Companies that hoped an end to Libya's civil war would allow stalled projects to move forward will have to keep waiting, says rebel officials.
Deals that were in the works before the February uprising can be approved only by a yet-to-be-elected government, said a member of Libya's National Transitional Council. That could add an 18-month delay to billions of dollars of planned projects, from an energy hub near Tripoli to a solar array that was to send power to Italy.
"We're not going to commit the future elected government to projects," Ahmed Jehani, the reconstruction minister of the National Transitional Council, said from Benghazi yesterday. "Everybody will be asking questions about plans that have been on the drawing board before. The answer is it could be in, it could be out. Nobody knows."
The rebels have a long list of tasks ahead, from restoring basic services such as water supply and power generation to longer-term measures such as establishing a justice system and casting off international sanctions.
"You just want to deal with the issue of the first floor," Mr Jehani said, comparing the nation's reconstruction effort to building a house. "How can somebody build the second floor when the first floor has not been built?"
Among the projects that are to take a back seat is a US$5bn (Dh18.36bn) energy hub that a UAE company planned to build with backing from the Libyan Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund.
Al Maskari Holding, a family-owned energy investment company based in Abu Dhabi, was in talks with the Libyan government as recently as February to build a desert solar park that would transmit electricity under the Mediterranean to Italy and a business and residential development near Tripoli.
An agreement for property development, which was to cater to oil and renewable-energy companies, was signed in December, Jamal Ellamushe, Libya's then-minister of privatisation and investment, said in Abu Dhabi at the time.
The plans also called for a solar panel factory, which had been scheduled to begin operating at the end of this year.
"We have the plant ready. The building is ready. We have the specifications for the equipment ready," said Shaikha Al Maskari, the chairwoman of Al Maskari Holding. "I want to show the world I have faith in the government … I am ready to go tomorrow."
The rebels' caution in negotiating fresh deals has also led them to honour old contracts, including the oil production-sharing agreements established under the regime of Col Muammar Qaddafi.
They are relying on former producers, including Italy's Eni and France's Total, to deploy engineers and other foreign staff back to Libya to revive the country's former 1.6 million barrel per day (bpd) pumping capacity.
Oil production, which has fallen to an estimated 60,000 bpd during the six-month conflict, once provided the Qaddafi government with nearly all of its revenue.
"In the next few weeks everybody will be on the ground," Mr Jehani said. "Only a fool would not send somebody to look after their property right now."
Rebel forces have secured oilfields, but it is up to foreign companies to spend on additional security, he added.
"People are still in the mindset that this place is going to blow up," he said. "This place does not have security problems relating to daily life. People have guns in the street and many things like that, but believe me, this is not Iraq by any stretch of imagination."