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Opinion: The Battle to Recover Libya's Looted Wealth - By Abdullah Elmaazi
14/04/2012 03:55:00
Transforming a Klepotocracy into a Democracy

It was corruption at the fruit market, where a fruit vendor set himself ablaze after being exploited by police, that ignited the revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s Ben Ali and started what became to be known as the “Arab Spring “.

In Libya, corruption pervaded and distorted society and impeded economic growth. University graduates who could not get a job without some connection to the Gaddafi cabal were among the first to pick up arms against the regime. The outrage caused by years of pervasive corruption was uncontrollable and was a major factor in spurring the Libyans to revolt.

Bribery infected everything from access to government jobs to the creation of private wealth for public officials. The impact of sleaze on the economic and political scene in Libya was more glaring than almost anywhere else in North Africa. Even a casual onlooker of the Libyan scene was able to observe the major negative consequences of the kleptocracy that reigned supreme under the old regime.

Corruption had enticed government officials to allocate public resources according to opportunities for extorting payoffs rather than on the basis of social welfare. Large projects, whose performance is difficult to monitor, provided lucrative opportunities for rent-seeking and different types of inducements. It was much easier to collect large bribes on large infrastructure projects or defence contracts than on textbooks or teachers' salaries.

Corruption also affected the composition of government expenditure. As venality became more rampant, there was much less government expenditure on education and health than on large infrastructure and defence projects. Naturally, corruption also lowered the quality of infrastructure projects and public services.

In the presence of corruption, businessmen became aware that an “enticement” was required before any enterprise could be started. In addition, corrupt officials laid claim to part of the proceeds from the investment so this helped to multiply the costs of projects. There was also the uncertainty that the official who acted as facilitator might be removed from his job or would not be able to fulfil his part of the bargain. All this worked to diminish incentives to invest for the long term.

Furthermore corruption distorted manpower development in Libya. Since rent-seeking is often more lucrative than productive work, talents were misallocated. Financial incentives lured the more talented and better educated Libyans to engage in rent-seeking rather than productive work which in turn resulted in adverse consequences for Libya’s economic growth.

Post revolution Libya must forever close this shameful chapter in the country’s history .We need to take a robust approach to combating this endemic corruption. The private sector, civil society and the media all have a role to play in building a coalition for transparency. However, the most important element will be the commitment, dedication and the tenacity of the government at all levels and the judiciary.

One of the priorities of the soon to be elected National Assembly must be to enact adequate anti-corruption legislation and appoint an anti-corruption agency which is effective and empowered to enforce the legislation. This agency should be able to co-opt any individual whose expertise it needs. It must have the power to pursue corrupt officials of whatever rank and bring them to heel without fear or favour.

Libya also needs to implement financial regulations of the highest standard. The efficient regulation of financial institutions especially in properly managing risk when lending money is equally important. Many forms of corruption in the past involved the collusion of corrupt officials within the public banking sector often manipulating “vague” regulations.

Libya cannot fight corruption or hope to recover its looted wealth or entertain visions of a more prosperous future without the rule of law prevailing in the country. Most economists will agree that the single most important factor in explaining the wealth of nations is the rule of law. Capital and private funds will flow to where it serves the entrepreneur best; that is to countries where the rule of law applies with the least corruption and greatest transparency.

The precise content of the law is probably less important than having a transparent functioning legal system to begin with. This is yet another reason why it is crucial for the conspicuously absent judiciary in Libya to resume its role.

We also need to fight to get our looted wealth back and we need our friends to help us do this. In the past, Libya’s major trading partners have, to a great extent, abetted the corrupt practices of the former regime.

Despite ratifying an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-bribery convention and enacting anti-corruption laws, many OECD countries eager for trade and jobs at home failed to act on their anti-bribery commitments under the OECD convention and in fact looked the other way at the illicit practices of their corporations in Libya.

We need to hammer in the point to these countries that helping Libya’s new leaders fight corruption is not only their moral duty, but should also be considered “good politics “. Widespread outrage at corruption was a major motivator for the revolution in Libya, and this should be considered as an opportunity for these powers to connect with aspirations of a Libyan population seeking change.

Libya needs also to liaise closely with the international community in devising and implementing a comprehensive, robust and credible anti-corruption policy. The United States, which in the past has been by far the most active nation under the convention through vigorous enforcement of the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act, has now raised the bar further.

