Last August the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) moved its Tripoli’s offices to the now famous Tripoli Tower.
The traditional financial institution of Gaddafi’s regime currently manages approximately 67 billion US dollars, most of which are frozen due to the UN sanctions.
Said sanctions shall be gradually removed and replaced with a system of market controls, as the Libyan economy finds its way.
Right now that, after intimidation and serious and often armed threats, LIA has moved to the safer Tripoli Tower.
However, how was LIA established and, above all, what is it today? The Fund, which has some characteristics typical of the oil countries’ sovereign funds, was created in 2006, just as the EU and US economic and trade sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime were slowly being lifted.
The idea underlying the operation was simple and rational, just like the one that had long pushed Norway to create the Government Pension Fund Global, i.e. using the oil profits to avoid the post-energy crisis in Libya and preserve the living standards of the good times.
Hence investing in its post-oil future using the huge surplus generated by the crude oil sales.
From the beginning, LIA had to manage a portfolio of over 65 billion US dollars, but with three policy lines: firstly, 30 billion dollars to be invested in bonds and hedge funds; secondly, business finance and thirdly, the temporary liquidity secured in the Central Bank of Libya and in the Libyan Foreign Bank.
The funds of those two banks soon acquired a value equal to 60% of all LIA assets.
All the companies having relations with foreign markets, from Libya, fell within the scope of the Libyan Investment Fund.
Currently LIA has over 552 subsidiaries.
Nevertheless, there are no documents proving it with certainty. To date there are not even archives that credibly corroborate the LIA budgets and statistics.
Since 2012 it has not even undergone any auditing activity.
There were and there are no strategies for allocating investments nor a plan. The only criterion followed by the Fund managers – now as in the past – is to invest the maximum sums of money in the shortest lapse of time.
The first serious audit was finally carried out by KPMG in June 2011, in the heat of the battle for the survival of Gaddafi’s regime.
At the time, high-risk derivatives transactions were worth as much as 35% of LIA’s total investments – which was incredible for the other global funds.
According to the most secret but reliable sources, however, in 2009 the losses of the Libyan Fund exceeded 2.4 billion US dollars.
What happened, however, in 2011, after the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime? How did LIA and the Libyan African Investment Portfolio (LAIP) act?
In fact, neither company could carry out any operations.
In 2014 alone, LIA’s losses were at least 721 million US dollars.
Moreover, LAIP still holds in its portfolio the Libyan Arab African Investment Company (LAICO), which manages investments – particularly in the real estate sector – in 19 African countries, with specific related companies in Guinea Bissau, Chad and Liberia.
Furthermore, Oil-Libya still operates as a network manager and extractor in at least 18 African countries.
On top of it, the Libyan Fund still owns Rascom Star, a satellite and telephone network connecting much of rural Africa.
Within LAIP there is also FM Capital Partners LTD, another real estate Fund.
Nevertheless, as early as the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime, the internal policy lines of LIA and of the other companies separated: 50% of managers wanted to continue the activity according to the classic rules of the Company’s Management, while the others thought they should mainly follow the new political equilibria within Libya.
The last audit carried out by Deloitte also demonstrated that the over 550 subsidiaries were the real problem of the Fund.
Deloitte also assessed that at least 40% of those companies were completely uneconomic and had to be sold quickly.
In this bunch of lame ducks there were, for example, the eight refineries – one of which managed by Oil invest in Switzerland – which also paid penalties to the Swiss government for obvious environmental reasons.
Allegedly the refinery in Switzerland stopped its activities in 2017.
The traditional investment line of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO) has always been linked to LIA, which currently has over 160 billion US dollars avaialble, including oil, personal income and old foreign investment of Colonel Gaddafi, once again only partially reported to international authorities.
Moreover, according to the LIA managers of the time, the various companies within the Fund did not communicate one another and hence their strategies overlapped.
And the same held true for the interests of their different political offspring.
Moreover, in 2011 an old independent audit showed that the losses before the sanctions that preceded the uprisings amounted to approximately 3.1 billion US dollars.
