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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Saturday, 1 April, 2006

Watering weeds or feeding locusts?

By: Ghoma

        It seems this regime carries addictive strands in its make-up genes. Once it's got hooked to an act it gets consciously or unconsciously in the habit of jay-walking along the slippery slope paths to the nirvana world of addictive ecstasy. Once the regime had accepted its responsibility for those horrible acts of international terrorism, it'd also admitted its guilt and thus the notion of compensating the victims of its reckless behaviors. Call it incompetence or stupidity on the part of the regime but certainly that admission had opened a can of worms and let the door quite wide open for some rapacious predators to jump on Libya's oil revenues, and seek "compensation" for every scratch or indignity that had been lobed their ways in the course of this regime's lousy stewardship of the ship of state so far. After they'd paid for Pan-Am's, UTA's, Labell's victims, and every other Peter & Paul's who've gotten on the line; now comes the time for another cycle of "compensations!". Hold on to your seats, this time the "lottery" goes local, that's, for Libyans, but mind you, before you get too excited, not for all buddies! only those who'll fit certain criteria! One would think, as in any lottery, the element of pure luck is the only determinant. Not so fast! Political and economic policies are more complicated than a toss of a bowl full of numbers. The most important of the criteria set for the new winners seem, as in any real lottery, sheer numbers. The winners should not be too numerous and must have a fig leaf for a cover to a legitimate claim, otherwise loses its purpose(s)!

        To the dismay of the managers to the newest fad to heaven, these criteria cannot include the already familiar features to the regime's bogeymen, such as; blonde hair, blue eyes, sharp tongues, etc. so the experts - who most of them appear to be graduates of either the school of "Green Diarrhea," or, of business schools' supply side economics- have figured out a way to cull and sift through the multitude to just come out with the right crowd in the right numbers and thus increase the rank of the rich, or at least well-to-do, by the right amount! The most important of these criteria deals with the potential numbers: they've to be not-very-numerous and they must have some fig-leaf cover for a legitimate claim! Is it a way to gain new supporters by virtually buying them -in the old-fashioned way, as they say, that's, by filling their pockets with hard cash so they'll be loyal for life, just think of the bazaarists from Tehran to Casablanca- or to solve a burning problems on the regime's hands: disposing of some companies?

        The "privatization" project seems to have run into some tough pumps along the road, that's, no buyers. The outsiders don't trust the political and legal environments to risk their money in and the locals are broke, merely live from hand-to-mouth as they say. If not much can be done, at this point, to ease the fears of the first, something can be done for the second. Since the government is the only capitalist, distributing some of the oil revenues to a relatively small group of people, as the amount will be large enough, to lure them to save in the form of investing it, That must be the major reason for not distributing the oil revenues fairy among the population at large since that only will complicate the economic picture, because the amounts smallness will only incite more consumption, which in its turn will only strains further the already screwed relationship between demand and supply and thus spike furthermore the cycle of inflation. Therefore there's a need for a selected segment, a good and well chosen stratum that'll be padded with enough cash to do the job of taking over some of the enterprises that have become burden on the regime's new orientation.

        All of a sudden, the story of "compensation" sprang up from nowhere. It's not clear yet whether it deals with compensation or indemnity. For there's whole differences between the two! The first is an open-ended concept which can be extended to material and non-material wrongs and damages, while the second is mostly limited to specific losses dealing mainly with property. The question is why now and who's behind it? Is it an admission of failure of the so-called "state socialism" followed up to now? Or merely to convince some powers and organizations of the seriousness of the embarked upon turn; or with some discovered new realism, hard learned resilience, and to paint a new face of humane of benevolence on the regime's ugly mug? In other words, a PR campaign of advised packaging to sell the old nauseating crap as change to the powers that be again through hard-cold-cash: distributing some largesse to a group which apparently still has some strings to pull. The relatively small group of property owners supported in their persistent demand by the guardians of the Faith were always vociferous about their losses and sufferings and have never forgotten the privileges private property can bring. This militancy added with the arising need for local capitalists have convinced the new free-marketers of need to, if not the necessity to have people with some money to dispose of. Social engineering had long history, capitalists have always been created one way or another, if not by the government directly, it's through its closing an eye on their exploitative practices. So it's really a new way to seed some petty capitalists? It just accepting an old way as part of the facts of life. Given the fact that in the oil-states, the state is the only one which has the money its largesse has been only a matter who gets it. It's hoping that the new group will constitute the entrepreneurs, the buyers, and the managers of the already or soon to-be-auctioned state enterprises; and in the process to have made some new and faithful allies! And who'll be better allies than the old foes when have been dealt a good favor? What a favor? Money is the God's of those gluttonous old fats?

        Is this campaign serious or just another make-believe trick, one of the smoke-screens dictatorial regimes are apt to resort to whenever they find themselves in stranglehold? Whether will be serious or just a stopgap expediency only the future will tell. But all things being equal, whatever approach is followed, whatever path is taken, and whichever group is being invoked, the stew being cooked is smelling fishy already! Presumably, what's boiling in the pot is some enchilada admixture of a new form of state capitalism where some group(s) have to share in the burdens of running the enterprises that have proven to be difficult to manage. Giving money and making some sweetheart deals are the way to go. Will these be another facade for the intelligence services to do its old or new work?

