By Musab Zeiton.
16 February 2021:
For many, the February 17th revolution was a glimmer of hope for a more equitable, just, equal and prosperous future for all Libyans, one with functional institutions that served their basic everyday needs.
The violent chaos that ensued, particularly from 2014 onwards with the political and institutional divisions that arose, exacerbated by foreign European and regional state actors fuelling all sides is largely what captures the attention of observers, with many an analyst making a decent living providing their commentary on constantly shifting developments.
This has served as a distraction from what I consider to be the underlying problem that led up to the revolution, namely the Kleptocrats that maintain a stranglehold on Libyan socioeconomic prospects through their system of patronage that preserves their interests, thus corrupting state institutions. The threat that was recently cited by former US Ambassador to Libya and outgoing UN envoy, Stephanie Williams who warned that “the Kleptocrats would block the planned elections by the end of the year”.
In recent years, there has been increased public awareness globally of the devastating impact that kleptocrats have on developing economies, notable examples are Dos Santos of Angola, Guptas of South Africa and Jho Low of Malaysia. Some of this focus was a response to the Panama papers and other associated leaks which led to investigations and prosecutions across the world, causing even some heads of state to resign.
For Libya, there has only been a trickle of foreign media reports from reputable outlets and anti-corruption advocacy groups with allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption on the part of pre-revolution state officials and their associates, estimates for some cases being “Billion Dollar Whale” in scale according to multiple sources. Foreign court records have shed light on cases of bribery and corruption, particularly those that involve the LIA’s foreign assets. Despite financial penalties imposed on companies and even jailtime for some foreign executives, the Libyan counterparts in such schemes largely remain unscathed and able to enjoy their ill-gotten gains, some of them continue to serve as state officials today.
There have been no meaningful investigations or prosecutions. Given Libya consistently achieves a Corruption Perception Index rank in the top 10 globally, this shouldn’t come as a massive surprise.
The impunity enjoyed by pre-2011 bad actors has only emboldened them and later actors resulting in a frenzy to usurper resources through lucrative posts at state institutions, only eroding public services. The physical battles are often connected as they are ultimately fuelled by opposing parties vying for control of exploitable institutions and assets.
The international community has largely failed in Libya because it has persisted in turning a blind eye to bad actors that are not interesting in instituting the necessary reforms to tackle financial crime amongst other important issues. For example, I found it disturbing to see the UNODC recently “certified” the new Libyan Anti-Corruption Committee despite a member ironically being named in publicly available court records as having potentially facilitated bribery as part of a pre-2011 multimillion dollar defrauding of state assets.
I can only hope that the new and future Libyan administrations take necessary steps to tackle financial crime in all forms, renew early efforts to recover stolen assets and hold accountable all officials involved in such crimes because “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it!” -Winston Churchill.
Musab Zeiton, CAMS, CGSS completed his undergraduate degree in 2011, left the UK to work in Libya’s private and then public sector. As a result of the environment to which he was exposed he was drawn to the Anti-Financial Crime profession, firstly at the Financial Intelligence Unit and then as the inaugural Head of Compliance at the Central Bank of Libya. He currently serves as a Financial Crime Compliance Consultant at a global commercial and investment bank.
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Libya Herald.
This article was contributed by the writer as part of a series of pieces by a number of female and male youth, in and outside Libya, invited by Libya Herald to reflect on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 17 February 2011 Libyan Revolution.