Did Weah Err In Maritime Appointments? -Appointments violate maritime law

There are growing concerns over the recent appointments made by President George Manneh Weah at the Liberia Maritime Authority which according to some legal investigations show that the exercise was in clear violation of the Liberia Maritime Law of 2010 which has to do with limitation of tenure of commissioner and deputy commissioners of the entity.

In the recent appointment, President Weah had re-appointed Mr. Emmanuel Reeves, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Madam Margaret Ansumana, Senior Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs, both of whom were first appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the positions in 2008 before the Maritime Act was enacted in 2010 which tenured the positions for 5 years and to be reappointed for another 4 years maximum.

Commissioners Reeves and Ansumana were reappointed in 2016 and their final tenures expired in 2020, making them ineligible for any further reappointment.

Records checked showed that there have not been any amendments or changes to the existing Maritime Law of 2010 as previous attempts by President Weah on two different occasions to convince the national legislature to effect changes in the law have not been successful.

It can be recalled that President Weah upon coming to power in 2018 has stated several times that existence of tenured positions at several government institutions have been impeding constitutional duties as President of Liberia.

In October 2020, Mr Weah sent a bill to the national legislature seeking to amend certain portions of the Act establishing the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) by removing tenure positions to grant him full authority over the institution.

The bill, “An Act to amend Sub-sections(1), (4) and (4) of section 7 of an act to provide for the Establishment of the Liberia Maritime Authority relating to the Appointment and Tenure of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Liberia Maritime Authority”

Sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the current law states that “the Board of Directors shall recommend for the President’s approval a Commissioner who shall be the Chief Executive Officer and who shall have general managing direction of the Authority, superintendence of ships registered under the laws of the Republic of Liberia, and responsibility for the enforcement and administration of the provisions of the Liberia Maritime Law and Regulations or any other maritime related laws.”

Subsection 4 empowers “the Commissioner to recommend to the President for appointment of, subject to the approval by the Board of Directors of the Authority, the Deputy Commissioners of the Authority to administer the principal divisions of the authority and to assist the Commissioner in the performance of his duties as set forth in this Act and the Liberian Maritime Law. The Commissioner may recommend to the President, subject to the approval of the Board of Directors, the removal of a Deputy Commissioner.”

The last part of the clause is what is putting the legal issue squarely at the door steps of the Presidency that indeed the appointments were in violation of the Maritime Law of Liberia:  “Commissioner of the Maritime Authority and the Deputy Commissioners of the Maritime Authority shall have tenures of five (5) years in order to ensure and preserve consistency in the leadership, maintain continuity of purpose, increase the capacity in the industry, and preserve the national and international relevance and very competitive nature of the maritime program. The tenure of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioners shall be renewable for only one additional four-year period upon recommendation of the Board to the President for approval. No further renewal shall be permitted or allowed beyond nine years.

It is not yet known whether the Senate will set aside the nominations or go ahead to confirm the appointments in violation of the law. Political actors are watching to see what happens next.

Our reporter made several attempts to reach the Presidential Spokesperson, Mr. Solomon Klegbeh via phone and text message to seek clarity on the subject matter but no response was given. However, Information Minister, Legerhood Rennie responded to our text message but referred our reporter to Mr. Eugene Nagbe, Commissioner of Maritime. Calls and text message sent to Mr. Nagbe as well were not responded to up to going to the press last night.

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