MinbarLibya – International

Saudi Gazette Editorial

Libya is a mess. At the end of March, the UN-backed government of Faiez Serraj arrived in the capital Tripoli. He and his fellow members of the new Presidency Council were greeted with enthusiasm.

Foreign ministers and ambassadors flew in to the naval base where Serraj had made his headquarters and pledged every assistance for Libya’s new beginning. But what did this assistance amount to? There were emergency funds, offers of endless advice and constant pledges of solidarity.

It turned out that all these promises did not amount to a hill of beans. When Serraj sailed in to Tripoli, Libya was plagued by long and daily power cuts. There was no cash in the banks. People were limited to tiny withdrawals, if there were any notes around at all. Government salaries, which means the wages of approaching 90 percent of the entire population, were being paid into the banks electronically but there was no real money to hand out. 

Prices began to skyrocket. The black market rate against the dollar passed five dinars, almost four times the official rate. Security in the capital, never certain, began to collapse with a wave of kidnappings in which the victims were often murdered, even when their families had paid the ransom the criminals demanded.

It didn’t have to be this way. Before Serraj arrived, the international community could have ensured two essentials. It could have organized the printing of large amounts of Libyan dinars and ensured that they were delivered to the Central Bank of Libya. It could also have set up a major emergency generating plant, perhaps across the border in Tunisia. Three years ago the Libyans themselves hired a 450MW temporary power plant from a US company. The equipment was taken away when the government failed to pay the bill, which an audit committee later ruled had been hugely inflated. The American firm had been favored over a UK company that had offered the same deal for a third of the price.

This emergency power could have been hooked into the Libyan power grid. It could have been paid for by releasing some of the billions of Libyan assets frozen abroad since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. 

The UN’s Libyan body, UNSMIL, appears to be guilty of a complete lack of vision and planning.  It was obvious that Serraj’s presence alone in Tripoli was not going to fix things. He needed some quick wins. Power and cash were the obvious targets. Providing both of these was doable. The power project would have been complex but the provision of cash was very simple.  The failure to support Serraj in such tangible terms was astonishing. Now the man on whom the hard-fought-for Libyan Political Agreement depended is seen to have feet of clay. 

To be fair, the parliament chased out of Tripoli by Muslim Brotherhood militias has refused for six months to back the LPA. But the key problem has been in Tripoli, establishing the reputation of Faiez Serraj, his Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord.

Libyans are beginning to suspect that the international community is less interested in their country’s problems and more concerned with stopping terrorism overflowing into neighboring states and stemming the waves of migrants being launched toward Europe by Libyan people-smugglers. Libyans are very understandably losing faith in outside help. There have been too many promises and so little actually delivered.

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Saudi Gazette

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