Answering questions at yesterday’s House of Representatives (HoR) session, Libya’s Prime Minister Abd Alhamid Aldabaiba gave as good as he got. He was robust, coming across as confident and sincere, yet humble that parliament was his superior body and was ready to cooperate.
He was humble in using the Libyan dialect and often exposing his lack of oratory capabilities in the classical Arabic. But the average Libyan would have connected with him in his simplicity in answering questions.
He also exposed his short memory span. He constantly needed prompting from his aid whenever questions were in two or three long parts.
He apologised for his delayed arrival on Tuesday blaming it on delays caused by transport and the demonstration in front of parliament. He stressed that both he and his government were happy to turn up as often and for as long as necessary to face questions.
Yet Aldabaiba did not suffer fools gladly. He was prepared to stick the knife into a member from Tawergha for slighting him and threatened to stop talking when members were heckling him mid answer.
He did not rise to numerous childish taunts and questions, including Hafter-supporting members who attempted on numerous occasions to incite him into an answer he would regret.
One member accused him of never attending army graduation ceremonies in the east – unlike in the west. He quipped ‘‘I never received an invitation’’ knowing very well Hafter would never invite him and allow him to steal the limelight from him.
But he was equally as happy to ignore many questions, answering the parts he wanted and ignoring the traps.
HoR exposed as poor quality
If anything, the session exposed even further how poor the HoR was. While there is quality in the House, sadly many members were below average. Ageela Saleh had his hand full trying to keep order as a couple of members looked like they started fighting. The HoR controlled cameras quickly switched away until order was restored.
On numerous occasions, members insisted on interrupting and not waiting their turn. Often they were as bad as out of control school children.
Rare occasion to view democracy in action and accountability
Nevertheless, for all of the disorder and school ground antics, it was a rare occasion for Libyans to see their highly paid representatives performing their duties. It was good to see the more intelligent members put the government under the microscope and it was good to see the government able to defend its corner. It is just the process that still needs much refining. Libyans want and expect more of their elected representatives.
Foreign mercenaries and armed forces
On the question regarding foreign forces, Aldabaiba said he had been making great efforts to remove foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya. ‘‘We visited several countries in order to push for the exit of all mercenaries and foreign forces from Libya’’.
Transfer of NOC HQ to Benghazi
Deflecting another possible hand grenade, Aldabaiba said he had absolutely no objection to transferring the National Oil Corporation’s headquarters to Benghazi. He said he awaited such a written and detailed proposal from the NOC. He warned that it would not be happening too soon as preparations needed to be made, including its new building.
With regards to the to and fro between his government and the HoR regarding the 2021 budget – the HoR has failed to approve the third draft of the budget so far – Aldabaiba said the budget had mushroomed because of the devaluation of the Libyan dinar four-fold. He explained that parts of the budget that involved paying with foreign currency had quadrupled. He also pointed out that the HoR had insisted he include their proposed pay rises.
He said the budget included LD 20 bn for development and projects, including LD 7 bn for projects – but that this was just an allocation and none of this had been spent yet.
HoR figures for government spending wrong
After listening to comments by respected HoR Budget Committee member Abdelsalam Nasia, Aldabaiba said the figures on how much the government had spent were wrong.
Nasia said he had to obtain the figures from the Central Bank of Libya. The Finance Minister said that his Ministry was open to providing figures to parliament and that his Ministry had never received a request for the provision of figures.
Obtaining anti-Coronavirus vaccines
While appreciating that several states had helped Libya source its 3 million-plus doses of anti-Coronavirus vaccines, Aldabaiba stressed that they were not in the form of donations and Libya had paid for them.
Paying to retrieve stranded planes from abroad
Aldabaiba revealed that Libya’s Transport Ministry had to pay LD 150 million to retrieve 13 planes stranded abroad.
In response to the size of his government’s proposed 2021 budget, Aldabaiba said that it had no allocations for any debt repayments, adding that the previous governments had amassed over LD 70 billion of debts.
Libya and Tunisia had recently got into a spat over which country was exporting terrorists to whom. In the to and fro with parliamentarians over the recently fraught relations with neighbouring Tunisia, Aldabaiba revealed that he was visiting Tunisia today and that both countries needed each other.
The land borders are still closed and flights between the two countries are still suspended – ostensibly because of the pandemic.
Licence for gold mining
On the recent decision to offer licences for gold mining and the apparent licence obtained by Aldabaiba’s relative for a 50-year concession, Aldabaiba promised that he had never heard of the licence issue until yesterday via social media.
He vowed if it was obtained contrary to the law it would be rescinded. Today there were leaked letters of the Audit Bureau ordering the licence be rescinded.