Militias drain Libya’s coffers
By Heba Saleh in Tripoli
Armed militias in Libya are not just a threat to security and the main challenge to the weak government in Tripoli, but they have also turned into a big drain on the oil-producer’s resources.
The addition of tens of thousands of armed revolutionaries to the state payroll in Libya has helped swell the public sector salaries bill this year to $16bn – more than double the $6.6bn allocated in the 2010 budget under Muammer Gaddafi, the late dictator.
“The increase in salaries reflects partly the integration of revolutionaries in the armed forces and police,” Saddek Omar Elkaber, the Central Bank governor, said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We used to have 30 per cent unemployment and many people contributed to liberation and now they are looking for a job.”
State salaries account for 31 per cent of government spending in the budget approved last month by Libya’s General National Congress, the elected body which serves as a parliament. Spending on infrastructure has been allocated $15bn.
The International Monetary Fund said last month that the government could afford an “elevated level of current expenditures” in this transitional period. But it warned that the “high level of wages and subsidies and a weak governance framework might lead to an ‘entitlement mentality’” undermining fiscal sustainability in a country where the state is the biggest employer and the private sector miniscule.
Libya has managed to bring its oil production back to pre-revolution levels, but, as the IMF noted, the economy relies almost totally on hydrocarbons exports and remains vulnerable to fluctuations in the oil price.
Mr Kaber also said that part of the increase in the salary was the result of rises given to civil servants across the country after the Nato-backed revolution that toppled Col Gaddafi in 2011 following more than 40 years in power.
To buy loyalty during his final months in power, Col Gaddafi had increased salaries in the areas he controlled and after his fall salaries elsewhere in the country had to be brought in line, said Mr Kaber. In 2012, Libya budgeted $14bn for state salaries.
Armed groups have proliferated across Libya since the revolution, and the authorities have been struggling to bring them under control, even as they have also relied on them to maintain security. Militias have filled up the vacuum left by the crumbing of Mr Gaddafi’s hated police force and the break-up of his army.
Local observers and former government officials blame the decision to place ex-fighters on the government payroll for the mushrooming of local militias many of which engage in human rights abuses and often also criminal activity. Some, especially in the east of the country, also pursue extreme Islamist political agendas.
The addition of the militias to the roster of state employees compounds the problem of ghost workers who draw up salaries from multiple government departments which has long existed in Libya.
Mr Kaber said that a national database system which is currently being implemented by the government will address the problem.
“We have already allocated numbers to individuals, which they can now find out by sending a text message, and we will be cross-checking names with lists of employees in government departments,” said Mr Kaber. “This is our biggest achievement since the revolution. There are people who draw more than one salary. There are even children who are on payrolls.”
A labour ministry official quoted in the Libyan press on Sunday said that the new system should reduce the number of registered government employees from 1.25m to around 800,000.