Gaddafi’s regime started to collapse – a regime which, according to the international narrative, had allegedly accumulated all the money taken by LIA and its subsidiaries.
Obviously this is not true – exactly as it is not true that the “deficit” in Italy’s public finances before the “Bribesville” scandal was caused only by the greed and voracity of the ruling class.
In the countries where there is a destructive psywar and an offensive economic war, these are now the usual models.
It is not by chance that on December 16, 2011 the UN Security Council lifted the specific sanctions against the Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan Foreign Bank (which is not LAFICO) because they had supported the uprisings against Colonel Gaddafi.
In 2014 LIA initiated legal proceedings against Goldman Sachs, which cost it 1.2 billion US dollars, with a bonus for the intermediary bank of 350 million dollars.
The proceedings ended in 2016 and the British judges decided in favour of Goldman Sachs that was entitled to a compensation amounting to one million US dollars.
There was also another legal action brought against Société Générale, which had started in 2014 and later ended with LIA’s partial defeat.
As to the 2018 national budget, for example, the Central Bank of Libya has envisaged the amount of 42,511 billion dinars, broken down as follows: 24.5 for salaries and wages; 6.5 billion dollars for petrol subsidies and 6.7 billion dollars for “other expenses”.
On average the dinar exchange rate is 1.3 as against the dollar, but it is much lower on the black market.
And public spending is all for subsidies and salaries. Very little is spent for welfare – that was Colonel Gaddafi’s asset for gaining consensus. Social wellbeing can be achieved with good stability of oil prices and revenues, which is certainly not the case now.
Moreover, General Haftar militarily conquered the oil sites of the Libyan “oil crescent” on June 14, 2018, after having held back the attacks of the Petroleum Defence Guards of Ibrahim Jadhran, the commander of the force protecting the oil wells and facilities.
According to General Haftar, the condition for reopening wells, as well as storage and transport sites, was the replacement of the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, Siddiq al-Kabir, with his candidate, namely Mohammad al-Shukri.
Siddiq al-Kabir stated that the Central Bank of Libya has lost 48 billion dinars over the last 4 years and rejected the appointment – formally made by the Tobruk-based Parliament – of his successor, al-Shukri.
Moreover, Siddiq al-Kabirhas also been accused of having pocketed a series of Libyan public funds abroad.
Later General Haftar attacked the Central Bank of Libya in Benghazi to collect funds for the salaries of his soldiers.
Hence the current Libyan financial tension lies in the link between banks and oil revenues – two highly problematic situations, both in al-Serraj’s and in the Benghazi governments, as well as in General Khalifa Haftar’s ranks.
It is certainly no coincidence that the Presidential Council decided to impose a 183% tax on currency transactions with banks.
In addition, taxation was introduced on the goods imported by companies before the current tax reform, which is linked to the reform of the allocation of basic commodities to the Libyan population.
The idea is to stabilize prices and hence make the exchange rate between the dinar and the dollar acceptable, which is another root cause of the economic crisis.
The Libyan citizens often demonstrate in front of bank branches, which are constantly undergoing a liquidity crisis. Prices are out of control and the instability of exchange rates harms also oil transactions, as can be easily imagined.
Nevertheless, even the area controlled by the Tobruk-based Parliament and General Haftar’s Forces is not in a better situation.
In fact, Eastern Libya’s banking authorities have already put their banknotes and coins into circulation, which are already partly used and were printed and minted in Russia.
Pursuant to al-Serraj’s decision of May 2016, said banknotes are accepted in the Tripoli area.
Four billion dinars, with the face of Colonel Gaddafi portrayed on them, and of the same dark colour as copper.
According to the most reliable sources, the reserves of the Central Bank of Libya in Bayda – the city hosting the Central Bank of Eastern Libya – are still substantial: 800 million dinars, 60 million euros and 80 million dollars.
Not bad for an area destroyed by war.
Obviously the simple division into two of the Central Bank – of which only the Tripoli branch is internationally recognized – is the root cause of the terrible Weimar-style devaluation of the Libyan dinar, which, as always happens, they try to patch up with the artificial scarcity of the money in circulation.