        Why this now? If it's for no other purposes than to be in tune with the times, as the Libyans used to say "as the time turns, turn with it". To ride the new wave of globalization's and free market's mantras pushed by the aggressive policies of the West, the backwater states, such as Libya, with their spineless dictators, would resort to such make-believe "reforms". However, if such moves, not to get traction, but at least to give to the intended audience(s) the impression of being up to something, have to gain the blessing of a new group, who's expected to sing its praises wherever and whenever is asked about the new atmosphere.

        If what comes of the La-la-land is to be taken literally, the new fortunates are those people who supposedly have lost some real-estate properties back in the heyday of "revolutionary fervor" when solutions of pressing problems, such as housing, were pulled right out the shelves of traditional radical revolutions's invoked paths when thrust to power amidst growing crises and festering shortages of one kind or another. The policies invoked consisted usually of what could be characterized as "forced distribution," for not using the more loaded term that of nationalization -since this term puts the onus and the consequences directly on the state's shoulders while the first dilutes them in the fogs of troubled times. And indeed, at the beginning all the government said and did was to make it easier for the "homeless" to fend for themselves and find an empty place to shelter one's family. It's true the government made it perhaps legal for the "jumpers" and disparaged those who owned more than one dwelling beyond their own use. "The house for whoever lives in it," the slogan under which those policies, if indeed, were consciously taken policies rather than off-the-cuff snaps which came on the spur of the moment, were let to pass.

        However, there were also deliberate nationalization paroxysms that were resorted to from time to time as the needs arose or the madness of the caudillo got out overflowed its drug control. In addition to foreign companies and enterprises, such as oil and banks along with whatever remained of the colonists immovable properties, went also the nationalization of foreign trade, first wholesale followed by the takeover of all commercial transactions down to the mom-and-pop corner shops. What's not talked about was, and still is, the "nationalization" or mere take-over of the so-called "diffused ownership" lands, the lands owned in common by whole villages and tribes, which constituted a good part of the land in the country. From " the dead and living wadis" to any other wadis, gullies, and plains, some of which had been reclaimed then divided into farms and were distributed to whoever was lucky enough or had good shoulders to lean on. Nor the prohibitions against professional practice and enjoyment of intellectual properties rights!

        Now let's try to take one by one of these expropriated properties and see how the take-over was conducted and who gained and who lost from such transactions. Granted that, not only as a form of justice and fair play have to be invoked, but above all if "compensation" is going to work in positive rather negative ways, it must be for all; otherwise better for none. Since most Libyans have lost something or another in the last not only 37 years, but in the entire last century, first to the colonial pillaging and then to the governments which followed them. The only reasonable solutions to choose from are two: either all of us bit the bullet or all of us get compensated. To compensate the urban comprador group just because they're vocal enough or have some real muscles to speak on their behalf is neither a good social policy nor potentially a good economic investment. Almost all Libyans have been dealt a blow to their egos as well as pockets when the regime took over. To chose only one group is to forget that the majority of Libyans were villagers or beduins who also have lost the only means for their survivals!

        But if compensation is to be the choice then we should look to each group separately but also comparatively. That's, to compensate in such a way without giving the edge to one particular group over the others; and, who will only and predictably make a come back and extend its domination over the economy by using the new acquired wealth as stepping stone to buy the companies which will come on the auction block of what's now held in common.

        Why to compensate the only group who perhaps had lost the least? The wave of houses's take-over was a brief interval and in many ways had affected only a relatively small group of people, most of them belonged to the old regime's fat cats - who'd gotten fat overnight snacking on the common bacon- under the eyes of that supposedly watchful and God fearing kingdom. But the most noticeable about the wave, it was conducted under the watchful eyes of the owners of the houses. Almost every one who lost property knew, or came to know who took it. Some of them made private deals under the radar screens while others had accepted the rent offered by government agencies. If, for whatever reasons, some never made a deal or received a penny, then, if the occupants paid any rent or mortgage to the government, these should be returned to the original owners, not exceeding the value of the property at the time of the take-over after adjusting the amount to inflation and with some reasonable interest rate, subtracting the costs incurred in managing and collecting these revenues. Fair enough!

        What about all those other people who lost their communal lands, shops, or any other property including the professional and intellectual ones. That's a bit more difficult to estimate the value of their losses and sufferings. Most of these properties were out of the main stream market evaluations. But some formula can be worked out by which each will receive an amount. However, the regime can always opt out of getting into such a mess invoking the extraordinary circumstances and with them the "eminent domain" clause, by which it can justify a lot of the policies taken since its take-over. For it's not uncommon, and is well known, governments sometimes resort to drastic measures to face certain crises or to curtail some excesses. Some of these measures are of the type expropriations-for-public-interest and others for denial of certain rights or the practice of particular professions.

        To make a long story shorter, as some wise man once wrote: "It's not the bugs that are important, but the deductions you make of them." Anytime there's a tectonic shifts in the political or economic arenas, there'll always be winners and losers. Political and economic policies are never clear cut even though their winners and losers can be estimated in advance. But the question of privatization, if it's an easy subject to contemplate it's never as easy to put into practice. Its proponents tout it an elixir, a cure-all remedy according to the logic of "destructive creation". Its opponents call it rather as a "destructive development" since it throws not only the economy but society into a period of turmoil and instability, sort of back to square one! A look to the Eastern Block experiences, namely Russia and Poland, doesn't encourage following their path. A new imaginative and creative ways have to be searched. It'd not be far fetched to suggest that mixed economy type solutions are the only viable alternative for Libya at this point in time. If Western European states can handle 50% plus of their economies, a rentier state such as Libya, perhaps, doesn't have the luxury to demur!


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