By Essam Mohamed
Former Libyan revolutionaries opened fire at the cabinet headquarters in Tripoli last Tuesday (April 10th) after the National Transitional Council (NTC) halted a 1 billion euro grant programme over allegations of corruption and fraud.
The government condemned the incident, labelling it an act of aggression against state sovereignty, prestige and a violation of laws. In a statement obtained by Magharebia, the government also rejected the use of weapons and the language of threats and extortion.
“The decision to stop the payment of financial grants was aimed at addressing fraud in the submitted lists, preserving public money and stopping the drain of Libyan people’s wealth,” the statement read.
Libya called on revolutionaries to shoulder their responsibility in rejecting the use of violence and disowning those who engage in sabotage.
The attack at the council of ministers was just the latest in a string of events highlighting the challenges facing the government as it seeks to rein in militias and restore order in post-Kadhafi Libya.
Last Thursday, employees and technicians at Akakus Oil Operations – a partnership between Spain’s Repsol and Libya’s National Oil Corporation – staged a sit-in after their boss was attacked by revolutionary brigades from Zintan. The fighters were allegedly seeking to force Abdul Majid al-Shoh to pay remuneration and other grants.
The company’s employees complained to the ministries of defence, interior and the cabinet, urging them to stop such behaviour from the revolutionaries, as it would hurt the Libyan economy.
Libyan government spokesperson Nasser al-Manaa demanded Wednesday night (April 11th) that the former fighters “distinguish themselves from those who penetrated their ranks and exploit the revolutionaries’ name”.
True revolutionaries, he said at the press conference, “wouldn’t steal money, undermine security and stability, usurp state institutions, seal off roads, or use weapons and threats for personal and wrong purposes”.
“It’s about time mistakes were reviewed and benefited from,” al-Manaa added. “It’s about time to have constructive criticism and to learn from mistakes.”
He said that the grant payments to revolutionaries were “a correct idea, and a correct principle, but implementation was marred by some mistakes”. Those who “really deserve it”, he said, would soon receive their rights.
“1.8 billion Libyan dinars were paid to more than 450,000 revolutionaries in remuneration and grants,” Al-Manaa added.
“We know that this figure is not real, and can’t be real,” he said. “However, when a decision was taken to temporarily stop the payment of such grants in order to ensure justice, protect the Libyan people’s money and ensure correct measures are in place, this hasn’t appealed to some of them.”
He also noted that the defence and interior ministries were given “permission to use force to protect the sovereignty and prestige of state”.
Libya’s interim government has struggled to assume control of prisons guarded by a patchwork of militias.
Regarding the trial of Seif al-Islam al-Kadhafi – the country’s most high-profile prisoner – al-Manaa said the country was ready.
Answering a question from Magharebia about an Amnesty International report alleging abuses in prisons controlled by former revolutionaries, al-Manaa said that the government respected intentional laws and institutions. “We confirm that the Ministry of Justice has received thousands of prisoners who were detained at prisons run by the revolutionaries at a critical and transitional period,” he added.
“We’re moving quickly to establish prisons and run courts and prosecutions, and there won’t be any detainees or prisoners outside state-run prisons. Everyone will be given the right to dialogue and litigation until justice and truth have been realised,” the government spokesman said.
As for the upcoming June election, already jeopardised by tribal violence, al-Manaa said: “A practical plan in which most government ministries would take part has been drawn up to educate society and shed light on the electoral process, encourage people to take part and urge young people to volunteer to contribute to the success of election.”
The government spokesman added that both the NTC and the election commission were committed to holding the vote at the scheduled time.
Al-Manaa urged all parties “to place Libya’s supreme interests above anything else and to give priority to their efforts to prepare for election and appreciate the sensitivity of current stage.”
“Democracy is a culture rather than a political or administrative system,” he noted. “It comes in stages, and we have to be patient until we achieve success.”