As Schumpeter taught us, this does not solve the problem, but shifts it to real goods and services, thus increasing their artificial scarcity and hence their cost.
Meanwhile, the economic situation shows some signs of improvement, considering that the 2017 data and statistics point to total revenues (again only for Tripoli’s government) equal to 22.23 billion dinars, of which 19.2 billion dinars of oil exports; 845 million dinars of taxes; 164 million dinars of customs duties, above all on oil, and 2.1 billion dinars of remaining revenue.
At geopolitical level, however, the tendency to Libya’s partition – which would be a disaster also for oil consumers and, above all, for the Libyan economy, considering that the oil crescent is halfway between the two opposing States – is de facto the prevailing one.
Egypt openly supports General Khalifa Haftar and the tribes helping him.
The Gharyan tribe and many other major ones, totalling 140, now support the Benghazi Government, since at the beginning of clashes, they had often been affiliated to Tripoli and its Government of National Accord.
Tunisia has always tried to reach a very difficult neutral position.
Algeria strongly fears the intrusion of the Emirates’ and Qatar’s Turkish intelligence services into the Libyan economic, oil and political context, but it endeavours above all to limit the Egyptian pressure to the East.
The European powers support General Haftar- with France that, as early as the first inter-Libyan fights, sent him the Brigade Action of its intelligence services. Conversely, Italy is rebuilding its special relationship with al-Serraj’s government – like the one it had with Gaddafi – but with recent openings to General Haftar.
If we want to reach absolute equivalence between the parties, we must avoid doing foreign policy.
Great Britain and the United States tend to quickly withdraw from the Libyan region, thus avoiding to make choices and not tackling the economic and social crisis that could trigger again a war, with the jihad still playing the lion’s share and precisely in the oil crescent.
The United States should not believe that its great oil autonomy, which also pushes it to sell its natural gas abroad, can exempt it from developing a policy putting an end to the unfortunate phase of the “Arab Springs” it had started – of which Gaddafi’s fall is an essential part.
Currently the Libyan production share is around 1% of the total OPEC production.
Everyone is preparing for the significant increase of the oil barrel price, which is expected to reach almost 100 US dollars in the coming months.
If this happened – and it will certainly happen – the Libyan economy could be even safe, but certainly corruption and the overlapping of two financial administrations and two central banks, as well as political insecurity, could still stop Libya’s economic growth.
Hence, for the next international conference scheduled in Palermo for November 12-13, we would need a common economic and financial policy line of all non-Libyan participants to be submitted to both local governments.
Probably General Haftar will not participate – as stated by a member of the Tobruk-based Parliament – but certainly Putin will not participate.
The presence of Mike Pompeo is taken for granted, but probably also the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, will participate.
Certainly the Italian diplomacy focused only on “Europe” has lost much of the sheen that has characterized it in Africa and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, we could start with a working proposal on the Libyan economy.
For example, a) a European audit for all Libyan state-run companies of both sides.
Later b) the definition of a New Dinar, of which the margin of fluctuation with the dollar, the Euro and the other major international currencies should be established.
Some observers should also be involved, such as China.
Furthermore, an independent authority should be created, which should be accountable to the Libyan governments, but also to the EU, on the public finances of the two Libyan governments.
Russian-Nigerian Business Council Reviews Performance
The Russian-Nigerian Business Council, with participation of a delegation from Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Nigerians in the Diaspora in Europe (NIDOE), held its annual meeting, pledged to strengthen cooperation in various economic sectors after reviewing the performance for the year 2018.
The Russian-Nigerian Business Council was established to facilitate a constructive dialogue between Russian and Nigerian entrepreneurs interested in developing business cooperation between the two countries, and to enhance the role of the Russian business community in implementing state policy concerning the Russian-Nigerian economic ties.
The primary objective of the organization is to establish contacts and cooperation with non-governmental associations of Russia and Nigeria that have an active position on trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, and to provide information services and consulting support to Russian and Nigerian businesses. At present, the Business Council unites more than 30 Russian companies from various sectors of industry and trade.
