Interview with Libyan unity government Prime Minister Faiez Serraj

On the sidelines of the recent London meetings on Libya, the Libya Herald interviewed the head of the Presidency Council of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) who is also prime minister. The interview covers a number of important topics.

For a politician the answers are surprisingly frank and are often quite critical of important political players. Many of the answers explain why the GNA is not showing progress.
An obvious problem with the GNA is the lack of adequate security arrangements and control over militia. Serraj admitted that the arrangements had been slow in taking place and that the situation on the ground had made the time line set out in the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) outdated. According to the LPA, the security arrangements involved removing any militias from urban centers. However, urban centers are still dominated by militia including the capital Tripoli. Serraj said: "... despite all our good intentions and plans… we need resources. We thought that the Presidential Guard would be deployed and armed quickly. Unfortunately, there has been a delay, even by the international community’’. When the Presidential Guard was finally set up members defected to support the coup plotters of the Salvation Government who took over the headquarters of the GNA's High State Council at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli.
Serraj noted that the international community always seem to give priority to fighting terrorism and illegal immigration while Libyans worry more about being able to get money out of the bank and having electricity 24 hours a day. Serraj said:‘‘I keep telling them that there are other issues that concern Libyan citizens more than these. The Libyan citizen sees how the international community is concentrating on its priorities and not concerned that the Libyan citizen queues for three days to get LD 100 from the bank. And how you are not concerned that the electricity is cut for up to 14 hours. You are not concerned that hospitals have no vaccinations. You are not concerned that there are schools in which people are living rather than being used for schooling. These all represent the priorities of Libyan citizens. This is the problem: is the international community supporting us with statements or are they supporting us in improving services and the standard of living for the Libyan citizen. If this does not happen effectively, which I repeated today in my meetings, there will be no progress’’.Serraj said that even the humanitarian support that Libya was receiving from the international community was relatively minor.
Serraj noted that some militia were relatively benign in that they are part of state institutions who are cooperating with the GNA. There are other militia that are simply criminal groups to be fought. Others still are politically associated that the GNA needed to attract and win over to support the GNA. Faiez said that to integrate militia into state forces money was needed which has not been made available. The defection of the Presidential Guard may in part have been caused by a failure to pay their salaries. Serraj pointed out that militia members needed training to be assimilated into the police or regular forces. He claimed that many militia members wanted to return to civilian life but in the ongoing instability and lack of an integration program they cannot do so.
Serraj notes that the GNA has ended up in a political battle with the House of Representatives (HoR) and Haftar. He said that PC members met with Haftar but were unable to convince him to join the GNA and come under political control. Although he expected a positive response from Haftar, it never came. He concludes:‘‘We tried with him on more than one occasion. We told him that not all the PC was as he had described it. That it contained civilian political streams as well as nationalists and that he should cooperate with us and that we would continue his army-building programmes in the east. We invited him to join us in our battle against terrorism in Sirte. We sent him these messages clearly but sadly there was no positive response. There was inflexibility and there is still inflexibility and a different vision to the vision I drew’’.
Serraj expressed exasperation at the lack of money and the strings attached to spending even money that is available. Serraj asks how he is expected to build a state with no army, no weapons, no money. He complained that the process of trying to get permission to import arms was long and complicated and did not treat the GNA as a sovereign government that was internationally recognized. He contrasted this process with the way other parties, presumably including Haftar, get their weapons:‘‘On the other hand, the other parties, they pick up the phone, they order 200 vehicles 300 RPGs, a third party pays the invoice and a [fourth party] ships for them the goods. As simple as that. This is what is happening. How do you expect me to play my positive part and do this and that etc and you have not provided me with support – support that the other party has in a blank cheque?
Of the attempted coup, Serraj claims that it is all being done with money by Khalifa Ghwell in an attempt to promote instability in Tripoli. Serraj does not say where the money is coming from but notes that the Central Bank of Libya(CBL) claims that it has no money to pay for the expenses of the GNA. Yet it spends money elsewhere without the permission of the GNA. There is obviously some serious infighting going on.
Serraj admits that bad relations with the CBL was a serious problem for the GNA. When the Ministry of the Interior for example is asked to clear the coastal road. He can do so but only if the Ministry receives the funds necessary to do it. However, the GNA may not be able to get the funds. The GNA even has problems obtaining funds to provide salaries for militia that support it. At the same time, Serraj claims other parties are providing alternative offers. Before, the GNA could begin to solve its problems the CBL had to take steps to carry out GNA policies.
Faiez is critical of NOC head Sanalla and his role during the seizure of the oil ports by Haftar: ‘’We had reached an agreement by the way with the PFG prior to the entry of Hafter’s troops. I had asked the NOC to lift the force majeure so that production and exports could resume. But NOC Chairman Sanalla kept delaying until Hafter’s forces entered. And they took the credit. But this is the truth. Sanalla, when I told him that he was delaying by purpose he claimed that he had received threats to strike oil tankers’’. The PFG are the Petroleum Facilities Guard.
Although most sources claim that the PC are trying to come up with a new reduced cabinet to present for a vote of confidence to the HoR, Serraj claims that the HoR does not even want to consider such a proposal: "Now the HoR does not even want us to propose a third GNA. Mr Ageela Salah has taken a prior decision to reject any proposed GNA. How can you work with this as a legislative partner?’’ Serraj says that he will not propose a new GNA before the HoR approves a constitutional amendment. If this is not done then the HoR has not carried out its responsibilities under the LPA. Serraj claims the HoR had been hijacked by Ageela Saleh and a minority within the HoR.
Serraj points out that the objections of the HoR to the LPA are about section 8 which makes the PC rather than Haftar commander in chief of the armed forces at least on an interim basis. Serraj said that it was not his job to amend the LPA but just to implement it. Serraj is obviously distraught by all the obstacles that he has to overcome to move the political process forward and even raised the possibility that he might resign.
Serraj singled out four main spoilers in the present situation: Haftar, Ageela Saleh, CBL head Saddik Elkaber and Sheik Ghariani. Ghariani is the Grand Mufti who supports fighting against Haftar and opposes the GNA. That the head of the Central Bank should be regarded as one of the main spoilers is symptomatic of the internal division that helps prevent effective action by the GNA. In conclusion Serraj emphasizes the negative role of the CBL: ‘‘We noted from our entry into Tripoli that the public’s expectations were high. I feel the pain of Libyans and failure to meet their expectations. But without financial resources we cannot implement’’.


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