The US Justice Department has launched an unprecedented campaign against international bribery and corruption. Its new, and aptly named, “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative” may prove of benefit to Libya. It has been set up to target and recover proceeds of foreign official corruption that have been laundered into or through the U.S. Once fully implemented, this initiative is expected to allow the US Justice Department to recover assets on behalf of countries victimized by high-level corruption.

More energetic enforcement by Libya’s other trading partners is needed. They need to eschew their pernicious protectionism and pressure their multinational corporations to create an effective internal anti-bribery culture. Libya should measure the suitability of a trading partner by the effectiveness of the home country’s anti-corruption laws and restrict the awarding of its major public contracts to those companies whose home countries score highest on the anti-corruption law enforcement scale.

Libya also needs to study the example of Indonesia, where the US Justice Department recently worked with Indonesia’s attorney general’s office to set up a 50 strong anti-corruption task force.

The evil of corruption can never be overstated. In the words of the former US Vice President Al Gore, corruption is “a serious crime with devastating consequences, a cold, vicious, often violent sacrifice of citizen security, for a narrow, greedy, private, personal profit on the part of a crooked official."
The British - Bribery Act 2010 - which entered into force in July 2011 ( Less than a year ago ) is described as "the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world". The Law supersedes all previous British laws relating to bribery and instead replaces them with the crimes of bribery, being bribed, the bribery of foreign public officials, and the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery on its behalf.
The penalties for committing a crime under the Bribery Act of 2010 are a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment, along with an unlimited fine, and the potential for the confiscation of property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, as well as the disqualification of directors under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. The Act has a near-universal jurisdiction, allowing for the prosecution of an individual or company with links to the United Kingdom, regardless of where the crime occurred.
The far-reaching powers of the Bribery Act will not only have implications for individuals and companies operating within the United Kingdom, but for the first time will have implications for British and foreign companies that engage in business on an international scale.
Multi nationals have for years raked in their profits by bribing politicians and propping up the corrupt systems not only in third world countries but in Europe as well.
Greece is a case in point. Companies like Siemens have been copiously greasing Greek officials’ palms to win lucrative contracts, such as the modernisation of the Hellenic telephone network, the 2004 Olympics security system, and the delivery of submarines. Unable to pay its bills, the Greek state owes €150 million to Siemens. Under the terms of the compromise Siemens will write off €80 million of that debt and pay a fine, but may now participate in other projects worth €170 million, such as the expansion of the Athens metro. This is the last legal compromise being discussed with countries where the company had acted illegally – notably in Argentina and the United States. The agreement, called the "Integrity Pact" by the Greeks and "self-purification" by Siemen’s new management.
This is a hard hitting, engaging and downright interesting read. One of the best by far on the subject of corruption on the pages of the Tripoli Post. It speaks not just for Libyans but for all Africans. Why is it not more prominently displayed on the front page ?
Africa is now the world’s top development problem. The role of corruption in stymieing economic has been proven beyond doubt. A few African countries have undertaken some steps towards economic and political reform. This shows that with the proper political will Africa’s problems are not insurmountable . What these measures in countries like Uganda have done however is simply to slow down the sinking process. Even those countries who have instigated reform cannot yet talk of being afloat. The actual conditions in most of the African countries are still miserable and the future still looks bleak.
African countries therefore need to be modest about their reform achievements otherwise they fail to properly gauge the magnitude of the task ahead and fail to appreciate the tremendous task ahead specifically in the fight against corruption . The malignancy which plagues most of Africa.
The article is an intelligent diagnosis of the nature of corruption and an insightful prognosis of the outlook for those who do not take immediate remedial action. My congratulation to the author.
The battle against the old regime is not won unless we eradicate the vile and rampant corruption the defunct regime represented.

This is an excellent article which should be a front page cover story.

I have shared this article with quite a few of my friends who feel the same way about it..
China which many see as a potential economic world leader within a generation or so has identified corruption as a major drawback to its ambitions and is looking for Innovative corruption-prevention techniques .
The Chinese media recently reported that China' top legislative body has launched a national anti-corruption campaign in the rural areas where the majority of the country’s population live and where corruption is a major issue.
The campaign will focus on the prosecution of crimes and prevention of offenses in agriculture and related sectors Procurators are to focus on graft and bribery cases and to help local authorities detect institutional loopholes that could allow for the misuse of public funds.
The Chinese government takes a n extremely tough line on graft which is a capital punishment crime.. The receiving of bribes by Chinese officials , particularly from foreign companies is considered a form of treason and the Chinese courts routinely imposes the death sentence on those convicted.