The Vice-President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vladimir Padalko, noted in his welcoming speech, that Nigeria is one of the three largest trade partners of Russia among sub-Saharan African countries and the positive trends emerging in Russian-Nigerian relations need to be developed.
And for developing this, it is necessary to give the domestic business a factual information, especially on business safety and profitability in Nigeria. By the end of 2018, trade with Nigeria reached almost US$600 million, but still seen as far below the full potential of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.
Padalko, however, pointed to prospective areas including the exploration and production of hydrocarbons and solid minerals, the supply of engineering and chemical products, aircraft technology, cooperation in the nuclear industry, energy, and others.
Dmitry Osipov, Chairman of the Russian-Nigerian Business Council, General Director of PJSC Uralkali (this company is one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers) stressed that the Council regards Africa in general and Nigeria in particular as a promising market.
“The Business Council provides the companies from both countries, regardless of their form of incorporation, with an additional opportunity to expand and diversify business cooperation, including joint investment and business projects. Uralkali is no exception. We see Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular as a very promising market where we could implement several projects within the framework of ensuring global food security,” he said.
In this case, the interests of the Russian business and the Nigerian leadership coincided as both chose agriculture as one of the pivotal points of growth of the country’s economy.
Dmitry Osipov further informed the meeting that the Business Council includes representatives made of thirty-four Russian companies and practically each of them has its own business interests in Nigeria.
RUSAL is the largest Russian investor in this African country. LUKOIL investments in Nigeria now exceed US$450 million, and the company plans to bring them up to US$6 billion. Other well-known companies work in this market, including the largest Russian producer of agricultural machinery, Rostselmash.
However, the range of economic spheres can be extended. And here, the Russian-Nigerian Business Council should play its role, among them identifying the most important tasks, analyzing the existing problems and the development of a consolidated position of domestic business in the areas of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. It also sees as important the organization of business interaction with representatives of Nigerian authorities, the establishment and expansion of business contacts with Nigerian entrepreneurs.
Abuja Chamber of Commerce President, Adetokunbo Kayode, traced the history of Russian-Nigerian trade relations, and objectively noted that much has changed. He said that the Federal Government of Nigeria has created a favorable business climate to attract foreign investors to Nigeria. Nigeria is developing rapidly. Now it is the largest market of the continent. The population growth presents a large market for consumer products. Therefore, the presence of Russian business in the heart of Africa is welcomed.
Mercy Haruna, Minister-Counsellor of the Nigerian Embassy in Russia; Rex Essenowo, Chairman of the Russian Branch of Nigerians in the Diaspora in Europe (NIDOE); Kirill Aleshin from the Institute of African Studies; Oleg Svistonov from Rusal Company in Nigeria and other speakers noted the importance of intensifying development of trade and economic relations between Russia and Nigeria.
The NIDOE-Russia was established as a forum for Nigerian professionals residing in Russian Federation to participate in the development of Nigeria. It works closely with the Presidency, the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate’s Committee on Diaspora Affairs and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Moscow.
The meeting finally made specific proposals on the work of the Business Council. An agreement on cooperation (that aimed at expanding and developing business cooperation between Russian and Nigerian entrepreneurs) was signed between the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
E-commerce: Helping Djiboutian Women Entrepreneurs Reach the World
Look around any café, bus, doctor’s waiting room or university campus and you will see heads down, fingers tapping as people immerse themselves into their screens. Increasingly, people are using their devices for shopping, with retail sales via e-commerce set to triple between 2004-2021.
Although significant gender gaps exist with internet use, and although online sales are currently dominated by US-based tech giants, this growing e-commerce trend presents an interesting opportunity for small businesses, and more specifically women’s businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
This is a region where women’s economic empowerment is a significant challenge. With a female labor force participation rate of 19 percent, women’s participation in firm ownership at only 23 percent, and a rate of only 5 percent women top managers of firms across MENA’s non-high-income countries, there is significant scope for improving women’s participation in business and employment.
Access to finance also remains a problem, where 53 percent of women-led small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to credit and 70 percent of surveyed MENA female entrepreneurs agree that lending conditions in their economy are too restrictive and do not allow them to secure the financing needed for growth.
