In his first major interview since he was removed from office last week through a vote of no confidence, former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan blamed the failure of his government on the General National Congress (GNC), the Islamist parties, the militias, the spread of arms and the weak post revolutionary Libyan state.
In a two hour pre-recorded interview aired yesterday evening conducted by former GNC member Hassan Lamin, who ironically has had to flee Libya and seek refuge abroad in the face of threats from militias, Zeidan paid tribute to all who worked with him and apologized for not being able to protect them in the face of apparent intimidation after his departure.
“The worst night of my life” – being chosen as Prime Minister
On being chosen as Prime Minister, Zeidan said that it was the “worst night” of his life as he felt the weight of responsibility of the job.
Asked to assess his performance and that of his government, Zeidan said that he was satisfied in view of the condition of the weak Libyan state. Expectations were high, he explained and the capabilities of the state were low.
When asked if he had felt there were any failures by his government, Zeidan said that security was the main failure. Nevertheless, he attributed this too to the weak post revolutionary Libyan state and its lack of institutions.
Asked about the poor return the Libyan public got on the nearly LD 70 billion budget, with little spent on projects and development, Zeidan said that most of the budget went on wages and subsidies.
“Poor” GNC head Nuri Abusahmain is a “hostage” of the Islamists
Asked about the difference between working with the two GNC heads Mohamed Magarief and Nuri Abusahmain, Zeidan said that on a personal level he got on well with both and that he had a long standing relationship with Magarief from the political opposition years abroad against Qaddafi.
However, Zeidan referred to the current GNC head Nuri Abusahmain as the “poor man” who was “a hostage” of the Islamist Justice and Construction party and the Wafa bloc in the GNC.
They are the ones who decide what the GNC head does, he said. Zeidan gave the example of the handing over of the control of the security of Tripoli by the GNC head to the (Islamist) Libyan Revolutionary Operations Room militia (LROR), as a case in point.
I fear the Islamists monopolize power and turn Libya into Algeria
Zeidan said that he feared that the Islamist bloc consisting of the Ikhwan (the Brotherhood), the Wafa bloc and others would monopolize power in Libya and turn Libya into an Algeria (during the period where the military Islamists were carrying out a terror campaign against the state).
The ex-Prime Minister warned the Libyan public against these blocs in future elections. He accused them of not being loyal to Libya, but loyal to unrealistic ideologies not for the good of Libya.
Libya has no army
Continuing his theme of the weak post revolutionary Libyan state and the non-existence of state institutions, Zeidan admitted that the Libyan state has no army. Challenged by the interviewer about his previous comments that Libya did have an army, Zeidan said that he thought there was an army but then discovered it did not exist.
Zeidan said that there is nothing under the state’s control and that the army does not take orders from the state. “When you look at the salaries, there is an army, but when we call upon it, it is not there”, he explained.
Zeidan’s Kidnapping by militias
Former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan implicated GNC head Nuri Abusahmain and the Islamist militia group LROR in his kidnapping. With regards to the fact that the GNC head visited him while he was still their hostage, yet left without him, Zeidan said that that in itself was telling – without elaborating. Zeidan said that the “poor man” , Abusahmain, was under pressure.
He pointed out that those accused of having a hand in his kidnapping later shared a stage with the GNC head at a press conference and from within the GNC. Following the implication of the LROR militia in his kidnapping, they were nevertheless attached to the Chiefs of Staff and paid by the state.
Zeidan said that when he asked the GNC head who the LROR’s leaders were and how many they were, he was unable to provide an answer.
The former Prime Minister put the reasons for his kidnapping to the fact that he had decided that militias would only be paid either by cheque or through a bank account. “I am not prepared to hand over rubbish bags full of money”, he said. Also, he refused to hand over the pay of a whole militia to their commander, but to members individually.
During his kidnapping guns were put to his head and chest, but he refused to resign, he said. When asked by the interviewer why he hadn’t resigned, Zeidan said it was not in the interest of Libya.
Vote of no confidence was partisan and illegal
With regards to his removal from office last week, former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan rejected the process and procedure saying that it was improper. Zeidan said that it was illegal in that in reality the vote of no confidence only obtained 113 votes, with the balance of votes added later.
It must be noted that the vote was surprisingly carried out off air with the GNC refusing to broadcast the session.
Zeidan said that the GNC also failed to inform him that it was conducting a vote of no confidence in him and failed to call his government in for questioning.
He insisted that the vote was a totally politically partisan move. The vote was not based on the government’s performance, he insisted, but it was because he did not share their ideology or align to them politically. Zeidan revealed that about 50 GNC members rejected him from day one and who were intent on a vote of no confidence in him or his resignation.
