Ranked 160th out of total 176 countries in 2010 by Transparency International on the list of the most corrupt countries, Libya clearly faces a tough challenge from corruption. The epidemic levels of corruption are destroying the system and its effect on the lives of common man is massive.
It is not only restricted to the embezzlement of funds but goes beyond the conventional definition of the word. The systematic corruption is not only limited in few institutions but has seeped into the daily lives of people and the danger is, if not stopped now, it will become normality.
There is corruption in many countries but it is concentrated in the upper levels which has reduced the damage to the society. But here in Libya the big problem is its social acceptability of sorts. There is awareness that corruption exists in almost all areas of life but the general idea is not to resist it or work against it which often means others joining the same cycle. This attitude has allowed it to become a fact of the society, frowned upon by the people but it is so widespread that they can do nothing to stop it.
The bribe culture flourished in the time of former regime and still provides solutions to many problems. Offering a bribe is as wrong as asking for it but sometimes there is no other way to get things done on time. For this very reason some big companies are able to get their work done in time, but smaller companies would struggle as they lack the ‘resources’for getting work done.
People have different ideas on how corruption reached such high levels in Libya and penetrated so deep in the society. The most common perception is that the salaries were so low during the 42 years of the Qaddafi regime that people resorted to ‘other’ ways to make ends meet and with passage of time greed increased and so did the corruption.
Understanding the working of the former regime makes it easier to understand how it was easier for people with authority, which were paid very little salaries, to award contracts ignoring the merit – for the sole reason of getting kick-backs from such companies.
The situation before the revolution reached a point where you would need a ‘wasta’ (intermediaries) for everything. Even the things that are legally possible but officials would sometimes delay on purpose, to make you desperate, so they can get a good deal.
Unfortunately not much has changed after the revolution when it comes to corruption. It might be too early to judge but in two years there is no hint of change in attitudes that suggests a lack of willingness at grass root level: a dangerous indicator.
The rampant corruption gave rise to brokers, something that continues in the New Libya, who would use their connections and get things done for you. It was unlike in other countries where you pay ‘touts or brokers’ to evade long queues or get other help with work that is otherwise illegal to do. In Libya you have to use them to get all type of legal work done.
A few examples would be, admission in the universities, new passport, opening a bank account, buying foreign exchange from banks, business contracts, studying abroad, release from prison etc.
The corruption at higher level encouraged others to follow the same route and this became the biggest problem as it altered the attitudes in general and people became slightly tolerant towards it. The clerks started to ask money to ‘speed up’ your application, officers at the counters started charging money only to accept papers. All of this was of course done discreetly by making some random excuse. The idea of working professionally or in a systematic way is just absent and showing up for work is considered sufficient enough.
Although it was not only limited to the construction and investment but this sector saw the heaviest financial corruption of all, ranging from taking kick-backs to awarding the contract to family companies to maximise the profit. On the one hand things were delayed for no reason while there are instances where contracts were awarded, signed and initial payment released withindays only because personal interests were involved.
The Army was not immuned, and some officers would regularly take percentage from the cheques they were supposed to issue to the contractors. One officer was reported to have shown a cheque to the contractor and then he had put it in his front pocket saying it would only be given if he gets a certain percentage from the total. Such decisions were unchallenged as the independence of Judiciary was very much in question and nobody dared taking the ‘people with connections’ to court. There were cases lingering on for decades as it involved the ruling elite.
The health sector is also one of the most affected sectors where corruption constantly risks the lives of thousands every day. The purchase of sub-standard medicines and fake supply & demand crisis are two main things plaguing the sector for years now.
This level of corruption in all fields is the main hurdle stopping Libya from progressing at a good speed, in my opinion. The corrupt mind always puts personal interest before the national interest and risks the prosperity of the country. The whole system is affected when people start taking bribes and the corrupt bureaucracy destroys the state institutions and with it the hopes of progress and prosperity of the country.
Although corruption cannot be controlled overnight and it would be a long way untill it is controlled, but anti-corruption legislations should passed and fully implemented. Total eradication is impossible but it can be minimised by introducing the right laws. The General National Congress (GNC) and the interim government are already facing a lot of challenges with the drafting of the constitution and dealing with security problems. But corruption is one thing they cannot ignore as it is solely responsible for most challenges new Libya is facing.
The authorities should go after the corrupt and should start cleaning from within as only tough actions could unsettle the deep-rooted corruption – setting a healthy precedent for others to learn from.