6 April 2011

Thinking Paper #5 - On the need for a post-bureaucratic age -Is Muamar Gaddafi in league with bureaucracy?

By Tim Massingberd-James
  • Abstract
Whilst Libyan rebels state that bureaucracy is the cause of losses in the Libyan ground war, Muamar Gaddafi maintains a significant bureaucracy. However, as seen elsewhere in the world, public officials have actually been a stifling force, and have delayed key reforms that may have led to much-needed changes. Muamar Gaddafi is only in league with bureaucracy because he has to be. Like all of us, he has no choice.


  • Is Muamar Gaddafi in league with bureaucracy?
In a press conference on 6th April 2011, Libyan rebels complained that NATO bureaucracy was delaying their response to calls from airstrikes, allowing the Libyan regime’s tanks and artillery to attack rebel forces before retreating into civilian areas, to avoid airstrikes.

Many believe the reason NATO forces were so quick to become involved in Libya was a plan unveiled by Gaddafi in 2009, where he proposed the nationalisation of Libya’s oil wealth, effectively handing over resources to the country’s huge bureaucracy, which both American and Chinese officials described as ‘byzantine’ in leaked wikileaks cables. In a landmark speech on state TV, Gaddafi said "the state's economy has failed. Enough is enough. The solution is for the Libyan people to directly receive oil revenues and decide what to do with them".

However, as part of this plan, Gaddafi urged a radical reform of government bureaucracy, leading to senior government officials voting to delay his plans, with only 64 of 468 Popular Committee members in support.

In a 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index survey, where people were asked to rate the degree of corruption of the Libyan civil service on a scale between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt), a highly questionable score of 2.1 was awarded, showing that the Libyan bureaucracy, like Muamar Gaddafi, is perceived as corrupt.

In an article for the Independent in 2011, Paul Peachey described the way that Gaddafi keeps power in a country with no written constitution, where he is technically not actually president. Peachey said “in an essentially tribal society with no constitution and a decisionmaking process...the system is administered by an old guard whose livelihood depends on continued graft… so deeply implicated that Colonel Gaddafi could depend on their loyalty”.

Despite this, Otman & Karlberg’s “The Libyan economy: economic diversification and international repositioning” (Springer, 2007) shows that the numbers employed by the Libyan civil service actually declined between 1978, shortly before Gaddafi took power, when it employed 76,800, to 1983, when numbers had been reduced to 61,000. Since then, numbers have, to an estimated 118,000, but this is more than accounted for by population growth, which saw the total population of Libya rise from roughly 1m in 1962 to more than 5.6m by 2006.

Indeed, as part of a plan of reform for the Libyan public service, the Gaddafi family appointed the Adam Smith Institute to devise a masterplan for reform of the Libyan public service, but this was sidelined in 2007, when Saif al-Islam Al-Gaddafi, Muamar’s eldest son announced that the salaries of public sector employees will be raised by 25%, and also increased the employees' housing allowance by 237%.

  • Conclusion
Whilst Libya maintains a significant bureaucracy, and NATO bureaucracy has apparently delayed air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces, it would appear that in Gaddafi’s Libya, far from being in league with the mad colonel, bureaucracy is one of the few ways his power is kept in check, to the extent that the Libyan bureaucracy has even been able to extract beneficial concessions in terms and concessions from his son.

^Picture © Abode of Chaos used under Creative Commons^

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