I do not recognize this vote of no confidence, Zeidan insisted.
The GNC undermined the government
The former Prime Minister revealed that the GNC constantly interfered in his government’s affairs, behind his back and even spied on his government. Zeidan said that the GNC used unofficial channels and contacts to check-up on the government and to pressurize the government into implementing their ideas – as opposed to the official government policy.
The GNC went out of its way to make the government look weak Zeidan insisted, including taking executive powers which were supposed to belong to the government, not the legislature. They all wanted to rule Libya, he explained.
They obstructed the formation of the army at the expense of the nation, he claimed. Zeidan claimed that the thuwar (militias) were ready to move on the so-called Federalist Ibrahim Jadran, but that the GNC stopped them.
Equally, the GNC interfered in all military matters, including the oil tanker affair and the use of force in Derna, Zeidan added. This was wrong, he insisted, saying that the government was the executive, not the GNC.
On the matter of devolving power to regions and attempting to achieve some progress on the ground, Zeidan said that he had suggested to the GNC that they formed funds for the various cities so that cities could spend their own money on their local problems. The GNC had refused, he said.
Zeidan also admitted that the GNC had attempted to force him into exporting weapons to Syria, which he refused fearing international and UN reputational damage.
GNC members “should pack their bags and leave”
Zeidan was very clear about his interpretation of the Transitional Constitutional Declaration when it comes to the lifespan of the GNC. Their tenure “ends in February in my opinion”, he explained. The GNC members “should pack their bags and leave”, he added.
“I will return to Libya as soon as I can assure my safety”
Ex-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had left Libya on the very day that the GNC had voted him out of office. The interviewer asked him why was it that he had left in haste inviting accusations that he was running away to avoid possible arrest for alleged corruption or misappropriation of public funds such as accusations over the Ibrahim Jadran cheques.
Zeidan pointed out that when he had left, there was no order from the Attorney General to prevent him from travelling. Moreover, he explained that around ten GNC members had after the vote of no confidence “begged” him to leave the country in fear for his life.
They told him that they had received messages after his kidnapping telling them that once without the legal immunity that the Prime Minister enjoyed, they would “resign him of his life”.
I will return to Libya as soon as I can assure my safety, the former Prime Minister assured.
I am not corrupt!
With regards to the suggestion that Zeidan may have been involved in corruption or the misappropriation of public funds, the former Prime Minister said that if there were any wrong doings the Audit Bureau would have directed an official charge at him through the Attorney General’s office.
Zeidan admitted that there were wrong procedures followed or overlooked with regards to the internal rules for spending when it came to spending in emergency and urgent situations as in spending from the incorrect parts of budget, but there are no accusations of corruption, he insisted.
Zeidan questions the sanity of the Grand Mufti
Zeidan accused the Grand Mufti of making “irresponsible” and “conflicting” statements that caused problems for the state. He insisted that he should not interfere in politics and criticized his partisan support for one political bloc and therefore insisted that he should resign.
Zeidan said that the Mufti caused more harm than good with what he said and that he did not recognize his pronouncements. Zeidan went so far as to say that at one stage he questioned the sanity of the ageing Mufti.
Attempted buy-back of arms from Jadran with cheques was legal
With regards to the Ibrahim Jadran LD 35 million cheques debacle, Zeidan said that this was perfectly legal. It was part of an existing arms buy-back policy, he insisted.
During negotiations, the self declared head of the Cyrenaica Political Bureau Ibrahim Jadran had offered to sell his arms to the state as part of lifting his armed blockade on the oil terminals, he explained.
Ibrahim Jadran was the head of the regional Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) in charge of guarding the oil installations in the Libyan oil crescent. Last summer he had embargoed the oil terminals, preventing any oil exports and demanding political federalist concessions from the state, including a share of oil revenue for Cyrenaica.
Zeidan felt that federalism was just an excuse that was used by those who embargoed the oil terminals.
In view of the fact that the oil embargo was costing the Libyan state US$135 million per day, paying Jadran LD 35 million for his arms was good value for money, Zeidan felt.
As part of this transaction, Jadran had insisted as proof of good intention that ten percent of the LD 35 million was paid up front. Zeidan said that Jadran was to be handed a post-dated cheque that could only be cashed after the arms were handed over. The former Prime Minister also wanted to see all of Jadran’s arms lined up along the main road first.
However, Jadran upon receiving the advanced payment cheque attempted to cash it without handing over any arms or withdrawing from the oil terminals. The bank refused, as instructed, to honour the cheque and Jadran called a press conference displaying another set of cheques that he allegedly received from the government, referring to them as an attempted bribe by the government.
