The UK, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Panama, United Arab Emirates and the United States stand accused today of holding back reforms at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) ahead of an important meeting at the United Nations body in London next week.
The NGO Transparency International report today that these six countries, featuring some of the largest registries in the world, signed and submitted an official document – seen by Splash and carried below – to the IMO last month warning that “further expansion of access to information” about the agency “could lead to outside influence”.
Transparency International is urging the IMO Council, which meets next week, to give a new working group reforming governance at the UN shipping agency a remit that allows it to effectively increase public scrutiny and civil society participation.
Transparency International’s assessment of the IMO’s governance structure published in July 2018 found a number of flaws in the IMO’s governance, including a disproportionate influence of private industry and an unequal influence of certain member states in the policymaking process. These claims have been disputed by IMO officials in the wake of the July report. Transparency International also highlighted a significant lack of delegate accountability, with the public often unable to find out their national delegation’s position in debates and negotiations.
Rueben Lifuka, vice-chair of Transparency International, commented today: “The agency needs to move towards a more open and transparent way of operating, with greater opportunities for public scrutiny and civil society engagement. The stakes are too high for the entire planet for the IMO to continue to operate as a closed shop.”
An IMO spokesperson told Splash today: “The council meets next week so proposals will be discussed then.”
At the last session, the council discussed a number of proposals aimed at reforming the council, including those relating to the council’s role in policy making; size and geographical distribution; and conduct of campaigns for election.
The council decided to establish a working group, open to all member states, to meet next week, to consider in more detail, the various council reform proposals.
Among a host of proposals due for discussion in London next week, the Australian delegation is keen to debate greater media freedom at the IMO.
“Australia recommends a review of the current terms and conditions of accredited media access to IMO. Currently journalists are restricted from reporting discussions during plenary or directly quoting delegates without their express permission,” the document submitted from Canberra states.
Additionally, media requests to film during committee or subsidiary bodies must be supported by a national delegation or organisation in consultative status. Since these applications are also assessed by the secretariat and approved by the relevant meeting, this additional step is unnecessary, the Australians stated.
“In Australia’s view the current terms and conditions place needless limitations on press reporting and limit public understanding of the discussions and decisions taken at IMO. Delegates represent their national governments and statements made during plenary are statements of confirmed government policy and should therefore be able to be quoted without permission,” the document concluded.
The terms of reference for the working group will be decided on Monday.