By Sami Zaptia.
London, 25 August 2020:
Faiez Serraj, the internationally recognized Libyan Prime Minister based in Tripoli, made a big 33-minute speech last night in reaction to Sunday and Monday’s demonstrations in various Libyan cities, including Tripoli.
The Tripoli demonstrators on Sunday were shot at by ‘‘government-recognized forces’’ currently being investigated by the Tripoli government. Some were expecting – hoping – Serraj would announce his resignation in the speech because of the shooting. UNSMIL called for an investigation into what it called excessive use of force against the demonstrators.
There is a law (65/2012) in Libya that prescribes that demonstrations must seek permission from the Interior Ministry. The Ministry is reluctant to grant permissions because it fears demonstrations could be exploited by the opponents of the Tripoli regime. Sunday and Monday’s demonstrations did not get permission, yet the Tripoli regime yielded to the inevitable and provided security.
Right to demonstrate with permission and beware infiltrators
On the unauthorized demonstrations, Serraj said demonstrations are a right and he instructed his Interior Ministry and intelligence services to protect demonstrators – if they are authorised.
However, he warned that Sunday’s demonstrations had been infiltrated by armed spoilers. He highlighted the fact that at least people in west Libya under his government had the right to demonstrate whereas in the east under Hafter and Ageela Saleh they did not. He gave the missing House of Representatives member Siham Sergiwa as a sad example of the lack of right to opposition in the east.
Current problems are an accumulation of decades -old problems
He admitted that there is a crisis in Libya but that this crisis is not the fault of his government but that it is the cause of an accumulation of reasons over the past decades. He also blamed the 14-month war by Khalifa Hafter for part of the causes of the crisis including his destruction of property and infrastructure. This included electricity infrastructure.
The electricity crisis
On the acute electricity crisis, seen as the main catalyst for these demonstrations, Serraj again said that the power cuts are an accumulation of causes over decades. He announced that he was taking personal responsibility for the electricity file.
He explained that today Libya generates 4,250 MW of power, consumes 6,750 MW and hence there is a generation deficit of around 2,500 MW. Besides the decades-old accumulated reasons for the generation deficit, Serraj blamed the state General Electricity Company of Libya’s (GECOL) former board of directors, GECOL employees and militias for refusing to equitably share electricity around regions.
He accuses some GECOL employees and militias of favouring their areas and regions – at the expense of others. Besides these two, he accused some areas/regions of again refusing to accept organised scheduled power cuts in order to share electricity.
Electricity: Short term solution
Serraj said that there is no magic wand to solve the electricity problem immediately as Libya is at peak summer demand. In the short term, Serraj proposed that 1,000 – 1,800 MW of new generation capacity will come online within 4 months through the maintenance of various units, including at Khoms power station, gaining 500 MW, and Ubari power station, gaining 300 MW.
Electricity: Medium term solution
In the medium term, Serraj said 2,000 MW of electricity generation will be gained through the return of Turkish contractors ‘‘soon’’ to complete their stalled projects. He said that talks with them have been positive.
Revealingly, he claimed that GECOL had ‘‘fulfilled their security demands’’.
Politics: Will not resign
While Serraj accepted ‘‘a share of responsibility’’ of Libya’s current problems, he claimed both internal and external money was acting as a spoiler and creating bottlenecks.
He said he will not allow his legitimacy to be brought down through the street (demonstrations), and he will not allow a vacuum that this would create.
Elections or reform through the LPA mechanism
Serraj said that the only political option was the recreation of political authority or legitimacy through elections.
However, he said he would accept, without elections, his removal and / or the reformation or reduction in size of his Presidency Council by the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High State Council (HSC) (as currently permitted by 2015 Skhirat Libya Political Agreement (LPA) that give birth to Serraj’s Presidency Council, the HoR and HSC).
He warned, however, that the March elections he had called for in his ceasefire agreement with east Libya, should not be postponed using excuses and disagreements such as on (militia) security reform in Tripoli or Presidency Council reform.
