* Seasoned oil exec proposed to head new ministry
* Candidate seen as popular in Libyan oil sector
* Points to strong cooperation between Libya and Eni
By Emma Farge
TRIPOLI, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Libya’s interim prime minister has proposed a former executive from Eni become minister for oil, highlighting the Italian firm’s leading role in an oil industry desperate for a quick restart after seven months of war.
Abdul-Rahman Ben Yezza, who has worked in the National Oil Corporation as well as Eni, was named by interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril as the proposed candidate for the new ministry, a copy of Jibril’s proposal, seen by Reuters, showed.
Ben Yezza would replace Ali Tarhouni who is currently minister for both oil and finance but his role is still tentative as the proposal for 36 ministries did not receive the full backing of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in a meeting on Sunday.
A spokesman told Reuters that 22 ministries were confirmed and it was not clear if oil and gas was among them.
Libya’s NOC website says Ben Yezza was previously “chairman of the operator’s management committee at Eni Oil” and a source at Eni said Ben Yezza had a consulting job with the company.
Eni declined to comment.
The proposal to put an “oil man” in charge of the country’s economic lifeline is seen as a move to accelerate the recovery of the sector after seven months of violent clashes between NTC forces and those still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
While the country is seeking to start earning revenues from oil exports, it is equally anxious to reduce dependence of imported fuels which have been one of Libya’s top items of expenditure, costing hundreds of millions of dollars each month.
Before the February revolt to oust Gaddafi, oil policy was run by the umbrella company the National Oil Corporation headed by Shokri Ghanem but officials have since indicated their plans to split commercial arrangements from policy.
Ghanem defected from the Gaddafi government in June and he is now living outside Libya and it is not known if he will again play a role in Libya’s oil sector.
Libyan oil industry sources said Ben Yezza was likely to be a popular choice since, unlike Tarhouni, he has extensive experience in the oil sector both in Libya and abroad.
He also has a reputation for being at loggerheads with the former chief, a factor which could be an advantage in post-Gaddafi Libya.
“People need to have been on bad terms with Shokri Ghanem to have a future in this sector and he (Ben Yezza) left the NOC under Shokri. That’s a gold star next to his CV,” said an oil industry source in Tripoli on the proposed candidate.
The proposed appointment is also a sign of increasingly cosy relations between Libya’s new rulers and Italian oil firm Eni, present in Libya since the 1950s. Italy is among the biggest buyers of Libya’s light, sweet easy-to-refine oil.
The firm has been cooperating closely with the NOC to restart offshore gas production and helped arrange a “floating hotel” to provide accommodation for oil workers, the NOC chairman told Reuters in an interview last week.
Libyan and Italian oil authorities are also working together to restart gas exports via a pipeline between the two countries. (Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan; editing by Jason Neely)