By Sami Zaptia.
London, 8 September 2017:
Presidency Council head and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) Prime Minister-designate Faiez Serraj blamed all of Libya’s woes on the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya Governor and the boycotting PC members.
He threatened to use the High Court to bypass the blockage caused to the Libyan political process by the HoR. Ultimately, Serraj also saw the holding of fresh elections as the only way out of Libya’s current crisis. He did not discount the holding of elections and felt that the insecurity in Libya should not be over exaggerated.
On illegal migration, he confirmed that he did not sign any agreement with Italy to allow for illegal migrants to be held in Libya. He said relations with the Trump administration were good.
Serraj, speaking for just under 2 hours to a panel of 4 interviewers broadcast last night on the state-owned Libya’s Rasmiya Channel, said that there is a ‘‘blockage’’ in the political process in Libya.
HoR failing to play its role – could be bypassed through High Court
He said that the HoR is ‘‘unable to function and perform its role. It is unable in its current state to pass the necessary legislation’’, including on the constitution, ‘’needed for Libya to move forward.’’
He warned that the government ‘‘cannot be held hostage’’ by the fact that the HoR is not functioning. ‘‘We are forced to seek other ways’’ to move forward as Libya in its present state cannot wait. ‘’We need other options’’, he reiterated.
Serraj then went on to make a veiled threat to resort to the Supreme Judicial Council or the High Court in order to bypass the HoR. ‘‘If the HoR fails in its duties…we have to think outside the box in order to exit the current crisis’’, he explained.
Serraj said that the insecurity in Libya in general and in Tripoli specifically has improved. He said that the insecurity should not be over-exaggerated and should not be used as a barrier to holding new elections. There have been countries which have had worse security than Libya which have held elections, he added.
To take place, elections need the political will by all sides, which he said could be organized in 6 months. While security risks to elections need to be assessed, Serraj said that his government’s role would be to organize the right security, political and social environment for elections. However, he stressed that election results must be respected by all sides and hinted that the international community could play a role in ensuring this. ‘‘I see elections as the only way out of from Libya’s (current) crisis’’, he concluded.
Libyan and international initiatives must have time limits
Serraj praised and thanked all the international initiatives for peace and reconcilliation in Libya, but admitted that foreign states have interests that they seek in Libya. Libyans should depend on themselves and not give the opportunity for outside negative interference in their affairs. Libyans should solve their own problems and ultimately it is Libyan initiatives that are important.
He stressed that initiatives should have a time limit adding that the attempt to amend the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) (signed in Skhirat, Morocco in December 2015) has been ongoing for one and a half years. Time limits must be imposed on initiatives he explained, adding that ‘‘the country cannot wait’’ indefinitely.
The Paris meeting with Hafter was positive
Asked about his recent meeting with Khalifa Hafter in Paris, Serraj said that it was a positive meeting from which emerged results to build on. There were many points discussed and agreed upon such as the LPA, the civil state, civil institutions, fighting terrorism, elections, and unification of military institutions.
Moreover, after the Paris meeting there was a meeting in Egypt, which he thanked, of military leaders from all sides which was positive with regards to unifying the military and security institutions.
The latest draft of the constitution
Asked about the latest draft of the constitution to be completed and presented by the Constitutional Drafting Authority (CDA) to the HoR for a vote and to the High National Election Council (HNEC), Serraj was positive. He said that the process in itself was a good step, irrespective of the details of the content of the draft constitution.
With regards to the legal challenge to the CDA itself, its procedures and its latest draft, Serraj said that we may find that all Libyan institutions are challenged legally with regards to their legitimacy. However, he preferred to move forward and build for new elections.
Asked about the role of the PC, Serraj said that expectations of the PC were high but that for more than 1-year members had boycotted the body and failed to play their required role. He accused 1 member of using the PC’s headed paper and stamp to issue statements even while boycotting the PC. He criticized the boycotters of constantly criticizing the PC and failing to accept their responsibilities as PC members. Serraj said that the government could not wait for boycotting PC members as it had to take decisions.
Serraj welcomed the appointment of the new UNSMIL head and SGSR Ghassan Salame who he said he had full confidence in to help get Libya out of its current crisis. He said he expects Salame to put forward his vision in the next few weeks.
Internally and externally displaced Libyans
Serraj said that Libya’s political division and the resultant insecurity and lack of budgets has led to the inability of the state to provide services to the internally and externally displaced Libyans so that they can return to their homes.