The implication here is the east’s regular refrain that there is no validity in holding Libyan elections if Tripoli’s militias are not reformed first, as they would overthrow any election result they deem unfavourable – as they had done in 2014.
He said any elections must be on a constitutional basis and that constitutionality can be reached if there is a political will.
Serraj’s big move: A cabinet reshuffle
Serraj’s big offer in response to the demonstrations against deteriorating living conditions such as acute and frequent power cuts, water cuts, internet and telephone service deterioration, fuel, cooking gas and cash-at-banks shortages, wide accusations of government/bureaucracy corruption, and an out-of-control Coronavirus pandemic – is a ministerial reshuffle.
He said he especially wanted to reshuffle the ministers in the services sectors. He said he wanted to choose clean, capable ministers rather than ministers chosen based on regionality.
He blamed his inability to reshuffle ministerial positions specifically on the need to choose individuals based on regionality.
He also blamed the status of his current Presidency Council on its inability to reform because some of them wanted specific roles for specific people and wanted the regional distribution of positions.
To this end, he said he is forced to use emergency powers through decree to reform his government.
Serraj called on Libya’s justice system to investigate public employees accused of corruption and suspend them during investigation. He vowed he would not protect anyone and said there would be no red lines for anyone.
He called on Libya’s monitoring and oversight agencies (Audit Bureau and Administrative Control Authority etc) to fight corruption.
CBL: do your job
Serraj did not waste the opportunity to lay into his local nemesis, the Tripoli Central Bank of Libya (CBL) once again. He said his government wanted to continue with its economic reforms (introduced in September 2018) including protecting the value of the dinar.
He repeated his oft made calls for the CBL to do its job to make liquidity available at banks and keep the black-market foreign exchange rate of the Libyan Dinar down (currently at around LD 6.5 / dollar whereas the lowest official rate is around LD 1.4 / dollar).
He also called on it to reform its import mechanism and make it easier for Libyan businesses to importer goods. Currently the CBL will only allow the import of goods through the opening of Letters of Credit. It does not recognize Cash-Against-Documents or imports on credit basis. This has led to goods worth tens if not hundreds of millions being stuck at ports being refused entry by the CBL. Businesses have appealed to the Serraj government which was forced to ‘‘illegally’’ allow these goods through. The problem persists.
Need to control the narrative by organizing government media
Serraj also said that there was a need to organize all the government’s media outlets. His implicit admission that government TV stations are not fully under its control – and have not been since the 2011 revolution – as some have been taken over by various political / power stakeholders. He said that there needs to be a response to the opposing media outlets who he implied create a different narrative to the one he wants to create.
The 20 August ceasefire agreement
On the 20th August ceasefire declared between his Tripoli forces and the pro Khalifa Hafter forces, currently facing-off at the Sirte-Jufra de facto ceasefire line, Serraj said that work now needed to be achieved on the points of agreement between the two sides. The priority of these is the resumption of oil exports.
Will not talk to Hafter
Without mentioning him by name, Serraj said he will not negotiate with Khalifa Hafter who’s hands are stained with blood after his 14-month war on Tripoli.
Thank you, Turkey, for saving Tripoli from Hafter
Serraj thanked Turkey for standing by his administration and saving it and Tripoli from Hafter’s military attack. He said they did this when others had refused to stand by him and his government. He indicated that Turkey will be rewarded for this through business contracts.
NOC to export first shipment after lifting of 7-month blockade
The Hafter-aligned PFG announces resumption of the export of stored oil and gas
Shooting at Tripoli demonstrations: MoI identifies shooters, will investigate and reveal results
UNSMIL calls for investigation into excessive use of force against Tripoli demonstrators
Serraj government creaking under pressure: with electricity blackouts, water cuts, youth fleeing to Europe and demonstrating, and municipalities calling for immediate action