[Marxism] Former Libyan oil company official: no more sweetheart deals

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 18 08:04:02 MDT 2012

NY Times Op-Ed August 17, 2012
A Libyan’s Plea to the S.E.C.

Tripoli, Libya

AFTER four decades of tyrannical rule by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, 
financed largely by our country’s oil wealth, Libyans have taken steps 
this summer toward a true democracy. Last month, we got to vote in 
legislative elections, and this month we experienced the first peaceful 
transfer of power, from the Transitional National Council to a new 
national assembly, in our country’s modern history.

While we are grateful to the Western countries that helped us topple 
Colonel Qaddafi last year, something perverse is happening in those 
countries now. Oil industry lobbyists are using their influence in 
Washington and Brussels to try to undermine transparency measures that 
could help prevent future tyrants from emerging. That must not be 
allowed to happen.

When Colonel Qaddafi was in power, I worked for Libya’s state-owned 
National Oil Corporation, in a position that allowed me to observe 
corruption firsthand. I helped produce audits that detailed the 
mismanagement of millions of dollars of oil revenues, including the 
systematic underpricing of oil and the discounting of prices for select 
foreign companies. I initiated investigations into why millions of 
barrels of crude oil went missing from an oil field in 2008; presumably, 
the proceeds had gone into the pockets of the elite.

The regime never explained why it requested the audits, which were never 
released to the public. Feeling that I had to do something, I naïvely 
wrote 50 letters denouncing corruption, including three to Colonel 
Qaddafi’s powerful son Seif al-Islam. The result? I was demoted and 
suspended without pay. Intelligence agents interrogated me. I received 
death threats: after an unmarked car slammed into my car, intelligence 
agents visited me and told me, “Next time could be fatal.”

Today, our allegations of corruption are being examined, but the 
investigations continue to face obstacles. Earlier this year, based on 
my reports and those of others, Interpol, at the request of the Libyan 
government, sought the arrest of the former oil minister, Shukri Ghanem. 
But on April 29, before he could be detained for questioning, he was 
found drowned in the Danube River, near his home in Vienna. The Austrian 
authorities have said they found no indications of foul play, but an 
inquiry is continuing.

If we are to transform Libya, we must not only investigate the past but 
also reform the whole relationship between the energy industry and our 
government. We need to ensure that bidding is fair and open, that deals 
are transparent and aboveboard and that revenues are used properly. 
Public disclosure and legislative oversight of contracts and payments 
are crucial.

We cannot meet these goals without help from abroad. Colonel Qaddafi’s 
rule depended on the collusion of powerful foreign allies who would turn 
a blind eye to blatant corruption deals involving international oil 
companies and his regime.

America can help prevent such corruption from happening again.

The Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulations, which President 
Obama signed into law in July 2010, included a provision, Section 1504, 
that requires American and foreign companies that are registered with 
the Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose — country by country 
and project by project — how much they pay governments around the world 
for access to their oil, natural gas and minerals. (Federal law already 
prohibits companies from bribing foreign officials to get or retain 

In December 2010, the S.E.C. issued proposed regulations to put Section 
1504 into effect. The commission has yet to finalize the rules but is 
scheduled to take up the matter on Wednesday, at a hearing in 
Washington. Some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies — along 
with industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute — are trying 
to water down the regulations or delay them from taking effect. Some are 
proposing to exempt resource-extracting companies from having to comply 
if a foreign government objects, an idea I think of as a “tyrant’s 
veto.” The industry also claims that complying with the tough disclosure 
requirements will be costly and may place companies at a competitive 
disadvantage — but these arguments have been thoroughly discredited, 
making it hard not to conclude that many would simply prefer to carry on 
operating in secret.

A similar fight is playing out in Europe. The German government is 
resisting requirements for project-level reporting, and the European 
Council, which comprises leaders of the European Union’s member states, 
has called for a weaker form of disclosure. However, some members of the 
European Parliament continue to champion strong disclosure requirements.

Having helped Libya to overthrow a tyrant, the United States and the 
European Union can now help win the peace — by committing themselves to 
strong transparency standards for energy companies. In Libya, we don’t 
want our oil resources to bolster new tyrants, and the world shouldn’t 
either. When tyrants control energy supplies and gun down their own 
citizens, they invite only rebellion, military intervention and 
oil-supply shocks. We want a stable, prosperous country under the rule 
of law, in which citizens benefit from their natural resources and hold 
their leaders to account.

I urge the S.E.C., as well as European regulators, to resist the 
lobbying from the oil, gas and mineral industries and to issue strong 
rules consistent with the spirit of Section 1504. By making the oil 
companies answerable to the public — in America, Europe and everywhere 
they do business — we can turn oil into a force for transparent and open 
commerce rather than corruption and repression.

Najwa al-Beshti is a former head of contracts at the state-owned 
National Oil Corporation of Libya.

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