Several obstacles stand in the way of women’s entrepreneurship and access to markets, such as social norms, family care duties, and transportation issues. Not being able to physically access markets to sell their goods or to participate in international trade fairs to market their products is also a challenge.
This is where e-commerce can play a role, allowing women to circumvent these obstacles and sell their products online. For this, they need to rely on e-commerce platforms connecting them to clients around the world, on performant and affordable logistics, and on reliable payment systems. Building the e-commerce ecosystem will be key to allowing women entrepreneurs to access markets and grow their business, thereby employing more women, as data shows that firms run by women tend to employ more women.
The situation for women in Djibouti is no different. Gender inequality in the labor market remains substantial, with less than a third of women between the ages of 15 to 64 active in the labor market. Unemployment among both genders is high, with a rate of 34 percent for men but it is considerably higher for women at close to 50 percent.
Djiboutian women are also at a disadvantage in terms of education and skills to access economic opportunities. Women in Djibouti typically run small and informal firms in lower value-added sectors, which are less attractive to creditors, thus impeding their access to finance. Women entrepreneurs face difficulties accessing finance and launching formal enterprises.
There are, however, opportunities to increase women’s economic empowerment. Over 57 percent of inactive women in Djibouti say that they do not work because of family and household responsibilities. However, they also indicated they are generally not discouraged or prevented from accessing training or work opportunities by male family members, and there are no legal barriers against women’s entrepreneurship.
Years of research have shown, that when women do well, everyone benefits. Research has found women tend to spend more of the income they earn on child welfare, school fees, health care, and food for their families. Empowering women is an important path to ending poverty.
It’s vital to enable women to participate constructively in economic activities in Djibouti. More entrepreneurship will allow Djibouti to benefit from the talents, energy, and ideas that women bring to the labor market.
To help address this issue, on November 13, 2018, the World Bank launched a $3.82 million regional project called “E-commerce for Women-led SMEs.” The project targets small and medium enterprises run or managed by women that produce goods marketable via e-commerce.
This project is at the crossroads of women’s entrepreneurship and the digital economy, which are two levers for the economic transformation of the region, and that it was very opportune to be able to launch it at the digital economy days of Djibouti.
The launch event took place with the participation of the Minister of Women and Family, the Minister of Economy, the Minister of Communication, the Head of the Women Business Association, and several Djiboutian women entrepreneurs.
The project will contribute to development of women’s entrepreneurship, digital commerce, and the economy in Djibouti and across the region. It will facilitate access for women-led SMEs to domestic and export markets through better access to e-commerce platforms. This will be done by training e-commerce consultants who, in turn, will train and help women-led SME’s access e-commerce platforms.
The project will also aim to ease access to finance for these SMEs by connecting them to financial institutions lending to women, particularly the IFC’s Banking on Women network. It will also work to create an ecosystem conducive to e-commerce by diagnosing regulatory, logistical, and e-payment constraints and supporting governments to lift them.
This launch comes following a successful pilot program in Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan where women entrepreneurs were enabled to export handicrafts, organic cosmetics, and garments to several overseas destinations including Australia, Europe, and the United States.
The development of women’s entrepreneurship and the digital economy—including better access to domestic markets and exports—are essential levers for the development and economic diversification of the MENA region that the Women Entrepreneurs and Finance Initiative (We-Fi) e-commerce project strives to support. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) is a collaborative partnership launched in October 2017 that seeks to unlock billions of dollars in financing to tackle the full range of barriers facing women entrepreneurs.
Getting around sanctions with crypto-rial
In April 2018, the Central Bank of Iran banned domestic banks and people from dealing in foreign cryptocurrency because of money laundering and financing risks.
However, the CBI decided to take a more moderate stance toward the digital money and blockchain technology following the imposition of a new round of U.S. sanctions, hoping that the digital technology would facilitate Iran’s international money transfers and let the country evade the sanctions.
Meanwhile, as an oil producer with an oil-reliant economy dominated by petrodollars, Iran settled on the plan to utilize cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to make up for any drop in oil revenues due to the economic sanctions designed to cut its oil sales.
