Libya halves budget deficit thanks to rise in oil revenues

Tripoli (Reuters) – Libya’s budget deficit was narrowed to 4.6 billion dinars ($3.32 billion dollars) in 2018 down from 10.6 billion dinars in 2017 thanks to a rise in oil revenues, the central bank said on Monday.

Libya’s oil revenues stood at 24.5 billion dollars in 2018, up 78 percent from the previous year, central bank data showed.

State oil company NOC aims to increase production to 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2021.

Currently Libya produces about 950,000 bpd, less than its pre-civil war capacity of 1.6 million bpd, as the country’s biggest oil field El Sharara remains closed since it was taken over on Dec. 8 by tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments and development funds.

Libya has been divided since 2014 between rival institutions and warring factions based in the east and west.

However, the central bank in Tripoli has continued to control oil revenues, which account for nearly all the country’s income, and to disburse them across the country.

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Libyan election commission says needs budget for February constitution vote

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s electoral commission has asked the government for $28.7 million, saying the funding is needed to boost its “zero” budget to organize a vote on a new constitution as early as February.

Western powers and the United Nations hope Libya will hold a national election by June after a referendum on a constitutional framework to chart a way out of a conflict stemming from the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

A French plan, backed by the United Nations, had initially called for a presidential and parliamentary vote on Dec. 10.

But weeks of fighting in the capital Tripoli between competing groups and almost no progress between the North African country’s two rival parliaments made that impossible.

Now Emad al-Sayah, chairman of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), said on Thursday his group needed funding to plan for the constitutional vote.

“The budget of the commission is zero, it’s red,” he told reporters. “We have financial commitments of half a million (dinars).”

He said the commission had asked the Tripoli-based government to get 40 million dinars ($28.7 million) to start the process for a constitutional vote.

It was not immediately possible to reach the internationally backed government.

Sayah said such a constitutional referendum could be held as early as February, if a budget had been allocated to import technical equipment and ballot materials.

“HNEC will announce the process at the end of January and the process will be finished at the end of February,” he said, describing a February date as an estimate.

A draft constitution has been drawn up to be put to a referendum, but it is not clear how that will work.

The United Nations also wants to stage a national conference for Libyans in early 2019 to overcome divisions and decide what type of elections they want, presidential or parliamentary.

Sayah said the date for the constitutional vote needed to be agreed with the internationally recognized parliament, the House of Representatives (HOR), which took last week the first legislative steps toward it.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya analyst, said lawmakers might agree on final election legislation, despite the resistance of some figures to the U.N. plan, but he remained skeptical.

“When it comes to the physical implementation of the actual suffrage, there is no reason to think Libya, taken as a whole, is logistically ready to make it happen in a satisfactory, sage way for all constituents in most territories,” he said.

Libya has two governments, the Tripoli one and a rival version in the east allied to commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control the east.

Sayah also said better security was needed.

In May, Islamic state suicide attackers stormed the commission’s Tripoli headquarters, killing at least 12 of its staff.

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Exclusive: Libyan wealth fund to hire auditors in push to unfreeze assets

LONDON (Reuters) – Libya’s sovereign wealth fund will appoint auditors within weeks and conclude a wide-ranging examination of its assets by 2019 as part of its efforts to get billions of dollars of assets unfrozen, the fund’s head told Reuters.

Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed, the chairman and chief executive of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), said financial auditing and consulting company PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was one of the firms the fund was considering.

About 70 percent of the LIA’s $67 billion worth of assets have been frozen under United Nations sanctions since the toppling of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 pushed the country into turmoil.

UN diplomats say they want to see a stable government in Libya before relaxing the sanctions.

“We want to strengthen the trust of the international community in the Libyan Investment Authority. We are cooperating with the United Nations and adhering to their sanctions,” Mohamed said in an interview in London.

