By George Grant.
Tripoli, 16 October:
No decision will be made on whether or not to develop the National Oil Corporation’s Benghazi branch . . .[restrict]until after the formation of the new government, the Libya Herald has learned.
Last Tuesday, a proposal to give the Benghazi NOC effective control over the oil sector in eastern Libya was put on hold after heated protests from workers in Tripoli. Some 80 per cent of the country’s output comes from the east.
Officials at the time said they hoped to resolve the row and come to a decision in a few days. Owing to the intensely politicised nature of the dispute, however, it has been concluded that the matter is no longer merely an administrative one and cannot be resolved until a new government is in place.
“There is no action right now”, said one senior NOC official in Tripoli today. “Everything has gone quiet”.
Asked if discussions had been put on hold until such time as a new government is formed, the official said: “I think so, yes – until we get the clear picture”.
At a meeting of the National Congress’s Energy Committee yesterday, one delegate told this paper that members had made an active effort not to discuss the issue.
“We tried to avoid this controversial matter and defer it to another time”, said Mokhtar Elatrash, an independent congressman from Khoms.
“We have to discuss this with the government, and we cannot do that until one is formed. We try to deal with rather technical things and this is very much political. It needs to be handled by the government, together with people from both east and west. It’s something much bigger than we can handle.”
Having been elected prime minister on Sunday, Ali Zidan has been given two weeks to have a cabinet ready for submission to the Congress for ratification. Even assuming that process passes off on time and without complications, however, it will likely take at least a few weeks more before the new ministers are in a position to make major political decisions on a matter such as this.
The delay raises the prospect of further disruption by oil workers in Benghazi who have declared themselves extremely unhappy with the situation.
Demonstrations have been held by oil workers from numerous oil companies in the eastern city over the past week, with some workers threatening to ignore instructions from the NOC until the dispute is resolved.