I am looking forward to coming back to a corruption free Libya.
Thank you for the article.
This is rubbish. Leader Muamar Khthafi was not corrupt . Those around him maybe. mistake is trusting people too much and giving too much power to the Libyan people who did not use it well. He gave money to build pan Africa but African leaders stole the money for themselves. He lived in a tent and the used the money to build palaces for their many wives.
Leader Muamar Khthafi is a clean hand African hero. He was a victim of an imperialist Zionist conspiracy to steal Libyan oil and make Africans suffer.
Leader Muamar Khthafi will live in the memory of all revolutionary Africans.
Will not end bribery and extortion in Libya This is the culture of a large number of Libyans

Corruption is a malignant disease which spreads  through the body politic  of  developed and underdeveloped societies with disastrous consequences  . Libya suffered  more than most  other countries  because   we had over the last forty years , a regime  which intentionally and maliciously encouraged corruption as a means of control and survival..
This article is extremely interesting read . It is a thorough  analysis of the topic and the author has  as we say in Libya... “put his hand on the wound “. Moreover Mr.Elmaazi  illustrated ways of healing the wound and stopping the haemorrhage .
What is  important now for us in  the new Libya  is that  we read ,learn and work to put this longsuffering  and  deprived country back on track .

Corruption is a malignant disease which spreads  through the body politic  of  developed and underdeveloped societies with disastrous consequences  . Libya suffered  more than most  other countries  because   we had over the last forty years , a regime  which intentionally and maliciously encouraged corruption as a means of control and survival..
This article is extremely interesting read . It is a thorough  analysis of the topic and the author has  as we say in Libya... “put his hand on the wound “. Moreover Mr.Elmaazi  illustrated ways of healing the wound and stopping the haemorrhage .
What is  important now for us in  the new Libya  is that  we read ,learn and work to put this longsuffering  and  deprived country back on track .
I posted a comment this morning praising the article. It never appeared. Also do you not know that is ethically , morally and legally wrong to publish your readers/commentators’ contact details email addresses etc without explicit permission ? Have you got permission to publish the email adreeses of people commenting on this article ? If not why publish them ?
Please rectify for the Tripoli Post to be continued to be regarded with respect by its readers
This thoughtful essay provides a great service. First, Mr. Elmaazi identifies the issues he considers to be most important, then he describes their interconnected nature—weaving together the concepts of looted wealth, corruption, the rule of law, long-term economics, the perverse incentives currently offered by allocations to various sectors of society, and the necessity of a functioning judiciary. Could there be a more basic “road map” of priorities for a successful Libya?
This thoughtful essay provides a great service. First, Mr. Elmaazi identifies the issues he considers to be most important, then describes their interconnected nature—weaving together the concepts of looted wealth, corruption, the rule of law, long-term economics, the perverse incentives currently offered by allocations to various sectors of society, and the necessity of a functioning judiciary. Could there be a more basic “road map” of priorities for a successful Libya?

I have followed your posts on the pages of UK newspapers , on behalf of the Libyan revolution since its outset in February 2011. Your writing have been objective ,inspiring , and extremely restrained even in the face of provocation ,insults and sometimes threats from the Ghaddafi loyalist.

You were among the first to write defending these loyalists' human rights and the right of Gaddafi himself to a fair trial once the revolution triumphed. When "Liberation" was declared you were not unduly triumphant . Instead you urged Libyans to close ranks and begin the process of national reconciliation. I remember you writing on the pages of the Indy. “The real struggle has just begun and it will take us a generation of hard work to declare real liberation”.

Since then I have been reading your articles and those of other Libyan on the pages of the Tripoli Post which you introduced to the regular readers of the Indy. This is one of your best articles. As one of the commentators has rhetorically asked “Could there be a more basic “road map” of priorities for a successful Libya? “ I think not.

This is a thoughtful and well written article. Corruption is a disease that eats away at the soul of a nation and drains it of its potential and humanity. No country can move forward and develop and offer its citizens hope and prosperity if there isn't a level playing field for all.