Moving on the same track as China, Russia and Venezuela, Iran also hopes that blockchainization of state-backed fiats would lead to the demise of the dollar and put an end to the tyrant U.S. policies.
Under the toughest U.S. sanctions ever and blacklisting of Iran from the Belgium-based international financial messaging system (SWIFT), the country’s plan to create an indigenous cryptocurrency is improving incrementally and thanks to highly dynamic nature of the cryptocurrency, it can act as a good means for Iran to skirt certain sanctions through untraceable banking operations.
The CBI has been working with domestic knowledge-based companies to develop a digital currency, called crypto-rial, supported by HyperLedger Fabric technology.
As reported, the Informatics Services Corporation, affiliated to the CBI but run by the private sector, has accomplished development of rial-based national cryptocurrency and when the CBI approves the uses of national cryptocurrency, it will be issued to financial institutions such as banks to test payments and internal and interbank settlements.
Transactions at the state-backed virtual currency are carried out on an online ledger called a blockchain, just the same as Bitcoin, but since the infrastructure is privately-owned it will not be possible for people to mine it.
In fact, Iran is mainly aimed at testing the potentials of blockchain and crypto technology in running its financial system, making banks able to use the tokens as a payment instrument in transactions and banking settlement at the first phase of the blockchain banking infrastructure. The country seems inclined to enjoy the new virtual currency businesses which includes little notice or footprint and has also prepared the required infrastructure for trading cryptocurrency in its stock exchange.
However, in spite of the CBI’s prohibition from trading cryptocurrencies, Iranians had commenced using cryptocurrency and Bitcoin mining for transactions with the rest of the world before its use was banned by the CBI in the country.
Individuals and businesses in Iran have had access to virtual currency platforms through “Iran-located, internet-based virtual currency exchanges; U.S. or other third country-based virtual currency exchanges; and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchangers,” according to reports.
But the U.S. embargo on a number of cryptocurrency exchange platforms, including Binance and Bittrex, restricted Iran from receiving services, however, no assets belonging to Iranians were blocked. U.S. sanctions have also ensnared Iranian bitcoin traders.
Furthermore, in December, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as Fincen, issued a warning in an advisory to assist U.S. banks and other financial actors such as cryptocurrency exchanges in identifying “potentially illicit transactions related to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Bitcoin.com reported.
Fincen claimed that since 2013 Iran’s use of virtual currency includes at least $3.8 million worth of bitcoin-denominated transactions per year. The organization noted that “while the use of virtual currency in Iran is comparatively small, virtual currency is an emerging payment system that may provide potential avenues for individuals and entities to evade sanctions.”
Fincen believes that P2P cryptocurrency exchangers are a significant means through which Iran can dodge economic sanctions.
Following the Fincen’s announcement, the United States lawmakers introduced a bill (HR 7321) to impose more sanctions on Iranian financial institutions and the development and use of the national digital currency, Cointelegeraph reported.
The act prohibits transactions, financing or other dealings related to an Iranian digital currency, and introduces sanctions on foreign individuals engaged in the sale, supply, holding or transfer of the digital currency.
In the wake of the U.S. restrictions, thus, cryptocurrency trades are limited into Iran’s domestic market and not possible at the international level and Bitcoin is sold at a significant premium relative to the global average price in Iran.
Unfortunately, the basic and premier regulations of using cryptocurrencies have not been ratified in Iran and Iranians are obliged to refer to stock exchange shops abroad to do their crypto-transactions, most of which are American obedient to U.S. regulations and of course, sanctions.
To make using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology legal and official in the country, the Iranian government is drafting a policy framework by the help of the CBI and the Stock Exchange Organization which clarifies all its regulations and policies over cryptocurrency and mining.
Being legislated, it is believed that SWIFT can be replaced by the digital money, i.e. the rial-pegged national currency, and transactions would be done faster and at lower prices.
Due to a lack of required regulations, cargos of equipment for mining cryptocurrency are seized by the customs administration. They are said to be released as soon as the government legalizes cryptocurrency use in the country.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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