• April 21, 2010

More Than Good Intentions Needed to Reform Libya

More Than Good Intentions Needed to Reform Libya

A friend once described Saif al Islam Gaddafi ’s oversight of political and economic reform in Libya as a car with a two-horsepower engine pulling a heavy load. When Saif, the son of Colonel Muammer Gaddafi , presses down on the accelerator, the engine might just fail completely as it tries to move forward.

Reform agendas are always difficult to implement and hard to sell, especially when they lack successful precedents. For people to support a major shift in national policies, they have to see results in the initial projects. For Mr Gaddafi ’s structural reforms over the past four years, there has been more failure than success.

That is not to say that he has not made some major changes, mostly in terms of the legal system and human rights. Hundreds of Islamists have been freed from jail, some confiscated properties returned and laws revised to bring them in line with contemporary Libyan society.

But the reform of state organisations has been clumsy at best. Take the case of Alghad Media Services Company (AMSC), the pioneer project of the reform programme. Alghad, which means tomorrow, was meant to send a strong message about other reforms in the economic, political and social spheres.

Since its incorporation in 2006, AMSC has published two dailies, Oea in Tripoli and Quryna in Benghazi. It has also launched an FM radio station, the satellite TV channel Allibiya and a couple of news websites.

The TV station has been closed twice and its top executives replaced three times. Finally last year, it moved to Jordan after poor planning, a lack of professionalism and corruption forced it to close down its domestic operation. It spent nearly $9 million (Dh33 million) operating its TV station out of Amman under the name Al Mutawassit, meaning the Mediterranean, only to be closed down due to lack of funds.

The two dailies have also been forced to suspend their print versions and the radio station was shut down in March. The leadership of AMSC itself has been changed four times over the past four years.

On the governance front, things have not been any better. The trick would have been to eject as many career bureaucrats out of government as possible, and replace them with reform-minded, western-educated young Libyans.

But most of the new ranks, who were presumably nominated by Mr Gaddafi and his inner circle, have either been forced out or they never actually took the jobs. Many of the nominees have been discredited and shown to be underqualified or the wrong choice for the job. Some have proven more corrupt than their predecessors, who were replaced precisely because of corruption.

Mr Gaddafi has also frequently spoken about developing civic society to empower women, young people and new university graduates who often face years of unemployment. He backed the creation of the Libyan Youth Organisation, or the LYO, several years ago. The organisation is active in promoting rallies and conferences, but it has yet to deliver anything tangible to its members other than subsidised cars, usually for the favourite few.

One success that Mr Gaddafi could be credited with is the Libya Red Crescent Society (LRC), a semi-governmental aid organisation. Over the past five years, the LRC has played an increasingly active and high-profile relief role in Libya and a number of neighbouring African countries. The organisation has also improved its disaster response capability by acquiring air ambulances and field hospitals, and expanding low-priced clinics across the country.

On April 15, Mr Gaddafi resigned as secretary general of the LRC, saying that he had accomplished his goals at the organisation. But what has been evident is that whatever the progress of reforms, once Mr Gaddafi looks the other way, the project falls into corruption, is suspended or is abandoned altogether.

Another issue that seems to plague his reform projects is the choice of people. There have been far too many cases of executives running projects who are revealed to be corrupt or underqualified. At AMSC, for example, every single top executive who has been appointed has lacked media and management credentials. Actually, the first TV and radio executive was a former police officer. His successor was a journalist with limited television experience, and the next one had never been in the media business.

The latest AMSC chairman is a former member of the banned Libyan Brotherhood, an Islamist anti-regime group connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. His appointment is seen as another sign of Mr Gaddafi ’s strong support for national reconciliation.

AMSC, however, is undergoing restructuring without any clear vision on how it will finance its current activities let alone how to go forward. Because of the management instability, the media group as a whole lost many talented individuals in the process. The latest was the editor of Oea, one of the few professional journalists in the entire company.

The reform programme and its advocates never actually had a clear national agenda or the policy discussions that are essential to the process. The slogan “Tomorrow’s Libya” has excited young Libyans yearning for jobs, training and a greater voice in the bureaucracy, but it has no clear meaning nor any suggestion of how it might be achieved. Even LYO, which was established to drum up support for the new reforms, still does not know how to spell its own name correctly in English. (The National)

Mustafa Fetouri is an academic and political analyst based in Tripoli                                                Source