A pro-Gadhafi protester carries a picture of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and chants anti-U.N. slogans as demonstrators block the path of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, unseen as he was leaving the Arab League headquarters on his way to Tahrir Square., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Opinion Desert storm - 2
AT GROUND LEVEL By Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star)
Updated March 26, 2011 12:00 AM
That 15,000 Filipinos working and living in strife-torn Libya have chosen to stay there instead of being repatriated here should make us pause and ponder.
Succinctly, through a text message, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario informed President Aquino last Thursday that “placing their lives at risk was… preferred by many over the prospects of no employment and economic hopelessness” in the Philippines. That may be the direst interpretation of their plight.
But consider these data, culled from news reports, given by “a very large group of leaders” who met with Secretary del Rosario at the Philippine embassy in Tripoli:
• Many Filipinos in Libya are members of a provident fund for foreign workers, and they don’t want to lose their gratuity and end-contract benefits by abandoning their jobs.
• Many were encouraged by their employers’ offers to double or raise their salaries, plus hazard pay.
• Nurses in hospitals were assured of safety and promised to be “provided with everything (they) need for free, on top of salary increases.” At least 1,600 to 2,000 Filipino nurses and 100 university professors have preferred to stay.
• A Filipina nursing professor said her school’s administration promised the faculty that they would be paid even if there were no classes.
• Another said fellow Filipino workers were hesitant to give up salaries ranging from 4,500 to 6,000 Libyan dinars, equivalent to P160,000 to P200,000 a month “in exchange for dim prospects of finding similar paying jobs at home.”
• Many Filipino workers have married, raised their families, and settled in Libya for decades.
From these data you can surmise that the employment conditions and salary scales in Libya are far better than in any other Third World country. A provident fund for foreign workers has even been established. Note also that the Libyan government, which runs the hospitals and universities, endeavors to ensure that health services and educational institutions continue to function under conditions of civil war.
These facts, in a way, confirm what I observed in this column last week: that whatever may have been Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s errors or shortcomings that spawned the uprisings in Benghazi and other cities, social and economic deprivation, as in Tunisia and Egypt, can’t be among them.
Before Gadhafi’s 42-year “Socialist Jamahiriya” regime was swamped by the popular anti-government protests now embroiling the Middle East and North African region, a number of journalists wrote upbeat reports on the conditions in Libya. For instance:
Norah Owaraga, in 2007, wrote in the African Executive Magazine: “…(U)nlike other oil producing countries such as Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, ([Libya] utilized the revenue from its oil to develop its [economy]. The standard of living…is one of the highest in Africa, falling in the category of countries with a GNP per capita of between US$2,200 and $6,000.”
British economic journalists David Blundy and Andrew Lycett observed: “The young people are well dressed, well fed and well educated. Libyans now earn more per capita than the British. The disparity in annual incomes… is smaller than in most countries. Libya’s wealth has been fairly spread throughout society. Every Libyan gets free, and often excellent, education, medical and health services. New colleges and hospitals are impressive by any international standard. All Libyans have a house or a flat, a car and most have televisions, video recorders and telephones. Compared with most citizens of the Third World countries, and with many in the First World, Libyans have it very good indeed.”
Last March 4, Gerald A. Perreira of the World Mathaba, who has lived and worked in Libya, added this observation: “All the people have access to doctors, hospitals, clinics and medicines, completely free of all charges. The fact is that the Libyan revolution has achieved such a high standard of living for its people that they import labor from other parts of the world to do the jobs that the unemployed Libyans refuse to do,” preferring to “remain at home supported by the extended family.” Perreira hastened to add that “it is part of the Libyan Arab psyche to own your own small business, and this type of small-scale private enterprise flourishes in Libya.”
You can pick up from these reports that because Libya’s huge revenues from the nationalized oil industry and banks have far exceeded what is needed to provide for its 6.4 million people, the Gadhafi government has practically run a welfare state. But apparently such a welfare state, which may have spoiled a good section of the population with respect to their material needs, has fallen short on other aspects, such as democratic governance.
Understandably, the people in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia rose in revolt mainly because of dismal economic conditions. For their part the Libyans may have yearned for years, and now clamor, for their just share in governance.
The “people’s committee” system that Gadhafi had conceptualized, and supposedly institutionalized, as a means to unite the various rival tribes — and empower them as being all citizens of Libya — hasn’t worked as intended.
Change must be made by the aroused Libyan people, not by interventionist foreign powers.