Porter Responds to Libya Criticism

University Professor Michael E. Porter yesterday responded to accusations made by former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting.

Lewis said Porter improperly was paid to write a 2006 report calling Muammar Gaddafi’s regime a democracy—but Porter said yesterday that his research and the report were done between 2004 and 2006, a period of time when the future of the nation looked more optimistic.

“The period beginning in 2004, after Libya had opened up, renounced weapons of mass destruction, and settled international sanctions, marked the first opportunity for true reform in Libya for decades,” Porter said in a written statement to The Crimson. “As it became clear over the following year that vested interests and conservatives had succeeded in halting the reform process, I stopped my work in Libya in the first quarter of 2007 and have not worked there since.”

In the statement, Porter added that “numerous fundamental weaknesses” were currently impairing Libya’s advancement.

“The study put forth far-ranging recommendations for change throughout the economy and in Libyan institutions,” he wrote.

Porter helped Monitor Consulting Group, a private consulting firm he helped found, secure a multi-million dollar contract to work for the country’s government and provide recommendations as Libya attempted to open to the Western world. Porter said in his email that some of the work was “strongly supported” by the U.S. government.

In Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, Lewis accused Porter by saying, “Taking money to support a tyranny by dubbing it a democracy is wrong.”

Lewis said that the Libyan government wanted a report that legitimized its regime, and that Porter obliged “for a price.”

Porter’s involvement with Libya began around 2001, when he met Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, in London. After several dinners, Porter was convinced that Saif Gaddafi was truly committed to political and economic reforms, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

However, it was not until 2005—after Libya had settled international sanctions, opened up, and renounced weapons of mass destruction—that Porter agreed to become a senior advisor on the Libyan economy.

The period “marked the first opportunity for true reform in Libya for decades,” Porter wrote.

In February 2006, Porter presented a report to Libyan officials in Tripoli, detailing the strengths and weakness of the Libyan economy and political system. Despite the problems with Libya, Porter claimed in the report that there had been strong economic growth and named the country as “the only functioning example of direct democracy on a national level”—as opposed to representative democracy, which predominates in the West.

Three months later, the United States resumed full diplomatic relations with Libya after removing it from its list of countries that support terrorism.

However, Porter said that over time he realized Gaddafi was not following through in his support for reforms.

In response to the recent social unrest in Libya, Monitor Group issued a statement expressing “regret” that the period of promise was so short-lived while also acknowledging having made “some errors in judgment.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Sirui Li can be reached at sli@college.harvard.edu.

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