MARSHALL, Margibi – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has renamed the Liberia Maritime Institute in honor of former maritime commissioner, John Bestman.
Sirleaf made the disclosure on Friday when she formally dedicated the institute’s refurbished facilities in Marshall. The institute is now called the John G. Bestman Maritime Training Institute.
Bestman is a citizen of Marshall and former deputy commissioner for maritime. His contributions to the institute began as far back as the 1970s during the establishment of the Union Marine Training Institute, a project of the Mano River Union.
UMTI was established as a maritime center of learning and education for the training of young sailors to work on vessels undertaking commercial shipping activities in the region. Prior to 1988, when the institute was fully turned over to the Liberian government due to budgetary constraints faced by the Union, Bestman led negotiations that resulted in the institute being taken to Marshall. It was later transformed into the Liberia Maritime Training Institute.
Apart from leading efforts to construct the institute at its current location, Bestman also led the process to acquire the land on which it is situated while he was assistant finance minister for fiscal affairs. It was also during his tenure as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberia Electricity Corporation that full access to electricity was provided to the institute.
The president congratulated Bestman for his numerous contributions to the institute, adding that the country owes him a debt of gratitude.
“John, we owe you; It is honorable to give honor to whom it is due,” she said.
The many years of war in the country forced the closure of the institute, leading to the deterioration of its infrastructure and training equipment.
In 2009, during the tenure of Binyah Kesselly as maritime commissioner, revitalization of the school was officially initiated. Management responsibility was also turned over to the Liberia International Ship and Corporate Registry upon request in 2016. Upon completion, 24 engineering cadets, marking the first batch after the war, commenced training in August last year.
The site has also been proposed to host the future headquarters of the Liberia Maritime Authority.
According to an Executive Mansion release, Sirleaf thanked members of the 53rd National Legislature for renegotiating the concession agreement between the government and LISCR. She also paid tribute to the partnership with LISCR, which according to her, has translated into the transformation of a modern maritime training institute.
The president has also recognized the contributions of Gerald Cooper, Beyan Cooper and Leonard Dennis, who she said served the Maritime dutifully for 43 years. She acknowledged that Dennis remained committed and devoted in spite of some of the most difficult moments the Bureau of Maritime faced.
Sirleaf thanked stakeholders of the Liberia Maritime Authority and Liberia Maritime Training Institute for putting in place a rigorous recruiting process, which produced 20 males and 4 females.
Since its establishment, the Maritime Training Institute has contributed immensely to the training of men and women who currently hold high level positions in the maritime industry, including Lawrence Barchue, now assistant secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization; deputy maritime commissioners Yvonne Clinton and Charles Gono and Marine Engineer Donald Gwaikolo.
Meanwhile, Bestman welcomed the decision of the president to rename the maritime institute after him.
He said as a committed and long servicing public servant, honoring him shows motivation to his children and the current generation to be committed and sincere to public service.
He told The Bush Chicken in an interview that waking up every morning in Marshall and seeing the maritime institute that is an offspring of his dedication brings him so much joy and happiness. He said the existence of the institute provides opportunities for Liberians.
“We saw this as providing job opportunities for Liberians, so that when young people are trained, they would have opportunities to work on these fleet of ships flying our flag,” he said.
Bestman said he sees the institute as a beacon of hope for the people of Marshall, as it would contribute to the betterment of their lives and those desirous of pursuing careers in the sector will have it delivered right to their doorsteps.
Recounting challenges in getting the institute to its current position, Bestman said that although the government legally paid for the land it acquired to establish the institute, people in his home town had accused him and the government of taking away their land for personal benefits.
“It was a serious political issue, it was a serious challenge to let people know that this is bringing in development to their town. People did not accept it easily,” he said.
He said residents of Marshall had also complained that because of the accessibility of the area through an improved motor road and the presence of electricity, local fishermen were now inflating the price of fish due to the influx of customers from elsewhere.
“When the institute started accepting boarding students, the people again began to complain that strangers had come to take over their land and their women,” he added.
He said although previous challenges were overcome, what remains is that residents are now complaining that they are not connected to the electricity grid at the institute, something he wants the Liberia Maritime Authority to seriously consider.
Bestman has served in other senior posts in government. He lastly served in the Sirleaf’s administration as chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Port Authority, after serving on the Board of Governors of the Central Bank of Liberia.
He was also deputy minister for finance and banking, executive governor of the now defunct National Bank of Liberia, and minister of finance in 1982 and 1998 under Presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.
Liberia Maritime Authority Commissioner James Kollie welcomed the development and hopes that the memorialization of its former commissioner’s efforts that led to the construction of the school in Marshall will inspire young cadets undergoing maritime training at the institute.
Featured photo courtesy of Executive Mansion