Tripoli, April 12
The government has defending its decision to temporarily suspend payouts to last year’s revolutionaries (“thuwar”) on the basis that . . .[restrict]too many fraudsters had managed to get paid.
‘Up to now, just over one a billion Libyan dinars worth of handouts had been paid to over 450,000 people”, said Nasser Al-Mana, the government’s official spokesman at his weekly press conference on Wednesday evening. “We know it’s not the true number of the real thuwar’, he said.
It is estimated that, even by the most liberal interpretation of the word “revolutionary”, there were no more than 50,000 fighters in last year’s uprising.
The government’s justification followed the attack on Tuesday at the prime minister’s office by a group of thuwar protesting at the decision to temporarily halt payments. They had claimed it was unjustified.
The prime minister and other leading government officials, including Finance Minister Hassan Zaglam, were in the building at the time. Just over a week ago, Zaglam warned the cabinet over continuing payments to revolutionaries, saying that if the money continued to be paid without properly checking whether people were entitled to it, vast sums of money would be lost.
Denouncing the attack as “a criminal act on the sovereignty of the state and against the law” and insisting that the government would “not give in to threats or intimidation by the use of force,” Al-Mana said the suspension of payments was absolutely necessary if the corruption in the payements process is to be contained and solved.
‘We stopped the payments for the sake of justice and to check on the procedures for these payments,” he said.
‘It is a national duty to wait for the correct processes and procedures which we are reviewing. These include the need for applicants for these payments to provide further details such as full names, confirmation from their local military councils, and dates of enrollment into their fighting units.
He openly admitted that “there were many serious errors made in the execution of this law”, and he hoped that “many government departments learned from these serious mistakes”.
Asked if payments would be re-continued, Al-Mana confirmed that “we will continue with the payouts after we have learnt the lessons of our mistakes at a price, using new procedures and systems guaranteeing the rights, justice and the public finances which the government is entrusted with”.
The main problem seems to be with local militia offices which were asked to draw up the lists of revolutionaries in their areas who should be paid following the NTC’s decision in February to make a one-off payment of thanks to thuwar who had fought last year. It said it would give LD 4,000 to married fighters and LD 2,400 to unmarried ones.
It is reported that the number of marriages has shot up in recent weeks although it is not known if there is any connection.
The local lists have contained wild inaccuracies. There have been instances of multiple entries for some names, enabling those named to claim more than once, while names of long dead even non-existent people are said to have been included.
Equally, names of others who apparently should have been included have been left off. The discrepancies have on several occasions resulted in varying degrees of violence as disappointed, angry claimants attacked officials in military council offices, resulting in armed battles. In other cases, militiamen have taken to the streets firing into the air and holding up traffic.
Al-Mana yesterday admitted that “there were many serious errors made in the execution of this law” and hoped that “many government departments learned from these serious mistakes”.
It is unlikely, however, that all the mistakes on the lists were the result of corruption; incompetence is said to have played its part. Nonetheless, the figure of 450,000 claimants cannot be put down to incompetence alone.
Nor it is sure that all those thuwar who claimed that their names had been left off the lists should have been included in the first place. Al-Mana alluded to this yesterday, referring to “those falsely pretending that they were genuine thuwar”.
He did not say if those who had already received payment would be asked to prove their eligibility by giving the same answers as those who have not been paid so far are going to have to provide.
In March the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, issued a fatwa stating that it was illegal for anyone who had not fought in last year’s revolution to take payment. Those who had should hand the money back to the Central Bank of Libya, he ruled.
On Wednesday, Al-Mana confirmed that a large number of Libyans had now done so. “Thousands of thuwar, after reading the terms and conditions for receiving such payments and after hearing the fatwa from Libya’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadik al-Ghiryani, realized that they did not qualify, and returned the cash payments. We salute them,” he said. “Some of the thuwar were honest,” he opined, “but equally many other of the so-called thuwar are not.”
Nonetheless, the scandal threatens to dwarf the health scam earlier this year where many Libyans managed to engineer free vacations in Jordan claiming, in the absence of any proper checks, that they were injured revolutionaries. It is said that more couples were given in vitro fertilization treatment in Jordan under the programme to treat the injured than there were war-wounded.
Al-Mana also suggested that Tuesday’s protests had been hijacked by trouble-makers.
“There were many innocent thuwar who came thinking they were going to participate in a normal demonstration. I have received many telephone messages of apology from many thuwar who were caught up in a demonstration that turned violent. There is no doubt that there were probably some hidden elements within the demonstration that were intent on delaying the progress of Libya.”
He also condemned those “who use the honourable name of the thuwar for personal gain”.