The institutional arrangement governing SWM in Libya creates incentives for the current SWM providers to oppose and resist any structural reform, such as delegation to the municipalities, that could threaten their financial or political interests.
The management and provision of solid waste have experienced continuous structural and operational changes over the past five decades in Libya, motivated by political considerations and characterized by shortsighted solutions.
Before 1970, the service was primarily provided by private companies, but starting from that year, the entire service provision process was nationalized and assigned to the public sector, as was the case with all services.
The service repeatedly swung between local and national management modalities. Since 2010, however, it has been administered by national ministries, which continues to be the status quo.
The frequent changes in the sector’s management modalities have weakened the government’s institutional capacity and hollowed it of any experiential expertise and managerial knowledge, which has contributed to the government’s inability to design the new institutional set-up to facilitate the delegation of responsibilities.
Currently, the Public Services Companies (PSCs) provide the service. PSCs are stateowned enterprises and there are 23 PSCs covering all of Libya. In most Libyan cities, these PSCs manage the entire waste cycle from trash collection to final disposal and landfill management.
In big cities, private cleaning companies play a supporting role to the PSCs, but are limited to the narrow task of street trash collection.
The reintroduction of the private companies to the SWM sector took place in the early 1990s, when it became evident that the public sector was unable to meet the expanding urbanization of the big cities. Except in Benghazi and a few other cities, PSCs directly subcontract these private companies to support the trash collection process.
No governmental agency has any oversight over how, with which, and under what criteria these private companies are being contracted.
In Benghazi, the municipality directly contracts private companies to collect trash from the street, which it was only able to do after the central government lifted the municipal budget ceiling to pay for services.
In this way, the municipality of Benghazi is one of few Libyan cities that provides SWM in accordance with law No. 59 on Local Administration, which grants administrative and financial control over the service to the municipalities.
The Public Service Companies have every incentive to keep the status quo as it is. The Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) pays the PSCs a lump-sum amount each year for the provision of the service, but there is no formal contracting process.
This lump-sum amount is calculated based on a formula that uses a World Bank estimated average for waste generation per person for middle-income countries multiplied by a unit cost of each collected ton of waste, rather than the actual weight of trash per location in Libya, because almost all weighing equipment at the landfills have been damaged.
Therefore, these payments are not conditioned by any performance indicators or targets. Not only does the MoLG not hold the PSCs accountable against any agreed-upon performance indicators or targets, but it also exercises little oversight over how PSCs fulfill their self-appointed duties since there is no contract in place.
The MoLG paid around 410 million LYD in 2019 to PSCs. This budget is spent mostly on solid waste collection, transfer, and final disposal, but also provides for other services such as parks and cemeteries maintenance, public sanitary protection, and street decorations.
Accounting for inflation and the fact that the unit cost per ton of collected waste was last updated in 2013, the PSCs are significantly underfunded in comparison to previous years.
In 2012, for instance, the MoLG paid 500 million LYD for solid waste management. However, given that the PSCs do not submit any financial reports to the MoLG, it is difficult for the MoLG to know exactly how the money is spent.
Estimates indicate that at least two thirds of this amount go into staff salaries. These PSCs are considerably overstaffed, which, among other issues, diverts funds that should be going to maintenance of equipment and landfills to salaries of staff who do not work.
The MoLG pays this amount from the fourth chapter of the government budget, which deals with subsidies and is not subject to any auditing process. Such an arrangement is a recipe for corruption and poor delivery of the service.
Fearing that the municipalities will not have the financial resources to cover their costs nor be able to continue the current nocontract status with the ministry — valid concerns — the PSCs have every incentive to block any attempt to transfer the SWM responsibilities from the MoLG to the municipalities.
In fact, the PSC in Tripoli has twice appealed in court against government decisions to delegate SWM responsibilities to municipalities. The PSC won both appeals by leveraging old yet still in-place legislation against the incomplete local administration legal framework; the two cases are explained below.
Libyan citizens are negatively impacted by poor service delivery, but the current institutional arrangement provides no channel for citizen participation or feedback. Citizens lack awareness about the depth and extent of the issue of solid waste. Trash could continue to accumulate; citizens would just burn it as a quick ‘solution’.
Furthermore, since only the PSCs conduct trash collection in most Libyan cities, there is no competition and thus no incentive for the PSCs to improve the delivery of the service.
Also, given that the service is provided by the PSCs and directly financed by the MoLG, there is little incentive for citizens to engage with their elected municipal officials about a service that these officials have no control over.
However, if SWM were provided and funded by municipalities across the country, citizens would be able to gauge the relative quality of their city’s SWM and hold municipal officials accountable for substandard service provision.
Additionally, SWM in Libya could be improved if municipalities managed it directly as it would help clarify the division of SWM responsibilities and roles between the different institutions, give attention to other neglected aspects such as waste treatment, and allow the municipalities to collect service fees from citizens to recover the waste collection and disposal services costs and alleviate municipal budget constraints.
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.