Othman Abdul Jalil announces his candidacy for Libya president: “I will cleanse the country of corruption”

By Vanessa Tomassini.

“We hope to go to elections on December 24th. The meeting in Tunis a few days ago came at the right time as there are some groups and some institutions trying to postpone or cancel elections. The initiative really was meant to promote elections, suggest some guidelines to candidates on how run their campaigns, and accepting the elections results. A lot of influential people came to this meeting whether from the House of Representatives, High Council of State, and from the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, in addition to several other influential figures. There were really good recommendations”. Dr. Othman Abdul Jalil, former Minister of Education in the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Serraj says.

Abdul Jalil is considered the only or one of the few high-performing ministers in the previous executive: he gave birth to several scholarships and partnerships with foreign countries, including the European Union, to allow Libyans to study abroad. He initiated a profound reform of the school system, managing to make substantial improvements, expected by the Libyans for decades. Othman Abdul Jalil is a geneticist, holds a PhD and a master’s degree from Mc Gill University in Canada, and is now a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tripoli.

Will you run for the next elections?

“Yes”.

And will you run alone or with any coalition?

So far, I am independent. I do not belong to any party, but as a technocrat who knows how things run in Libya. I think I got a good experience as a former minister. If in the future it will be necessary to make some coalitions, I can think about that. I mean I do not have objection.”

If u have to make a coalition, for example you have to choose another personality as a president, who you will choose? I can give you some names: Fathi Bashagha, …

“It’s ok, I will take Fathi Bashagha. Me and Fathi have a good relationship previously as we were ministers at the same time. We are very close; we can work together nicely. So, he will be the first with who I might make a coalition.”

What do you think of the work made so far by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah and his Government?

“I don’t agree with what he is doing. I am very critical to this Government as it is not doing things in the right way and it is not working for the country’s benefit. I think they are wasting so much money and there is a lot of corruption. They are really going to sink the country if they continue like that”.

Can you tell us some examples of what you really do not like?

“All the publicity Dbeibah is making on the expense of Libya’s best interest, all the money and contracts of billions and billions, which we know that do not cost even ten percent of what Libya is paying. And he is doing it without any approval, they do not follow any regulations. They just sign contract for four billion, ten billion… and I am not talking of millions but billions! Plus, some other things they are doing now, spending like crazy for the salaries in the country because their policy is just showing they are doing things the wrong way.”

So, do you think the Government of National Unity is paying money to buy people?

“Yes, exactly.”

Why they are doing that? Do they try to convince people to stay longer or Al-Dbeibah already started his electoral campaign?

“I think he is working on both. He would love to stay longer before the elections because he doesn’t want to take the chance. I don’t blame Libyan people, because their conditions are bad so I can understand them. But for him, or anyone is on charge, doing that is very bad thing. So, he wants to stay longer if he can, or if not, he will go for election although he is now allowed to run because of the pledge and promise he made when he was chosen as a prime minister by LPDF. But he doesn’t care to break any promise, any alliance, any rule, anything at any time. That is another thing I don’t like about him and I criticize him publicly.”

If you will be elected president of Libya, what will be your priorities?

“It is a big program, of course, and I can’t summarize it in few words, but I am focusing on education to rebuild the country. If we can apply the reform plans for the educational system that I have, the country will look much different in a few years. Definitely, security is another issue that we have to work on it and national reconciliation. My workhorse, since when I was minister, is fighting corruption. Corruption is a serious matter, it’s everywhere in the country, in all sectors and at all levels. We need someone who is strong, knowledgeable, and as we say in Libya, very clean. So, we need to reduce corruption to the minimum, improve education, improve security to the normal level and work on national reconciliation as Libyans since 2011 are just fighting each other. Those are the four top priorities of my program. Then we can work on development, on the diversification of our economy which is mainly based on the oil sector, but oil will finish very soon. Clean energy, green economy are the main projects I am thinking to, and free trade zones. My program is simple, straightforward and we do not need to spend so much money as the Libyan state is doing right now”.

You were doing really a good job as a minister of education in the GNA, you were one of the few ministers really performing well, at least judging from outside. Can you tell us your experience in the Serraj’s Government and what went wrong at the end?

“Thank you. Definitely, because I am a professor and when I was appointed minister of the Education, I really knew what needs to be done. So, it didn’t take me long to start reforming the education system. There is really a lot to say about this and time perhaps is not enough to explain everything. All the work was based on a total reform of the education from primary school to university, scholarships and research centers. It is a hard work and based on the testimonial of so many people, what has been done in those two years when I was on charge was not done in twenty or thirty years. That is something good, because we touched so many aspects and gave people example that change is possible. This, by definition, will create enemies. As for example when I stopped the salaries of 153 thousand of ghost employees, some people didn’t like it. This is one example of the so many things I touched that people didn’t like. Or when I introduced the evaluation for teachers, some did not like it, the exams for students… and so on. What we really tried to do was to eliminate corruption from the Ministry at all levels, verifying contracts, etc. This created so many enemies here and there. And at the end, I think they succeeded by pushing Serraj to split the ministries into two. For me, this was unacceptable because there was no reason for doing such action. It was the only Ministry working efficiently at that time. Technically, for my understanding, you cannot split the Education into two, all levels are interconnected. If you split the Ministry into two, everything will be even worst because everyone will work independently. So, I realized, and he admitted as well, that it was for the so much of pressure by many groups that did not like what I was doing. So, they didn’t convince me and I left. I resigned publicly and on air. It was something new at least, Libyans were not used to see any official resigns. Serraj himself is a good guy. I cannot really say much about him. He let me do what I think was good and he never interfered”.

But then, he replaced you with someone that was hardly criticized across the country. People were accusing him to be islamist, linked with terrorists… that I don’t know if true or not, but this was what majority of Libyan was saying…

“Yes, the accusations that he is extremist, linked with terrorist and corrupted, but I don’t know if that is true or not. After I left, Serraj didn’t split the Ministry anymore, which confirms that this was not actually the reason, and the real reason was me to be out. That’s it.  One of the things I regret is that we let them do what they wanted to do. That’s why I am coming back now for elections, I will clean the country from all the corruption, all this mess. We can do it.”

You are from Zintan, the city represents an important link between the East and the West, and also between the south and the coast of Libya. Especially when we talk about military. What’s your position about the departure of mercenaries and foreign forces that particularly Turkey and Russia moved into Libya?

“I am really outspoken about this from the beginning: all mercenaries should leave immediately. No exceptions, all of them, Turkish, Russians, Sudanese, everybody. If I get the chance, this will be the first thing I will do: let them leave our country.”

How you see Khalifa Haftar? Can he have a role in the future of Libya?

“Really, I don’t know if he is serious about going into elections or not. For me, as long he accepts to be under the civil umbrella and the democratic state, if he wants to throw his military uniform and wear civil dress, for me it is fine and will not object. I will not vote for him, but If Libyans choose him, there is no problem as long he will guarantee a democratic state. We lived 42 years under dictatorship and we do not want to go back. We ask for human rights and opportunities for everyone, without distinctions, free media, free speech, equal rights for minorities, including women and youth. We want a modern State like the rest of the world. We are now on 2021, and the world is moving so fast. If he, or anyone else, accept this, can run for elections.”

And if he runs and doesn’t win, you think he can go back to his position of general commander?

“I guess depends on the new president because he will be the Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army and he will appoint the General Commander. I really do not mind for the good of the country and to prevent war. If someone is professional in his job, he can rebuild a military institution, I mean… why not.”

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