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Shipping firms could have undue influence over IMO policymaking: Anti-corruption report

NGO urges IMO to reform its governance structure to promote transparency.



The International Maritime Organization's (IMO) headquarters in London. Image credit: Andrew Bowden Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0


Updated on 03 Apr 2018 16:29 GMT

With just days left before next week's 72nd Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting, a new study by anti-corruption NGO Transparency International (TI) has warned that private shipping companies and the five top ship registry nations could have undue influence over the policymaking process at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

TI's paper, which is due to be published in full next month, assesses three dimensions of the IMO's governance structure: transparency, accountability and integrity.

A summary report released on Tuesday raises key concerns, with TI pointing out that the IMO does not regulate the way governments appoint their delegations. TI notes that governments are therefore able to appoint employees of private companies to their delegations who are then able to determine their government's position on IMO policy - without being subject to conflict of interest rules or a code of conduct.

Citing Brazil as an example, TI notes that the South American country appointed five 'advisors' from Vale S.A - a multinational company with substantial shipping interests - to its national delegation at the IMO's most recent Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) meeting, in July 2017.

TI also mentions that eight of the 12 representatives of the Marshall Islands at MEPC 71 were employees of a private shipping registry, International Registries Inc (IRI) Group, which is contracted by the Marshall Islands to manage its registry.

"The employees of private companies who represent member states at meetings can determine their government's position. This typically happens when states with open registries outsource registry management to private companies," TI says.

"There is no requirement for delegates to publicly declare conflicts of interest such as other sources of employment. Thus the IMO, its member states and indeed the public are unaware of the full extent to which private interests are representing governments at meetings," TI adds.

The report also warns that Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta and the Bahamas - which together contribute 43.5 percent of the total funding from the IMO's 170 member states and make up 52 percent of the world's registered commercial fleet - "potentially have exaggerated weight in the IMO policymaking processes, particularly when no mechanism exists to protect against undue influence".

TI's study also posits that NGOs with consultative membership of the IMO "can face expulsion if they criticise the agency or report on country views", and "journalists indicate that they are unable to report freely on IMO meetings".

The paper does note, however, that transparency about the IMO's administration is high, and that information about the remit, powers and rules of procedure of its assembly, council and committees is easily accessible. The IMO itself is not responsible for who member states appoint to their delegations.

"The IMO was assigned the task of limiting and reducing emissions from shipping under the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997," says Brice Bohmer, coordinator of the Climate Governance Integrity Program at Transparency International. "However, it took until 2016 for the IMO to even agree on a roadmap towards an initial strategy, due in 2018, and a revised strategy, due only in 2023. A well-functioning organisation's governance structure should enable decisive action, but the governance flaws identified by our research suggests that this is not happening at the IMO because policy-making could be overly controlled by private companies."

TI urges the IMO to establish a stronger governance framework and engage in a transparent process of open dialogue with its external stakeholders (including civil society and industry), to improve transparency, ensure decision-making processes reflect the public interest, and apply robust integrity rules and measures.

"There should be no delay on action to combat climate change. The Intersessional Working Group on GHG Emissions from Ships meeting in London today should set ambitious targets for reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and begin taking measurable action now," TI says.

"A guiding principle of UN system is that member states must represent citizens' interests. At the IMO, this could end up being undermined by corporate participation in the place of nation states," comments Rueben Lifuka, vice chair of Transparency International and an environmental consultant. "The IMO has an integral role in helping the shipping industry meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate change, and Goal 14 on oceans. Ultimately, it must reform its governance structure to promote transparency and ensure the voices of citizens - alongside industry - are heard."






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