Libya Oil Minister Says NOC Head’s Suspension Still Valid

Libya’s oil ministry said Monday the decision to suspend the head of the state-run national oil company was still valid, potentially setting the stage for renewed tensions hours after the OPEC nation’s premier rescinded the order.

The ministry said it was steadfast in doing its duty, “despite the many difficulties and obstacles it has and still faces,” according to a statement it released. An earlier decision to suspend Mustafa Sanalla was “still in effect and awaiting enforcement” by authorities, it said. 

Officials at the NOC were not immediately available for comment.

The move came after Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said late Sunday that stability in Libya’s oil sector required “wisdom” and that issues that could threaten that goal must be addressed. 

Dbeibah’s move, first reported by Bloomberg, effectively blocked the suspension order by Oil Minister Mohamed Oun. The ministry had said Sanalla violated ministry policy by traveling abroad without prior approval. 

The ministry’s latest comments, however, seemed  to reopen an issue that had been settled, and spoke to the realities of politics in Libya - a nation where even the new unity government struggles to push through its policies.

Libya, which has struggled with a decade of conflict, relies on oil sales for nearly all its foreign revenue. A disruption in the operations of the NOC, which Sanalla has sought to keep out of the political fray over the past few years, would be devastating for efforts to rebuild the North African nation after the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime leader Moammar Qaddafi. 

Tension between Oun and Sanalla grew over recent weeks, especially after the minister asked the government dismiss the NOC chief and reshuffle its board. The jostling is, in part, a consequence of a decade of conflict and rival governments that thawed after the formation of a unity government. The ensuing stability has allowed oil output to stabilize in recent months at almost 1.2 million barrels per day. 

Oun was appointed to his post in March, making him the first oil minister since 2014. Sanalla, meanwhile, has been the NOC’s head since 2014 -- holding a job that allowed him to effectively run the energy sector, including representing Libya at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meetings. 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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