Despite limited resources, however, Serraj said that his government was working on solutions. In Tawergha, and in other areas for example, GECOL was working on proving electricity for towns.
Serraj admitted that it was painful to see displaced Libyans in camps within Libya and painful to see displaced Libyans abroad struggling in many different ways. He assured that he was working on solutions with fixed plans and limited available resources.
Serraj stressed that security – especially in Tripoli – had improved and said that the ultimate solution to the problem of the internally and externally displaced is improved security in Libya –- which would now allow most of them to return to their homes. The state did not have budgets to support the displaced. Returning to their homes: ‘’this is the ideal solution’’, he concluded.
The liquidity crisis
Serraj admitted that it was painful to see queues of Libyans waiting in front of banks in order to withdraw a small amount of their own money, but put the blame squarely on the Central Bank of Libya (CBL). He admitted that relations between the PC/GNA and the CBL had been fraught from the beginning.
The CBL is the body in Libya in charge of monetary policy and it does not take instructions from the PC/GNA. The CBL is appointed by and accountable to the HoR. Monetary policy is not the responsibility of the PC/GNA, he stressed, adding that there is at times a misunderstanding about this responsibility amongst the public. However, the PC/GNA provides security for the CBL and banks, he explained.
‘‘We need an urgent solution to the liquidity crisis. We have made proposals to the CBL and a committee has been formed which is expected to announce its results soon. We contacted the CBL and requested that a time limit is put in place for solving the liquidity crisis. We are accused of not solving the liquidity crisis when it is the CBL’s responsibility’’.
The black-market exchange rates
With regards the black market foreign currency exchange rate which is about 8 times the official exchange rate Serraj said that his government has contacted the CBL several times and that ‘’the CBL needs to act urgently’’ on the issue. In another veiled threat, he warned that he can ‘‘no longer wait for the CBL to come up with a solution’’, but gave no further details.
Serraj said that there have been some improvements since oil production had increased from around 150,000 bpd when the PC/GNA had arrived in Tripoli to the current production rate of around 1 million bpd.
He called upon the CBL to take urgent action and noted that there are a number of possible solutions available. Implicitly accusing the CBL of being conservative Serraj said ‘’we need brave decisions. We are prepared to offer political cover to any decision needed. The CBL needs to play its role’’.
Asked about the possibility of exchanging Libya’s current notes to force the public to deposit their hoarded cash and the possibility of printing more money, Serraj would not be drawn on details. However, he admitted that these measures would be temporary pain killers. He admitted that there is a lack of confidence by the general public in banks.
He said that banks and the banking system need modernization and corruption in banks needed to be fought. The CBL needs to restructure the system, he added.
Serraj felt that it would be the wrong time to introduce any subsidy reform during the liquidity crisis. He said many options are under consideration including increasing petrol prices.
High state-sector salary bill
Serraj also admitted that it was abnormal to have a state-sector salary bill of over 60 percent (LD 24-26 bn) of Libya’s state budget, but again he felt that during the crisis that Libya is going through – it would not be the appropriate time to try to tackle this problem.
Having two CBLs
Ultimately, Serraj blamed Libya’s economic and monetary problems on the political division that has resulted in having two Libyan central banks., which he described as ‘‘catastrophic’’. He said that neither central bank knew what the other bank was spending. A political solution is needed in order to bypass this stage and unify the two CBLs, he explained.
Reduction of embassy staff
In an effort to cut government spending and especially overseas spending in hard currency, Serraj revealed that overseas postings had been reduced by 55 percent saving the state about US$ 220 million. Asked why at such a transitional stage were some embassies abroad not closed down, Serraj said that closures would sent a negative message to the concerned state and that the reduction of staff abroad was preferred.
Health, medicine and foreign nurses
With regards to current health sector problems, Serraj said that many of these were decades old and inherited from the previous era. He said that the state is currently unable to provide budgets and spend on the sector.
With regards to foreign nursing, Serraj said that they are unable to come to Libya due to insecurity, their inability to transfer their wages in hard currency and due to some countries preventing their nationals from travelling to Libya. He said that he was trying to solve these problems and that, for example, the state purchasing arm, the Medical Supply Organization (MSO) had recently been allocated some funds to purchase some essential medicines.
