By Mustafa Salheen el-Huni
Libya is facing a number of intractable problems that make the idea of a workable state nearly irrelevant. Among them, two essential problems directly affecting the lives of Libyans and the future of the country: Chronic insecurity and the abysmal state of the economy.
By the end of the armed uprising of February 2011, manifestations of these two problems were apparent but the successive bodies and institutions that were supposed to ensure the functioning of the state in Libya failed to implement appropriate corrective and protective measures, leading to a serious worsening of the situation.
Different institutions and bodies, pretending to be in command, did nothing to prevent the interruption of exports of oil, Libya’s main export and backbone of its economy. The situation continued until the Libyan National Army took control of the oil installations and handed them over to the National Oil Company.
Reform-minded Libyans suggest that emergency economic measres be introduced after minimum security conditions are established. I would argue instead that appropriate economic reforms are the best means of ensuring security.
The assumption behind this argument is that lack of economic opportunity is at the root of increased violence against people and property. It also explains why some join terrorist militias and others follow the desperate course of illegal immigration. It is only when Libya deals with the economy that insecurity will gradually disappear.
Libya has a small population — about 6 million — in a huge territory — 1.7 million sq. km. In such a context, quick remedies to the economic crisis are possible. One can begin with the following emergency reforms:
— Fix the exchange rate of the Libyan dinar for the transition period of three years. The official rate should be lowered 50% to encourage citizens to return the cash from the banking institutions to the market and thus solve the current liquidity crisis.
— Implement infrastructure projects by commissioning private sector companies locally and from abroad. Priority should be given to projects — such as airports, roads, sanitation, and electricity — that have the greatest effect on improving citizens’ lives. Related sectors such as commerce and transportation will thrive in tandem with the implementation of the projects.
— The military production could be commissioned to produce durable consumer goods. One can learn from experiences in other countries. In the Libyan context, this would have the added value of providing jobs to demobilised militia members who can be recruited as unarmed reserve forces.
— Create a mixed public-private sector that will take charge of creating and managing heavy industries such as cement, steel and petrochemicals. These industries would be run on the basis of modern market-driven business models and set standards for efficiency in the public sector and help develop a modern private sector.
— Start creating and implementing modern economic projects such as free trade zones, renewable energies and specialised agricultural projects. To encourage foreign investment and participation in the projects, appropriate legislation and policies must be created.
These programmes and measures can be financed through the issuance of government bonds, both local and international, that would constitute an extra source of income to be added to oil and gas revenues and foreign reserves. Appropriate measures and regulations would be needed to carry out the economic reforms but should there be a will to introduce such vital economic reforms, there would be no shortage of possibilities.
Mustafa Salheen el-Huni is the former first vice-president of the Libyan transitional council.