Let us hope that we can change the culture of corruption and nepotism and build the new Libya into a model developed nation of which all its citizens can be proud.

-We have the strictest unticorruption laws in Libya , but we do not have objective policing and independent judiciary to inforce these laws.
-Corruption in Libya and anywhere has never been a condition , but a subjective option , so we can stop it.
-We need rule of law , systems , clear procedures , KPI , governance , EGovernment , reduction of barriers , easier entry , equal opportunities.
-We need the economy to become 100% private/private. Analyze , corruption is predominantly Government Business related.
The NTC should definitely check who remained in power from former regime.Who worked with which foreign company.
Recently i read that famous Gaddafi loyalist Ali Mahmoud Garuani is again back in business.
After several lobbying and big money projects he run with some foreign companies he is back in the ruling role, and nothing less than again the economic-investment fund?
How is this possible?

How we can expect that foreign partners believe us when we have such people again on power? Will those people recall back our money?
I am an advocate of the market economy and I believe that the private sector certainly has a role to play in Libya’s economic development. However I do not subscribe to the idea that an unrestrained, unregulated private sector should be exclusively in charge of managing the economy.

What Libya needs is an “intelligently” regulated market economy. We must be cognisant of the dangers of falling into the pitfalls of the supply-side (neoliberal) Regeanomics of the nineteen eighties described contemptuously by former President George. H. Bush senior as “voodoo economics”.

This so called “voodoo economics” drew on a distortion of Milton Friedman’s theoretical work as a macroeconomic doctrine. The central theme being the opening up of spaces for capital by abolishing regulation and state involvement in the market.

When fully implemented this form of supply side economics coupled with “lottery investments“ in derivatives and the like spurred on by a badly regulated financial sector resulted in high unemployment, housing foreclosures, bankruptcies and a financial crisis unseen in the industrialised world since the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties.

Supply side economics is now so discredited in the western free market economies that the term has become a pejorative stigma economists are eager to disown.

Libyans must not be lured into accepting the myths perpetuated by the neoliberal meta-narrative that somehow an unregulated market always knows best. Libya is in no state for some of its most important assets to start being sold off to cronies and businessmen in a state that currently has no real transparency and no legitimate form of judicial review of governmental decisions and public accountability.

While excessive bureaucracy and incompetently enacted overregulation can be both destructive and nightmarish for businesses, individuals and economic growth, an unregulated market whose rules are set solely by the self-interested profit driven private sector will spell disaster for Libya. Just as it did for so many other countries exposed to the “shock doctrine” neoliberal policies in the nineties in Russia and Latin America.

Libyans interested or involved in formulating the country’s new economic foundation and direction would do well to read the USA Department of The Treasury document Financial Regulatory Reform: A New Foundation (available at: http://treasury.gov/initiatives/Documents/FinalReport_web.pdf
as well as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report (available at:
Well done. I am of the belief that pervasiveness of corruption and bribery in Libya has been more detrimental to the development of Libyan society than all other Gaddafi policies combined. The culture of bribery has unfortunately become so accepted and part of doing business in Libya that it would take years of education and legislation to eradicate. In the interim the only quick solution for the Libyan economy is to reduce government role in the economy and allow the private sector to flourish and be the engine for growth in the future. The same thieves who have destroyed the Libyan economy in the past and instilled this culture of theft and bribery are running the large Government corporations that are now supposed to plan for the future of Libya. In order to avoid past failures government should not be allowed to build shopping centers, luxury office buildings or even for that matter housing projects. Government should plan for a strong banking sector, strong legislation that shall govern and oversee the private sector and act as an honest broker in the implementation of this strategy, it can also oversee the development of Libya’s infrastructure such as roads in a decentralized fashion, allowing different areas to contribute in the determination of their future and the way the funds allocated for these projects are spent. A well regulated Foreign investment sector shall naturally contribute to the quick transfer of technology and knowhow that shall also facilitate a rapid development of human resources in Libya once stability is established.
In conclusion and without recriminations and naming names, we should not allow the same thugs that destroyed Libya to hold the reigns of the economy and should allow the entrepreneurial spirit of Libyans to guide us to a bright future.
I totally agree with you in regard with the last regime, but the question do you think corruption will stop as soon as the old regime end? I belive that we have to stop talking and thinking about the old regime and focus on the future, looking for tools to a way forward how to reform ourselve, built our country and forget the bad old regime.

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