By Sami Zaptia.
Tripoli, 13 October:
The Libyan Economic and Social Forum held a conference on ‘the National Conference on the Identity of Libya’s Economy’ today at the Radisson Hotel in Tripoli.
The Forum had a star-studded line-up of politicians, business people, academics and NGOs including Ali Tarhuni the former Finance and Oil minister, Issa Twejri minister of Planning and Mohamed Fetesie, the Minister of Industry.
In the introduction to the conference it was stressed that Libya must now join the new world economic order. It must decide if it wants to continue to be a consumer nation or transform itself to a productive nation. The inevitable examples of Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia were raised and Libya’s position in this new competitive economic world compared with them. The spectre of life after oil was also mentioned as a driver for Libya’s search for a new economic identity.
Planning Minister Issa Twejri commented to the gathered that “we don’t disagree on where we want to be. The problem is the processes. Can we transfer and transform our economy from where we are today to where we want to be? Our problem is that we don’t have the human resource capacity or the management to implement this transformation.
“We need to create a vision like that of Malaysia”, he continued. “When we create a vision of where we want to be, then the world would be queuing up to help us implement this vision. It is not going to be easy. We will need to increase our GDP without increasing our oil production. Can we increase our GDP by diversifying our incomes? It is the how – the process – that is the challenge”.
Former Finance and Oil minister Ali Tarhuni felt that Libya’s “economic identity will be to a degree set by itself but also to a certain extent it will be set by the international community. In establishing this economic identity we must concentrate on sustainability. Education, petrochemicals, agriculture based on desalinisation, tourism – all are important areas we must consider.
“We need to establish Libya’s strategic position. We need to consider if we can create a services and financial centre in Libya linking the North (Europe) with the South (Africa). There will be challenges such as the legacies we have inherited from the past regime. But we must not be held hostages to these”, he stressed.
“These challenges include Libya’s so-called banking sector. It is more like a safe deposit box for the safekeeping of money than a modern banking system. This is one of the inherited legacies. Then there are all the state institutions which are corrupt and inefficient – another legacy.”
“We need a modern human resources system and policy. We need to embrace technology and modern education. This is vital. We need knowhow. It is available but it has a price. We have the money and we must buy it. We must ultimately have the courage to move forward”, Tarhuni concluded.
Leading businessman Husni Bey noted that “Everyone says we – Libyans – are rich. We are not rich. When you divide our net income from oil – our only source of income – on our population of six million people it works out at pennies. I am against the handing out of cash subsidies and the mentality of subsidies. What we need are rules and regulations such as those that guarantee the security of property. The banks cannot lend presently because there is not the adequate legal framework for them to lend money.
“We also need the withdrawal of the state from the business sector”, he continued. “We need it to cease its unfair competition with the private sector. We need all the relevant sectors to be privatised. We don’t need to wait for a long term plans – we need to take some action now and this applies to the housing sector. Set the right ownership laws so that banks can lend now. This – land and property ownership – will underpin and activate the whole economy.
“In Libya we have no real problems. We can solve them if we have the political will”, Bey concluded. [/restrict]