Libya’s national unity government composed of 35 ministers led by Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah officially took up the reins on Tuesday from the previous Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Sarraj.
The move came one day after members of the cabinet and Presidential Council, chaired by Mohamed Al-Menfi, were sworn in in parliament during a session in the eastern city of Tobruk. The ceremony was attended by representatives and ambassadors of Western and Arab countries.
The new government will begin its work amid serious economic, financial, security and social challenges, which means it must address these vital issues before heading to presidential and parliamentary elections slated for 24 December 2021.
The Monday ceremony for the new executive, chosen on 5 November 2020, was also attended by the head of the Libyan Higher Judiciary Council Mohamed Al-Hafi and several members of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Higher State Council Khaled Al-Mishri and members of the Council, UN Special Envoy and Director of the UN Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) Jan Kubis and members of the UNSMIL, the EU envoy to Libya, the ambassadors of the US, UK, France, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, and other ambassadors via videolink.
Those present met with the new cabinet members and the speaker of the Libyan parliament, emphasising the need to adhere to the roadmap adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (PDF).
Dbeibah listed the priorities of his government, including combatting the Covid-19 outbreak, improving services, salvaging the electricity sector from collapse and supporting efforts by the Presidential Council to achieve national reconciliation and by the Joint Military Committee (JMC) to close the ranks of the military forces and expel foreign and mercenary combatants from Libya.
He said he was committed to the roadmap adopted by the PDF, which will lead to general and presidential elections at the end of this year.
Dbeibah’s government won a vote of confidence by 132 MPs out of 178, an unprecedented step since 2014. The vote was welcomed by local, regional and international powers in the hope that the new government will succeed in leading Libya onto the path of peace and reconciliation.
On Saturday, the GNA handed the headquarters of the cabinet in Tripoli to Dbeibah, where he held a meeting the next day with ministers to coordinate on priorities for action and discuss plans to improve services provided to citizens.
A decision was taken to freeze the accounts of public agencies funded by the state, with the exception of salaries, and to regulate the movement of funds before budgetary legislation is approved by parliament. The committee formed by the GNA to combat Covid-19 was dissolved.
On Tuesday, the Higher State Council sent a proposal to parliament to amend the earlier Constitutional Declaration so that it includes the decisions of the PDF, such as the structure of the new executive power. This consists of the Presidential Council whose members are Al-Menfi as chairman and representative of the eastern region, Moussa Al-Koni representing the south, Abdullah Al-Lafi representing the west and Dbeibah.
Parliament needs to amend the Libyan Constitution to prevent objections to the new executive power, since the Libyan Political Agreement signed at Skhirat in Morocco in December 2015 stated that this would be composed of the Presidential Council of the GNA and listed nine members of the previous council.
Dbeibah is scheduled to present the draft 2021 budget to the Higher State Council, and it will then be forwarded to parliament for discussion, according to Articles 12 and 14 of the Skhirat Agreement, one of the main frames of reference for the political process in Libya under the roadmap adopted by the PDF.
The Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it would release revenues from crude oil sales in its accounts at the Libyan Foreign Bank (LFB), since a national unity government has now been formed.
In a statement on Sunday, the NOC said sales from crude oil and its derivatives in February had reached $1.162 billion, while revenues from natural gas and condensate in February were $54.45 million.
Oil and derivatives sales had earlier reached $1.256 billion in January, while gas and condensate sales raked in $138.13 million. The NOC said the decline in February was due to payments for some shipments exported in late January being collected in early March.
“The NOC’s deposit of these revenues into its account at the LFB in Tripoli complied with the temporary arrangements until the formation of a national unity government,” the statement said. The release of the revenues will provide funds for the upcoming state budget, on which the government is relying to improve living conditions in the country.
If parliament approves the new budget legislation, it will be the first unified budget legislation since the start of the Libyan crisis and the institutional divisions of 2014. It is unclear if it will be impacted by the economic dialogue, of which UNSMIL has given few details. The participants have agreed on temporary financial arrangements for January and February but have not reached final agreement.
The national unity government must focus on unifying the splintered government institutions in the east and west of the country, streamlining spending, and fighting corruption in public sectors that has hindered development across the country.
Meanwhile, the Joint Military Committee held round eight of talks at its headquarters in Sirte. The meeting was attended by international monitors sent by the UN to assess the implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed on 23 October 2020 in Geneva by the GNA and command of the national army.
The discussions focused on enforcing the ceasefire agreement and removing mines ahead of opening the coastal road connecting the cities of Sirte and Misrata, as well as the expulsion of combatants from flashpoints.
The UN team will state its recommendations on the situation on the ground and what is needed to cement the ceasefire in a report to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. This will then be forwarded to the UN Security Council, which will decide on expanding the mandate of the UNSMIL ahead of deploying a larger team of international monitors.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly