Qadhafi scolds Libyans for reliance on oil

ALGIERS (Reuters) — Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi has scolded his nation for over-reliance on oil, foreigners and imports and told it to start manufacturing things people need.

The criticisms, in an unusual series of speeches in July and August, have stirred keen interest in a forthcoming  annual September 1 address to the nation of 5 million marking the 1969 coup d’etat that brought him to power.

“We don’t produce anything. We sell only oil and consume everything,” he said, condemning what he said was a consumer society destined for a sorry future when oil finally runs out.

“The kind of trade in which you produce nothing and import goods in exchange for oil, it’s a catastrophe,” the Libyan news agency quoted him as saying. Libya could have become an economic power like Japan were it not “socially backward”, he said.

Reformist rhetoric is nothing new from Qadhafi, but Libyans say it is unusual for such speeches to be made so frequently and to such a wide variety of audiences — from professional groups and state planners to teachers and religious students.

The flurry of stern commentaries suggests his Sept. 1 address may unveil further reforms to modernise the country.

Experts say there is real hope the non-oil sector of the economy may finally be on the mend in a country long enfeebled by international sanctions and suffering serious unemployment.

Two factors, one foreign and one domestic, mean Libya has a chance to diversify its old-fashioned command economy, long hobbled by a primitive banking sector and red tape, experts say.

The foreign factor is the revival of diplomatic relations with Washington: On May 15, the Bush administration said it would restore formal ties with Tripoli as a reward for Libya’s scrapping of its weapons of mass destruction programme.

While most US sanctions were lifted in 2004 the revival of formal ties loosens the remaining web of financial curbs placed on US-Libya investment in the decades of estrangement when the West accused Libya of supporting terrorism.

Repaired relations with US firms could lift confidence among investors of other nations who have been hesitant until now about taking part in the modernisation of the economy.

The second is that Qadhafi’s economic outspokenness is now being regularly echoed in public by his son Saif Al Islam, the most high profile of his children whose public statements have focused mainly up to now on social policy and foreign affairs.

Islam told youth groups this month Libya had no free press and its political system was not as democratic as he would like.

“We say Libya is paradise on earth, it’s heaven. What kind of paradise? We have no infrastructure. There are cities with no water,” Islam told the meeting.

His father’s speeches have taken aim at a range of targets — Muslim fundamentalists, civil servants who do second jobs, red tape, begging and the dirty state of many towns.

But the main theme has been economic self-reliance and the reforms to fight an unemployment rate of at least 13 per cent.

He said future work on the Great  River Project, a 20-year-old venture to pump water from beneath the Sahara to northern cities, should be done almost exclusively by Libyans.

He warned Libyans in stark terms against copying what he called the Gulf Arab states’ reliance on desalination plants.

“The Arabian peninsula is living on (desalinating) sea water because there is oil, there is money. But once oil is over there will be no money, no desalination, and people would die.”

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