“We are making reforms from top to bottom and carrying out an audit that can be used by the UN to check the assets of the LIA,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Libya’s economy has collapsed, and the fund could eventually be an important source of finance for the war-torn country. But it has long been hampered by a leadership dispute between rival factions in Tripoli and eastern Libya. Mohamed said he had ended some of those divisions by merging departments and offices.

“We need to enhance our governance. Political splits damaged the Libyan Investment Authority. Our assets were frozen in order to protect them,” he said.

Asked about reports on funds that had been transferred out of European bank accounts linked to LIA, Mohammed said that stemmed from dividends and interest paid on holdings of equities and fixed income instruments. The asset freeze only applied to the equity itself or the principal of the bonds, he said.

“These revenues from equity dividends are worth hundreds of millions every year. We have received those since 2011,” he said, adding more than $1 billion had been transferred to LIA’s accounts at Arab Bank Corporation (ABC) in Bahrain from custodian bank accounts in Belgium and Luxembourg since 2011.

“Money withdrawn from ABC bank was used to pay for the operational costs of the LIA. We have statements dating back to 2011,” he said, adding he had full control over the accounts and no money had disappeared.

Around $8.5 billion of LIA’s assets were invested in global equities and some $1.5 billion in bonds, according to Mohamed.

Mohamed also said all the fund’s Tripoli-based staff had now moved out of the Tripoli Tower office block to a different, undisclosed location in the city, amid security breaches that saw a number of employees threatened or abducted by militias.

Tripoli is largely controlled by a handful of powerful armed groups claiming official status that have expanded their economic interests, penetrated key institutions and frequently abducted rivals with impunity. LIA said it employs 140 people directly though more than 1000 including its subsidiaries.

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Libyan coast guards force stranded migrants off container ship

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libyan authorities on Tuesday forcibly disembarked more than 90 migrants who had refused to leave a cargo ship that rescued them before docking in a port west of Tripoli, a coast guard commander said.

The United Nations put the number of disembarked migrants at 79, saying in a statement “the humanitarian community is saddened by the turn of events”. The Panama-flagged “Nivin” vehicles carrier rescued them and other migrants off the Libyan coast 10 days ago as their boat began sinking and brought them to Misrata.

Once there, 14 disembarked willingly but, in the first documented case of its kind, the other 92 refused to leave.

“A joint force raided the cargo ship and used rubber bullets and tear gas to force (them off the ship),” the commander of the central region coastguards, Tawfiq Esskair, told Reuters by phone.

Some had been injured during the disembarkation but were now “in good condition” after treatment in hospital, and all had been taken to a detention center in the city, he said.

The operation had been carried out under the auspices of Libya’s attorney general, he added.

Diplomats from some migrants’ countries of origin such as Sudan and Somalia had tried to negotiate with the migrants to leave the ship, which had been transporting cars. Libya’s western coast has been a main departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty and hoping for new lives in Europe. But since last year, heavy pressure from Italy – which had been bearing the brunt of arrivals – has resulted in the disruption of coastal smuggling networks and the withdrawal of charity rescue ships.

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Italy's Libya talks end with commitments but no joint statement

UN envoy Ghassan Salame says renegade General Khalifa Haftar ‘committed to support’ elections in the spring of 2019.

    Palermo, Italy  An international conference on Libya has ended in the Italian city of Palermo with commitments but no binding agreement by warring factions to a United Nations-led road map envisaging elections next year.

    In a joint press conference on Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the two-day summit as a “success” and a “first step in the right direction” – but walked away with no more than verbal pledges.

    “Palermo was a milestone for Libyans to set a common framework,” Salame said, referring to the plan for a national conference and subsequent elections to be held in the first months of 2019.

    The UN envoy said renegade General Khalifa Haftar, the most reluctant to engage in the UN-led process, was “committed to support” the proposed road map.

    However, the summit ended without a written agreement and with no clear timetable either for the national conference or the election process.

    It was also unclear whether the parties found any common ground with regards to the additional economic and security measures needed to stabilise war-wracked Libya and give respite to its languishing economy in view of the upcoming consultations.

