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Cablegate: Libya Makes Progress On Banking Reform

From: CBPC, EACTAPP [EACTAPP@state.sgov.gov]
Sent: Monday, March 17, 2008 6:49 PM
To: EACTTripoli(Main State Room 2530)
Subject: TRIPOLI 00000230 R CO 17-MAR-08 LIBYA MAKES PROGRESS ON BANKING
REFORM [7168207]

CONFIDENTIAL

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000230

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG; COMMERCE FOR NATE MASON E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/13/2018

TAGS: ECIN ECON PGOV EFIN EINV PTER IT LY

SUBJECT: LIBYA MAKES PROGRESS ON BANKING REFORM REF: TRIPOLI 126

CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (e)

1. (C) Summary: Libya's banking reform program continues to make progress. Buoyed by the windfall that accompanied the February 13 sale of a share in state-run Wahda Bank to Jordan's Arab Bank, the Central Bank is pressing forward with its own restructuring and training programs. There may be opportunities for increased private sector cooperation with U.S. banks and opportunities for the USG to help train Libya's next generation of bankers. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Based on the assessment of Central Bank Governor Farhat Bengadara and the project director of the firm serving as his strategic advisor (McKinsey and Company), Libya's bank reform is making solid progress. CDA met with Bengadara on March 11 to discuss the Central Bank of Libya's (CBL) ongoing program of banking reform, and to solicit updates on its training programs and openness to U.S. assistance. Econoff met separately with the team leader for McKinsey and Company, a U.S. firm providing strategic guidance to the entire CBL reform program.

BANK PRIVATIZATIONS PROCEEDING APACE ...

3.(C) The CBL remains satisfied with its ongoing program of privatizations and mergers for Libya's state-run commercial banks. Jordan-based Arab Bank's successful $310 million bid for a 19 percent share of Wahda Bank (reftel) has bolstered the GOL's commitment to banking reform. The winning bid came in at almost ten times the estimated book value for Wahda Bank. (Note: Book value was computed by U.S. accounting firm KPMG, which is working with the CBL on its reform program. Arab Bank's branches in Libya were nationalized in 1970, fueling some speculation that its high bid was driven in part by a desire to "reclaim" its position in Libya. End Note). The high sale price has been interpreted in some GOL quarters as an expression of increased confidence in Libya by the international financial community. The successful three-stage bidding process (initial application, technical bid, financial bid) by which the sale was conducted has validated the transparent approach advocated by the CBL.

...DESPITE SOME HARDBALL, ITALIAN-STYLE

4. (C) In the weeks leading up to the announcement of Arab Bank's winning bid, two of five foreign banks interested in bidding pulled out. The most publicized decision was that of France-based Societe Generale, which cited "technical reasons" widely assumed (and privately confirmed to Econoff by a local McKinsey representative) to be linked to the bank's exposure to the sub-prime mortgage crunch and recent $10 billion losses incurred by a rogue trader. The less public withdrawal was by Italy-based Intessa, which sought to play hardball with the CBL by demanding ten changes in the way the transaction would be implemented. The CBL rejected Intessa's overture over concerns that the offer upset an otherwise level playing field for other bidders. Encouraged by McKinsey, the CBL chose to adhere to its three-tier bid process and international standards for transparency. In the end, despite offering one of the higher bids, Intessa was outstripped by Arab Bank's financial offer.

CENTRAL BANK INTERNAL REFORMS ONGOING

5.(C) The CBL is currently upgrading its monetary policy functions to better manage monetary policy functions. It is also seeking to develop more robust research and banking supervision departments, with the latter firmly fixed on making a transition to risk assessment, vice direct involvement in the transactions of its affiliated state-run banks. Drawing on foreign expertise from McKinsey, Oracle, KPMB and others, the CBL is also in the process of implementing upgrades to the structure of the entire banking system, to include new IT systems, a standardized loan application packet and a national payment system. CBL Governor Bengadara anticipates the process will take an additional three years to complete. The CBL is also in the process of creating a credit bureau, a project being implemented by U.S. firm Dunn and Bradstreet, with overall supervision by McKinsey.

6.(SBU) Bengadara bemoaned the fact that the CBL remains engaged in a number of activities more appropriately handled by the Ministry of Finance, including the national budget and the privatization of Libyan state-run banks. The CBL and MinFin are both currently working with the IMF on a restructuring program, TRIPOLI 00000230 002 OF 002 and the CBL anticipates agreeing on a separate reform program with the World Bank on the margins of the upcoming IMF/World Bank Spring meetings in Washington.

A FOCUS ON TRAINING

7.(SBU) The CBL has established the Tripoli-based "Banking and Financial Studies Center" in accordance with a October 2006 GPC decree. It currently offers short-term, general courses in computer skills and banking operations, and medium-term English language training. The CBL also sends students to the U.K. for English language training, and has 45 students there pursuing master's degrees in banking. (Note: At Bengadara's request, Post is following-up with CBL staff to provide information on U.S. universities that offer MBAs and MA's in commercial and central banking. End Note).

8.(SBU) As part of the training effort, the McKinsey team in Tripoli is focusing on requalifying the CBL's human resources staff, emphasizing recruitment and performance management skills training. Serious deficiencies in accounting standards persist throughout the banking system; the situation has not shown tangible signs of improvement. The dearth of reliable information on Libyan banks and companies continues to hinder economic growth, as Libyan savings continue to be spent abroad more than at home, and foreign companies are dissuaded from entering an opaque market. ASSESSMENT TIME

9.(SBU) Standard & Poor's and Moody's, two of the top evaluators of credit risk, are expected to be invited to conduct an assessment of Libya sometime during the next six months. Excluding WB and IMF reports, this type of assessment has not been done previously in Libya. The GOL intends that the assessment signal to the international business community that Libya's banks are open for business, and to demonstrate interest in tapping the international bond market in a serious way.

10.(C) Comment: Bengadara impressed us as a credible, savvy interlocutor. Concerns about English language ability and technical skills below the CBL's uppermost echelons remain; however, he clearly signaled a willingness in principle to cooperate with the USG on training, to include counter-terrorism finance. Banking reform is moving ahead; we likely have a window of 18 to 24 months in which to contribute on the training and reform front. Post will work with Bengadara and his senior staff to gain support for critical training programs, particularly in CT finance. End comment.
STEVENS

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