[Marxism] Former Libyan oil company official: no more sweetheart deals
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.
By NAJWA al-BESHTI
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
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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