Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Corruption all round

As conflict rages on in Libya, two reports shed light on the scale of corruption that has simultaneously depleted the resources of the nation and the Libyan people, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

On the day after tomorrow Saturday Operation Dignity launched by General Khalifa Haftar against Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, will have completed its first year. Not only has the operation failed to achieve notable success, it has exacted a heavy toll on this city, having destroyed, according to some, over 70 per cent of its infrastructure and caused the largest rate of displaced persons among all Libyan cities and areas that are victim to armed conflict, which in turn has precipitated cycles of revenge and mounting corruption.

The Libyan Red Crescent states that 108,803 people have been displaced from Benghazi during the period from 16 May 2014 to 1 April 2015. This accounts for nearly a fifth of the total number of persons who have had to flee their homes due to the security breakdown and spiralling armed violence between political factions and militias throughout the country. The Libyan Red Crescent estimates the total number of displaced persons in Libya at 557,212.

The general-secretariat of the Red Crescent said that developments in Libya since this time last year “led to the spread of armed conflict in many cities”. It lists as the chief areas of the hostilities “Benghazi, the western region, Ubari, Derna and the central region”, adding that the “fiercest waves of violence were in Benghazi”. It notes that, “The conflict in the Western region is taking place in diverse areas between the coastal cities and the desert roads,” while “The conflict in the central region is centred in the vicinity of the petroleum crescent, and there is a secondary displacement in Sirte.”

The Red Crescent indicated that its missing persons’ offices have received 626 reports. Of these 157 cases were closed after the missing persons were reunited with their families as the result of prisoner exchanges or other means, while another 91 cases were closed after it was learned that the person in question had died, whether because the body of the victim had been identified at a hospital or because it had been located and identified by the one of the Red Crescent search units.

The Red Crescent figures throw into relief the magnitude of hardship and suffering endured by the civilian population due to the sharpening political polarisation and intensification of armed conflict in many parts of the country. They also raise many questions concerning the value of the stalled political process and the political and security vacuum that plagues the country that is torn between two camps, each of which seeks to assert the legitimacy of its political facades while appearing indifferent to the humanitarian plight of Libyan citizens. As the Red Crescent indicates, this plight is far graver than politicians portray to the supervisors of the national dialogue, or to regional and international parties.

On top of the Red Crescent figures, the Central Accounting Authority, which is based in Tripoli, has revealed another disaster that casts a grim shadow over the economic and financial future of the country due to the spread of corruption among those responsible for the management of public moneys.

The Central Accounting Authority reports a LYD (Libyan Dinar) 21.7 billion deficit for the 2014 fiscal year out of a general budget of LYD 56.9 billion. The authority stated that, in coordination with the Libyan Central Bank, it had been able to apply a number of measures that helped reduce the liquid budget to LYD 43.8 billion. The financial authority attributed the deficit to the government’s mistaken assessment of existing public revenues, the large reduction in revenues due to the drop in oil production and the inability to collect sovereign revenues. The authority’s report observes that Libya has sustained an estimated LYD 65 billion in lost revenues due to the closure of oil export ports during the past two years. Petroleum revenues plunged to LYD 19.9 billion in 2014 from LYD 51.8 billion in 2013 and LYD 66.9 billion in 2012.

At the same time, public spending during the past three years climbed to LYD 158 billion due to what the report described as “the inflation of salaries and the rise in operating costs without being offset by a rise in domestic income or an improvement in the fiscal and administrative systems of the state.”

According to the report, civil service salaries rose to LYD 23.8 billion in 2014 in contrast to LYD 14.8 billion in 2011. It also revealed that some LYD 4.3 billion had been mislaid by being disbursed to 516,000 national identity numbers that were inconsistent with the identity numbers of registered civil servants. It added that 409,000 government employees do not have correct ID numbers or have no national ID numbers at all. Moreover, 22,500 employees were beyond the age of retirement and 83,400 had another source of employment in addition to their government job.

The accounting authority performed a complete survey of national ID numbers and learned, for example, that of the 522,000 employees in the Ministry of Education, there were 149,000 mismatched ID numbers and 19,700 cases of dual employment. In like manner, out of the 290,000 employees in the Ministry of Interior, 100,000 had ID numbers that did not match the lists and 17,700 employees had a second job. Of 190,000 Ministry of Defence employees, there were 32,900 unmatched numbers and 11,400 cases of dual employment.

Furthermore, the financial authority revealed that a number of laws were violated by excess spending on the part of the successive governments since the February Revolution and that most public sector transactions were tainted by embezzlement, illicit kickbacks and other forms of corruption. The report concluded with a number of cautions and recommendations to government agencies so that they could avert such excesses and illegalities in the future.

Although many in Libya lauded the efforts of the Tripoli-based accounting authority in fighting rampant government corruption, the accounting authority section subordinate to the internationally recognised House of Representatives in Tobruk refused to accept the abovementioned report. It described the report as “exaggerated” despite the fact that many believe that its substance reflects the magnitude of human suffering in Libya since the outbreak of violence in various parts of the country. A number of statements by Interim Prime Minister Abduallah Al-Thinni accusing some of his ministers and MPs of corruption and squandering public funds supports much of what was alleged in the report, although Al-Thinni simultaneously accused the Tripoli-based accounting authority of obstructing the disbursement of salaries to government employees on the grounds of not having a national ID number.

The humanitarian plight in Libya due to warfare, the security breakdown, the spread of corruption and social disintegration requires urgent remedies. Unfortunately, little hope for this is to be found with major political factions lacking the power to control deteriorating conditions, even though they were the chief cause of them.

The reports by the general-secretariat of the Libyan Red Crescent and the Accounting Authority in Tripoli shed light on the human impact of the challenges that face the stalled dialogue process between the main parties to the crisis in the country, a major facet of which is corruption being practised by these parties at the expense of the assets and resources of the Libyan people.

Whether the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will take into account these two reports in order to enhance the dialogue process and its performance remains to be seen. It is crucial to grasp the magnitude of risks and dangers that will surface immediately once the dialogue tracks have ended, whether in success or failure, as at that point Libyans will require another mechanism to deal with the outputs of the dialogue that has not yet begun to address the heart of the crisis that plagues the Libyan people.

The ongoing warfare in Libya covers up the responsibility of those parties involved in the acts of corruption exposed by the accounting authority while the divisions are readily exploited by the rival factions to hurl the blame for such ills at each other.

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