Those cheques were allegedly personal cheques paid by the then GNC Energy Committee head Naji Mukhtar to Jadran – and had nothing to do with the government, implied Zeidan.
Zeidan insisted that Jadran had not received a penny from the government and that the cheque had been retained and returned by the bank to the government. It is still in the archives for all to see, he insisted.
Nevertheless, despite agreeing with the principle and the policy, Zeidan was at pains to point out that he was not involved in paying or signing any cheques. That was not his job, he insisted. This process was conducted by the head of the GNC Energy Committee, he explained.
Moreover, Zeidan pointed out that all government spending has to pass through processes via the Audit Bureau. All contracts over LD 500,000 (recently adjusted up to LD 5 million) have to get Audit Bureau pre-approval.
“I challenge anyone”, he said who could prove that he had ordered anything to be paid or anyone to be paid anything. Zeidan said that he had made it clear to the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya to monitor all contracts and to enquire about them if they looked suspicious.
Zeidan revealed that he had reported all these events to the Attorney General, and he insisted that as the Prime Minister he was entitled to take political steps and decisions to “save oil and lives”.
The Morning Glory oil tanker incident
The interviewer asked Zeidan why was it that despite threatening to act strongly against any oil tankers entering Libyan waters, he failed to take action. Zeidan said that the GNC interfered in the execution of matters. The various armed forces had initially informed him that they were able to take action, however requests to prepare a force to take action were ignored, the ex-Prime Minister frankly admitted.
Federalists are not large nor politically developed
With regards to the Federalist movement, Zeidan felt that the movement was small and did not have a developed political vision. He also felt some of its members are extremists. Zeidan felt that the question of federalism should be decided through a legitimate referendum.
PFG grew enormously for the high pay
Zeidan complained that the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG), the branch of the regular Libyan army entrusted with guarding Libya’s oil facilities, had mushroomed from a mere 2,000 to 30,000 in order to obtain the high rate of pay on offer.
The PFG is paid by the NOC and is under the operational command of the Chiefs of Staff. Zeidan complained that many had entered it through “wasta” (connections) but without ever working in it. Ultimately, the PFG rather than protect Libya’s oil installations, held the nation hostage demanding payouts.
Security in Benghazi, Derna and the south
With regards to the security situation in Benghazi, Zeidan blamed the various parties in the city (the local council, the regular army and the militias) for not being able to co-ordinate and work together.
He said that they were given a budget but admitted that there was no evidence of this on the ground. Zeidan said that he could not find a process where all parties could work together despite numerous changes in the make-up and leadership of the Benghazi Joint Security Room (BJSR).Every party wanted to be the main player, he explained.
Zeidan had specific criticism of the Islamist-dominated Benghazi Local Council who he said were only interested in implementing the policies of the Islamist Justice and Construction party.
In Derna the militias were refusing to obey the government and the problem needs the use of force to impose security, which the GNC has refused.
In the south there is also a need for the army to go in and impose its will and collect arms from the public.
More transparency with Libyan public
Asked why he was not more open and transparent with the Libyan public in divulging the truth as to what was actually happening in Libya, Zeidan said that as Prime Minister he had to act with consideration for Libya’s interest. Nevertheless, he felt that the Libyan public knew what was going on anyway.
Having said that, Zeidan admitted that he has still not divulged all, again in the national interest of Libya.
Foreign interference in Libyan government affairs
Zeidan refuted claims that there were any attempts by foreign governments to interfere in his government’s affairs and said that he had no proof of any government interfering in Libyan affairs generally.
The ex-Prime Minister said that Libyans do not trust each other enough to voluntarily handover arms to the state or to another Libyan, adding that he did not blame them. Zeidan insisted that they need a neutral person or entity such as the UN to implement arms collection.
Optimistic about the future
Despite all this, Zeidan claimed that he was optimistic about Libya’s future and Libya will get out of this crisis. Libya needed to end the term of the GNC and it should accept the recommendations of the February Committee for early elections and constitutional reform totally without amendment. This is contrary to the GNC vote last week which did not approve the direct election of the next president.
Zeidan also insisted that there should be clear divisions of power between the executive (government) and the legislature (parliament) with clear powers and limitations for the new president. Equally, Zeidan insisted that militias had to give up their weapons.
In conclusion, Zeidan called upon Libya’s political elite to give up their ideologies and politics. This was not the time, he added, this is the time for compromise for the sake of building Libya, he pleaded
Article by Sami Zaptia, Libya Herald.
This article was originally published here.