Thank you for inviting me to speak at this meeting, I also thank you for such a warm welcome, it is a real pleasure to be with you. I am honored.
Last year around this time, I took a year’s leave to Libya for a rather unusual job that was offered to me as the minister of health in Libyan transitional government. The appointment was for eight months, then it was extended to a year due to the difficulties Libya faced in forming the new interim Government.
It was a unique experience, quite challenging, and taught me lessons in life, and, given the 16 previous years I spent in Ireland, it gave me an insight into how much we take for granted and further increased my respect to you, the irish people, as a nation that succeeded in progressing forward, it is harder to maintain freedom than achieving it, you past that stage now, Libya is just starting.
I will give a brief historical account on Libyan revolution and the current situation, including my experience and role:
To sum it up, the revolution in Libya actually started a long time ago, in 1996 by political prison inmates, in Abusaleem, when prison inmates protested against the conditions they were kept in.
In response, the government then committed one of the worst crimes in history, 1200 men were executed in 48 hours and kept it secret.
To make things even worse, their families were only informed of the deceased 13 years later. When news broke, only women were allowed to show grief and to demonstrate. That was an attempt from the government to pretend to the world its flexibility and respect to human rights!
But for Libyans, this was the dark tunnel that lead to the light.
Many more were encouraged by these women’s bravery and started gathering in different parts of the world in solidarity with them.
The government lost control, the world supported the Libyan people, and the date of February the 17th was set to be the day of the revolution.
I was an active member of the Libyan opposition since 2008, when I came to know a large number of political activists, many of them became ministers, ambassadors and last but not the least, one is now the current head of state, Mr Mugaryaf.
During 2011 and in response to the need for medical aid help that arose, my son and I established the humanitarian aid organization, ILEA, that was supported by the Irish hospitals to provide Libyan hospitals with medical aid, from both ROI and NI. The Help was valuable and assisted in saving lives.
I was then asked to form the Libyan health office of Ireland to assist in treating the WW and the medical cases that could not be treated in Libya, the Irish government approved the step and by the end of november 2011, the office was established.
I was then nominated to take the MOH post in the transitional government, and left by the end of November 2011.
I must say, it was not an easy time, the country was just out from one of the most bloody revolutions in history, firearms were at everyone’s grasp, all governmental Institutions had collapsed and people were struggling to overcome the difficulties to return to normal life. The interim government, not unexpectedly, was more of “a crisis management cabinet” than a regular government. MOH’s task was colossal, given the fact that the armed struggle continued at a smaller scale in different parts of the country.
This, combined with the poor state of Libyan hospitals, lack of discipline, lack of security – all lead to another chaotic phase where many were seeking medical care outside Libyan borders, without control and costing the country billions of dollars.
My role was to set a base for the next stage, repatriate the medical care and introduce regulations to improve standards of ethics and medical responsibility, along with finishing unfinished projects, deal with the WW and provide emergency care for the recurrent armed localized conflicts that arise regularly.
I can confidently say that I achieved a good deal of these goals. However, the expectations were much higher, and, combined with PTSD among a large number of Libyan population, this lead to delays, regression and frustration that was used by some to financially benefit from the chaos, which further fueled the anger. These groups even had the capacity to buy the media to spread rumors against the State. They succeeded in attaining short term victories that endangered my life and the lives of those who worked close to me.
As part of my mission, I fought corruption, which was deeply rooted in MOH and was impossible to eradicate within 8 months, but it was not impossible to expose, and that is what I achieved to a good extent.
by the time I finished my term, I can say with confidence that I left behind me organized teams that are continuing to work together along the same lines, from different angles, investigating, collecting data.
Now a program has already been set in motion, when many will be held accountable and corruption will be not tolerated.
Corruption in general is an unhealthy sign in any society and in any ministry, but in the health sector, it is not just about money, it is about lives and values, without which, no nation can survive.
In fighting corruption in Libya, the aim was also to rectify the current culture of tolerance to disrespect to law and ethics, to build a new Libyan nation on a solid base, a healthy environment that respects law and international standards and regulations, which ultimately should provide the people’s needs with dignity, without exploitation and should save the economy.
In resisting and fighting corruption, I lost a large number of friends and I managed to make more enemies, to the extent that, during the last 5 months, I was subject to three attacks and my life became at risk. I cannot say that it was a particularly fun experience, but it was what I expected.
Libya is a beautiful country, wealthy and has been ruined by the previous regime, it is one of the very few countries that are showing a growing economy despite the downturn of the world economy.
Now Libya is in the rebuilding stage and there is plenty of business opportunities in all sectors. Foreign staff are needed during this stage to help training the locals, to introduce ethical standards, and to assist in making the change fast and possible.
I must point out that I listen to the complaints and frustration of the Irish people in relation to the downturn of the economy or about Irish politics, I can’t help but compare between the two: ireland is a baby republic and I truly admire what you have achieved in 96 often conflicted years, and I dream to see Libya reaching the point where you are today.
Nonetheless, witnessing and being part of the revolution, I am proud of what Libya has so far achieved. We are progressing toward a better future, the sacrifices were and still are immense, but we still have a long way to go.
There have been many fascinating moments, one that I would particularly like to mention here is that for 40 years, all what you could see on the billboards were Gaddafi’s propaganda, then during the revolution that changed to photos of the martyrs and the missing, then, a year later, billboards of the candidates for election. This is “change”.
Now that the interim government, which I was part of, has handed over the responsibility to the new transitional government, I am relieved from my direct responsibilities and, I can say that, despite all the difficulties that I have encountered, I kept going – my motto had always been “when there is a will, there is a way”.
I achieved a large number of the goals that I have set, not all but I am confident that my successor will continue what I started and move forward.
I can proudly say that I left behind me something I am truly proud of.
Thank you again.