    You don’t change a horse in midstream’

    More than seven years since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Libya remains deeply fragmented along tribal and ethnic lines and caught up in a spiral of violence at the hands of rival militias.

    In addition, the difficulties to enact reforms is exacerbated by the existence of two rival parliaments – the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern-based House of Representatives (HOR).

    The UN and most of the international community support Fayez al-Serraj, the head of GNA. Al-Serraj, whose administration has been grappling with a prolonged security and economic crisis, has attempted to broaden the base of his political consensus in a bid to salvage his executive.

    The other front, led by HOR and Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army controls much of eastern Libya, perceives al-Sarraj as incapable of bringing back security to Tripoli as well as to the rest of the country, where rival militias and criminal gangs continue to rule undisturbed.

    However, Haftar on Tuesday apparently expressed his intention to wait for the national conference and elections to take place, before seeking a forcible change in Tripoli.

    “You don’t change a horse in midstream,” he was reported as saying to his rival al-Serraj at an informal meeting on the sidelines of the conference.

    If confirmed, Haftar’s decision may buy time for GNA and the UN mission to improve security measures in Tripoli and across Libya in view of the proposed elections in the spring. 

    “We need to support the current ceasefire and extend it if we are to move the political process forward,” Salame said in Tuesday’s press conference. In September, the envoy brokered a ceasefire after weeks of clashes between militias in and outside of the capital.

    Turkey delegation walks out

    For his part, Conte said he regretted that some of the delegates decided to walk out of the the conference, referring to Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay’s withdrawal from the plenary meeting.

    The Turkish delegation was apparently disappointed at not being invited to join the informal meeting between Haftar and al-Serraj.

    While the Turkish delegation was reportedly excluded from the session, French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and various others were in the room.

    “I am sorry the Turkish delegation decided to leave,” said Conte.

    “Bringing together 30 countries with a direct or indirect involvement in Libya, means exposing the meeting to different sensitivities. This doesn’t change the positive atmosphere we registered overall.”

    Sources close to Haftar – believed to be backed by Russia, Egypt and France – had expressed his disappointment at the presence of Turkish and Qatari officials at the conference.

    Conte said his government is ready to assist the stabilisation process both financially and with capacity-building initiatives like the training of security and police forces. He added that Rome Italy had already pledged 1.5m euros ($1.7m) for elections.

    The Big Picture

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    U.N. envoy says Libya should start process for elections in spring

    TUNIS (Reuters) – Libya should start the process to hold an election in spring 2019 only after a national conference to discuss its conflict, the U.N. Libya envoy said on Thursday, officially burying a long obsolete idea to stage a vote next month.

    Western powers and the United Nations had originally hoped to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 10 as a way out of Libya’s conflict raging sine the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

    But violence and a deadlock between rival administrations had made that goal unrealistic although nobody had declared it officially dead or offered a new time frame.

    Instead, the United Nations wants to focus on a national conference to give Libyans a forum to discuss their future and bridge divisions between armed groups, tribes, town and regions, Ghassan Salame told the U.N. Security Council.

    “The National Conference is to be held in the first weeks of 2019. The subsequent electoral process should commence in the spring of 2019,” Salame said, without being more specific about whether he meant it was expected then or that it ought to happen then.

    Saleme did not give a new date for elections or even mention the date of Dec. 10 agreed only verbally by rival Libyan players at a summit hosted by France in May.

    Shelving the vote is the latest setback for Western powers that helped topple Gaddafi seven years ago before stepping back and seeing hopes for a democratic transition crumble.

    Salame said the internationally recognized House of Representatives had deliberately failed to approve legislation to hold a vote.

    “The House has failed to uphold its responsibilities,” he said. “It is now clear that the postponed sessions and contradictory public statements (by lawmakers) were simply intended to waste time. The body calling itself Libya’s sole legislature is largely sterile.”

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