Over the past ten years, Libya has endured one of the most difficult periods in its modern history. The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, subsequent intrasocietal domestic conflicts, a series of unstable governments, and lack of institutional development have created complex and challenging issues for the country when it comes to effective governance.
The country saw a glimmer of hope last year when the United Nations-brokered process established the Government of National Unity (GNU), ended the parallel and competing dual governance situation, and promised national elections in December 2021.
However, the promised elections did not take place, the situation has almost returned back to square one with two competing governments, and the political process is in a limbo. Whether or not Libya produces a new governing structure and holds national elections, moving forward, the Libyan governments will have to tackle the growing deficit of state legitimacy, which largely stems from the lack of service delivery, among other factors.
This was evident in the mass demonstrations that took place in Tripoli and in Benghazi in the summer of 2020, which called for better living conditions. Regardless of which camp they support or under which government’s control they fall, people across Libya suffer from poor or inadequate provision of basic services, such as electricity, access to banking services, trash collection, and water supply.
The continuous deterioration of these services in Libya threatens to further erode state legitimacy and impede all attempts to end Libya’s transitional period. Improving the provision of basic services in Libya is an extremely challenging task.
Governments in Libya face a number of challenges, which range from legal to operational and institutional. Additionally, the toll that the different wars have had on service delivery infrastructure and the lack of in-house technical expertise have made reforming these sectors even more difficult.
Furthermore, due to the legacy of 42-years of top-down policy making culture in Libya, public service providers are usually advised by engineers who are adept at providing engineering solutions but lack experience in addressing institutional problems and formulating policy advice.
To begin improving the provision of essential services in Libya, a rigorous examination of their institutional set-up and the legal frameworks that govern them is a necessary first step. This series of policy papers is an attempt in this direction.
The three policy papers cover the service provision of solid waste management, electricity, and water in Libya. For each service, the team examined the institutional set-up of the sector, i.e., how the service is institutionally organized at the central and local levels, the decision-making processes, and the underlying causes of the declined functionality of the service.
Based on these analyses, the team proposed a set of short- and long-term practical recommendations for national and international policy makers. The short-term recommendations are grounded in realism about the limits of what can be achieved given the current situation in Libya.
Despite nearly a decade of attempts to delegate solid waste management to local authorities, Libya has been unable to overcome a series of institutional and legal obstacles, resulting in a low-quality and inefficient waste management system.
Most Libyan laws on the management of solid waste – passed both before and after 2011 – assign the provision of the service to local authorities across the country.
Municipalities are better placed to provide responsive and better-quality service given their proximity to the citizens and their ability to closely monitor the service provision on the ground.
Yet despite the existing legislative mandates, solid waste management remains the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government, with local municipal authorities playing little or no role in the management of the service.
In 2019, the Presidential Council attempted to enforce the local administration law (Law 59), which assigns the municipalities jurisdiction over the management of the service, but because of legal loopholes, vague definitions of roles, contradicting regulations, and unwillingness by the current service providers to change the status quo, these efforts effected no change.
This policy paper examines the existing legal and institutional arrangements that are preventing the delegation of Solid Waste Management to the municipalities as outlined in the local administration law.
This paper proposes that the Ministry of Local Government should amend Decree 434 (2010) which regulates the work of the Public Service Companies – the current service providers – and should negotiate a new relationship between these companies and municipalities after the delegation of responsibilities.
Without these two key changes, the Ministry of Local Government may be unable to delegate the management of the service to the municipalities as mandated in the local administration law.
Solid waste management (SWM) is one of the core basic services that significantly affect citizens’ daily lives and a polity’s overall governance.
SWM refers to the process of collection of waste from streets and public spaces and treatment and disposal of this collected waste. Over the last five decades, the volume of solid waste in Libya has risen significantly due to increased urbanization and population growth, yet the state capacity to manage this increasing waste volume is lagging.
Pre-COVID19 pandemic estimates indicate that only 50%-80% of citizens were provided the service. Even fewer would have reported satisfaction with its provision. The deteriorated situation is evidenced by three related phenomena, which represent only the most obvious failures of SWM:
(a) the accumulation of trash in public,
(b) widespread garbage burning, and
(c) open dumping.
These three phenomena are seen and felt by every Libyan citizen, contribute to poor quality of life, and weaken the social fabric of the community.
First is the piling and accumulation of trash in streets and public spaces resulting from trash-collection workers’ strikes; the lack of equipment, vehicles, and human resources to remove it; insufficient trash collection frequencies; and poor route planning.
Limited resource allocation and a management system detached from local needs are the underlying causes of these problems.
The second phenomenon is trash burning, which is a byproduct of the first issue. When waste accumulates in the street and no one shows up to collect it, the only alternative residents have is to eliminate it by incineration, even though they are knowingly generating public health and environmental hazards in the surrounding communities. The third situation is open dumping.
When residents tire of seeing trash accumulate in front of their homes, they take it to the nearest empty land area.
Over time, these areas become a de facto uncontrolled and open landfill and a source for toxic gases. Citizens resorting to these harmful practices are only the symptoms, not the disease.
Besides the heavy toll that the different conflicts have had on the service infrastructure, the root causes stem from poor regulations and inadequate SWM policies and practices that the state has adopted over the last five decades.
In other words, the alarming state of solid waste across Libya represents the sum total of the policies and decisions of the country’s SWM system. This situation not only produces the immediate results that we now see, but also generates long term effects that can lead to deeper and more disruptive outcomes.
If no structural changes are made to the current system, continued ineffective SWM threatens to further exacerbate poor living conditions for Libyans and weaken the already worn-out social contract between the state and the citizens.
Improving solid waste management in Libya is a challenging task, however. The government’s current approach to improving the quality of the service is to delegate the responsibility of managing the service from the Ministry of Local Government to the municipalities.
The rationale is that municipalities are better placed to provide responsive and good-quality service given their proximity to the citizens and their ability to closely monitor the service provision on the ground.
This approach faces a number of challenges, which range from legal to operational and institutional. These challenges are made worse by the government’s lack of in house subject-specific policy advisors.
In SWM, the government has traditionally been advised by engineers who are adept at providing engineering solutions but lack experience in addressing institutional problems and formulating policy advice.
The Government of National Unity is struggling to rebuild state credibility and citizen trust in the system, which stems from the lack of service delivery and other mismanagement behaviors by previous governments.
This was evident in the mass demonstrations that took place in Tripoli on 23 August 2020 and in Benghazi on 12 September 2020, which called for better living conditions and service provision.
Regardless of which camp they support, people across Libya suffer from inadequate provision of basic services, such as electricity, access to banking services, trash collection, and water supply.
The continuous deterioration of services threatens to further erode state legitimacy and undermine the potential for Libya’s transitional period and success of future governments.
Source: “Challenges And Steps Forward For Public Services Reforms In Libya” by Mohamed Elmagbri, Heba Al-Sheikh, Lamis Ben Aiyad, and Rima Hamidan. Published by The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.