Change-led Government, the President apparently stepped outside his bounds by appointing Mr. Moses Owen Brown to replace PR Jackson.

IN JULY 2018, ATT’Y JACKSON filed a Writ of Prohibition with the Supreme Court, challenging President Weah‘s decision for unlawfully appointing Brown to replace him. And following preliminary hearing by then Chambers Justice, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokolie, on July 23, 2018, a ‘Stay Order’ was issued, requesting the parties to return to Status quo ante and the case was forwarded to the Full Bench.

FOLLOWING THAT SUPREME COURT’S mandate, President Weah’s regime tried desperately to repeal all tenured positions. That move was described by many as autocratic and undemocratic.  

DURING THE ARGUMENT before the Chambers Justice’s order, the Solicitor General had made the bizarre argument that Jackson should not enjoy the five-year tenure because the his Letter of Appointment named him as Permanent Representative to the IMO, and not Deputy Commissioner. Following that lame argument by Cllr. Daku Mulbah, Justice Yuoh quizzed Cllr.  Mulbah whether the letter appointing him, (Cllr Mulbah) named him as Solicitor General; to which he (Cllr. Mulbah) answered yes. And then Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Youh follow-up question was, by virtue of the fact that the letter appointing you name you as Solicitor General, are you not Deputy Minister; to which Cllr. Daku Mulbah answered in the affirmative, making himself a spectacle of embarrassment as the audience uncontrollably laughed at Liberia’s Solicitor General in open court.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Jackson’s lawyer, Cllr. Arthur Johnson, who has now stepped down from Jackson’s legal team, argued convincingly the position of Permanent Representative has legally and historically been at the rank deputy commissioner, which he said is tenured for five years in keeping with the Liberia Maritime act of 2010. He referred to those who previously served position, including Gerald Cooper, Agnes Reeves Taylor, as well as Mohammed Dukuly as Deputy Commissioner and Permanent Representative.

CLLR. JOHNSON also argued that the position of Deputy Commissioner and Permanent representation to the IMO are one and the same as reflected in the official publicized organogram of the Maritime Authority. 

CLLR. JOHNSON THEN drew the Supreme Court’s attention to the violation of the Stay Order by Government of Liberia. He explained that considering expiration of his client Isaac Jackson and family’s diplomatic passports issued to them in October 2016 to facilitate their travel was fast approaching, they proactively applied on August 24, 2018, to renew their passports. But since then, almost a year ago, coupled with numerous follow-ups with authorities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have not renewed their passports. 

CLLR. JOHNSON then contended that the refusal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to renew the Jacksons’ passports notwithstanding their efforts to act in a timely manner, violates the Stay Order issued by the Supreme Court. According to him, said refusal was causing his client and the country’s Maritime program considerable detriment. He explained that his client had been unable to attend conferences and forums abroad to which he had been invited in line with his portfolio to make the case for Liberia’s Maritime program.

THIS IS WHERE this editorial comes in to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the nation’s highest court.

IT’S TRUE MR. JACKSON and his family’s passports are being held with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or another government’s entity in Monrovia. He can’t travel outside the UK without a passport.

DURING MADAM ELLEN Johnson Sirleaf’s regime, whenever the Council election was approaching, Liberia’s Permanent Representative visited the capitals of influential members to lobby so that Liberia could be reelected on the Council. It also organized diplomatic dinner for diplomats. So, Liberia stayed as one of the influential Council members for eight-long years.

IN ADDITION TO President Weah not paying the permanent offices’ staff, including Isaac Jackson himself, for 10 to 11 months, Liberians can blame the Supreme Court for playing a part, too, in making Liberia to lose that seat.

WHEN PR JACKSON through his legal team complained to the court that its mandate was not being respected, it should have put its feet down hard and make sure that justice is served or that its Status quo ante order is enforced.   

HAD THE COURT acted proactively to summon Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar M. Findley and Maritime Commissioner John F. Kollie to ask why since it ordered that Mr. Jackson’s passport be restored, it has not happened, we think that Mr. Jackson and his family would have gotten their passports. The Permanent Representative could have had the time to travel to lobby with other council members so that Liberia remains on the Council.

THE COURT HAS a major role to play in the country for the democracy to be sustained. If it is seen that its orders or mandates are not enforced by the Executive than the nation is headed for trouble.