February 18, 2009 / 6:35 PM / 9 years ago

Libyans gather to decide on Gaddafi's oil plan

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Libyans gathered on Wednesday to discuss the proposal by their leader Muammar Gaddafi to disband the government and allow the country’s oil wealth to flow straight to the people.

<p>Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a wreath-laying ceremony in Victory Square in central Minsk, Belarus, November 3, 2008. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko</p>

“Libyans, this is your historic opportunity to take over your oil wealth, power and full freedom. Why do you want to let the chance slip away from you?” state news agency Jana quoted Gaddafi as saying before the five-day gatherings.

State radio and television stations repeated Gaddafi’s message as Libyans streamed into public places in villages and cities for meetings of Libya’s Basic People Congresses (LBPC).

Calls by Gaddafi for Libyans to free themselves from political corruption and share out oil wealth without government meddling reverberated around the gatherings, Jana said.

The LBPCs are the backbone of Libya’s Jamahiriya regime as they are effectively the country’s top executive and legislative bodies. They represent people at district and village levels, and vote on laws and government policy.

In practice, however, Gaddafi decides on key policies, particularly oil.

The General People Congress, the umbrella body, is due to collect the LBPC decisions at the end of the debates and announce whether a majority backs Gaddafi’s proposal, a foregone conclusion as his supporters dominate all levels of power.

A reporter who listened to debates at gatherings in Tripoli said people appeared to support Gaddafi’s proposal but seemed divided over how to implement the scheme.

“I‘m poor. I want the money now to help my family live better,” said Ibrahim Sellami as he prepared to attend the debate at a theatre near the old Casbah city of Tripoli.

An LBPC member in downtown Tripoli told a meeting to think about the complexities of managing the oil money without a government.

“It is easier said than done. We have to think about how to import goods from abroad and how to protect the market from traffickers. Do we have to put the money in banks and when and who exactly will withdraw the money?” asked the man.

On Saturday, Gaddafi called on Libyans to back his proposal to dismantle all the ministries. He said more than $30 billion in oil revenue should be handed out to Libyans this year.

His scheme has been opposed by senior officials, who stand to lose their jobs if government is purged.

Officials told Gaddafi in November the move could do long-term damage to the OPEC member country’s economy by fanning inflation and encouraging capital flight from Libya.

Gaddafi insists the only way to rid the state of what he says is entrenched and widespread corruption is to sweep away the whole government structure.

He says decent people do not take up government positions because of a widespread belief that all officials are corrupt.

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