Serraj said that foreign companies in the electricity sector left Libya and did not complete their projects or maintenance due to the lack of security. He said that there is now an electricity generation deficit of between 1,500 to 1,700 MW. This, he explained could either be solved by reducing consumption or by increasing generation.
There are currently ongoing efforts with foreign companies such as the German company Siemens and the Turkish company Enka to start the Ubari power station by the end of September which would produce 150 MW, which would ease the deficit.
Serraj also confirmed that there is currently a Libyan delegation visiting South Korea attempting to convince the South Korean government to permit their companies to return to Libya. There are also ongoing talks with the NOC to supply gas to the power stations at Zueitina and at Sarir.
Serraj also confirmed recent news that a Libyan sovereign investment fund will invest over LD 2 bn to complete 4 power stations in order to solve the power generation crisis.
Serraj also criticized unnamed municipalities and their militias that refuse to share electricity equitably by accepting organized power cuts. He admitted that militias were coercing control rooms into directing power cuts to other areas. This, he confirmed, had happened recently when there was a total blackout.
On the rubbish collection crisis and the accumulation of rubbish in the streets, Serraj revealed that the responsibility of rubbish collection is to be taken away from the General Services Company and is to be transferred to Municipalities.
On the topic of security, Serraj reiterated that security had improved all over Libya in general and especially so in Tripoli. This was thanks to forces (militias) aligned to the PC/GNA which had resisted forces opposed to the PC/GNA, he explained.
He admitted that there were still clashes from time to time between these groups, which he said the PC/GNA tried to avoid as the ordinary citizen was always the one who paid the price of such clashes.
Asked for a timeline for the reintegration and unification of militias into a unified army and police, Serraj said the HoR was responsible for that. There needs to be a political solution for reintegration and unification. The general PC/GNA plan is to impose security on all of Libya, he explained.
Serraj said that the recent appointment by the PC/GNA of Deputy Interior Minister Faraj Al-Gaem and of acting Chief of Staff Taweel were in line with unification. They should not be read as otherwise and should not be exploited politically for further divisiveness.
Fighting terrorism in Libya
Asked about the recent re-emergence of Daesh (IS/ISIS) in Libya, Serraj said that Daesh is taking advantage of any security vacuum in the country and that the fight against them is an ongoing fight.
Illegal migration: I did not sign any agreement with the Italians
With regards to fighting illegal migration, Serraj said that fighting illegal migration on the sea was not enough and that the problem needs to be countered on Libya’s southern border. Libya was not the source of the illegal migration problem but was a transit state, he added.
Serraj confirmed that he had not signed any agreement or any secret agreement with Italy to allow for migrants to be returned and held in holding centres in Libya. However, he did confirm having signed an MoU which was an extension to the 2008 MoU which allowed for logistic, technical and operational support for the Libyan Coast Guard to improve their effectiveness, he explained.
Serraj said that Libya’s detention centres had to be open for international inspection and Libya needed support in running these.
He said that the Ialian meetings with Libyan Municipalities in the south were taking place with the approval of the PC/GNA in an effort to establish regional development on the border regions.
Regional policy – the Gulf crisis
On the recent Gulf crisis, Serraj called for reconciliation between the Gulf states and said the PC/GNA had a policy of non-interference. ‘‘We have enough of our own internal problems’’, he added.
Asked about the interference of other states in Libyan affairs, Serraj said that external interference in Libyan affairs and other states’ attempts to force one Libyan party over another is ‘‘one of the causes of the Libyan crisis’’.
‘‘We hope that other states join in the reconciliation effort between Libyan parties’’. Serraj did not mention any state by name.
US-Libya policy: a strategic partnership
Asked about relations between Libya and the Trump administration, Serraj said that ‘‘We have had a success story with the USA in fighting Daesh in Sirte. We have good relations with the US. There has been no change of US policy (towards Libya) as has been claimed’’.
Serraj said that Libya and the US had a strategic partnership and that he was looking for further cooperation in other fields such as the economy and trade. He confirmed that Libya would call for help from the US against Daesh if needed.
In summary, Serraj said that despite the challenges that Libya faces, he remained hopeful. He said Libya has a huge opportunity if its people kept away from their political differences and their narrow interests, and concentrate on the future and the country’s potential.
Serraj noted how non-Libyans see all the future potential in Libya that for some reason Libyans fail to appreciate. A potential for the making of a successful state.