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Companies must prepare for Libyan jobs before elections

Declarations of intent valuable but one expert says no work will begin before autumn.

Companies must act now if they want to take advantage of the “massive” work opportunities in Libya and make contacts before the new government comes in this autumn, contractors familiar with the market said this week.

Major infrastructure projects were abandoned during the civil unrest last year that saw the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi. In addition trade sanctions with Libya remain in place making it more difficult to work there for reasons such as insurance - many of the big insurers are not currently providing indemnity cover.

But British government agency UK Export Finance said last year it could underwrite a total of £150M of payment protection and loans in the country and many of the abandoned projects are close to being resurrected.

Libyan minister of transport Yousuf Al Wahaishi has announced that work on Tripoli International airport will restart within a few months and added that work needed to be done on restoring the country’s ports such as at Misurata and Benghazi.

Strategic partnerships

As shorter term opportunities, he added, the government would be looking to form “strategic partnerships” that could operate for 10 to 15 years.

Libya-based contractor El-Kafa managing director Mohammed Douas has had an office operating from the capital Tripoli since 2009 and said work was starting with citizens rebuilding their houses and that the government’s priority - after oil and gas - was completing abandoned projects such as hospitals, universities and schools.

“British companies need to declare their intent and show their interest now,” he warned. “The Libyan goodwill is there but opportunities won’t come by themselves. They need to be sought actively - and fought for if need be.”

Project manager Hill International group president Raouf Ghali said that companies who had not worked in Libya previously should use the time now to get familiar with the logistics of working there. This could include looking at how the visa programme and residents’ permits work.

Hill is in discussions with the Libyan Organisation for the Development of Administrative Centers over restarting projects abandoned, such as the expansion of the University of Tripoli.

Due to the unrest there are overdue invoices on many schemes that need to be paid and are dependent on government budgets being approved. This has been one of the issues on the university scheme but Ghali said this should happen by the end of the month, with work likely start 30 to 60 days after that. The project needs to be completed by September.

25 university projects

Ghali that there were 25 university projects planned throughout the country - Hill has been in charge of their design management. Work was started on 14 of these previously but it is not clear whether all 25 will now proceed.

“There are major opportunities from now until September,” said Ghali. “Anyone who wants to be in Libya should be there now. Once the newly elected Government comes in the speed at which companies will be expected to go forward will be a very fast pace.”

Consultant Atkins is also positive about working in Libya and in a statement said it was “continuing to actively assess a number of opportunities where [its] multidisciplinary technical expertise could be of benefit”.

However, British Expertise director of Middle East Dominic James was a little less optimistic. He agreed that companies wanting to work in Libya needed to make new, and re-establish old, contacts. But he said there was unlikely to be much work until after the election in the summer, partly as there was no organised workforce to carry out the building work.

“Libya was never easy before the revolution and it won’t become so overnight but you will see a much more transparent country,” James said. “I would say from September onwards will be the best time when things really start to move forward when a new government is in power and after Ramadan.”

Companies that have not worked in Libya will find it a lot easier to piggy back off other businesses that already have projects there. A UK Trade and Industry spokesman said that these firms will not only have a proven record within the country but practical essentials - such as a Libyan bank account.

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