Libyans swap jewelry for medical treatment as crisis bites

A man displays Libyan Dinar banknotes in a jewelry store in the old city of Tripoli, Libya October 26, 2017. Picture taken October 26, 2017. (Reuters/Ismail Zitouny)
Updated 16 November 2017

Libyans swap jewelry for medical treatment as crisis bites

TRIPOLI: In a square behind Libya’s central bank, black market dealers, some of them armed, carry small plastic bags filled with dollars and larger ones with dinars in and out of one of many informal exchanges.
Traders buy food and other goods from abroad at the official rate and sell them at the unofficial one, pocketing vast profits; others make equally large sums by smuggling out heavily subsidised fuel.
In the back streets of the old city meanwhile, ordinary people have resorted to selling jewelry or dollars hidden at home as six years of post-dictatorship chaos take their toll.
“I haven’t been paid for four months,” said Fatima, 40, from the southern city of Sabha as she sold three small gold charms to pay for diabetes treatment for her sister, Hasina, who added: “We’re helpless, there’s nothing else we can do.”
In other signs of rising poverty, elderly women beg motorists for cash on Tripoli’s streets and families queue for charity food handouts. The UN estimated that about 1.3 million people in Libya need humanitarian assistance this year.
Their situation took another turn for the worse in the past two weeks after the black market rate of the dinar, which has long languished at record lows, slid again, fueling inflation that is already around 25-30 percent.
The central bank blamed the audit bureau and the UN-backed government for restricting letters of credit that fund basic supplies to a divided country where a security vacuum and smuggling networks have destabilized the wider region.
Officials had come across suspect requests — one to import tuna worth $120,000, more than the country consumes in a year, according to a Libyan entrepreneur who declined to be named, fearing retribution from Libya’s powerful armed groups.
Just $2.5 billion of an expected $7.4 billion of credit has been allocated, the trader said, helping knock the dinar from around 8.5 to 9.25 against the dollar on the black market. Its value has fallen by more than 600 percent since early 2014.
The economy ministry was not immediately available for comment on a complex credit system that passes through commercial banks and where the audit bureau had documented earlier abuses and lack of oversight.
“We’re talking about an extremely bad economic and financial situation,” Central Bank Governor Sadiq Al-Kabir said in a rare news conference on Tuesday. “Everyone, whether legislative or executive, holds responsibility equally.”

Elusive peace
Traders and economists say political uncertainty is a major factor weakening the currency, with UN talks to broker a deal between rival factions currently suspended.
Libya is struggling to fund food imports and defend its foreign reserves, which the World Bank estimates will stand at $67.5 billion at the end of this year, compared to $123.5 billion in 2012.
International experts say the only way to resolve the issue is to devalue the dinar from the official exchange rate of 1.37 to the dollar, but agreeing an economic strategy in a country dominated by armed factions with rival governments and no budgets is no simple task.
A powerful or well-connected minority who are profiting from a flourishing shadow economy have little interest in change.
The central bank did not comment on devaluation, but economists and diplomats say the bank is reluctant to devalue without a policy plan in place to deal with the resulting shock.
Libya managed this year to lift oil production to about 1 million barrels a day, but output is stuck well below the levels before the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.
Revenues that normally account for about 80 percent of gross domestic product are largely used to pay salaries, including those of armed factions added to the state payroll for their role in the uprising. Subsidies include a $4 billion-plus annual fuel subsidy that is among the most generous in the world.
Premiums on the official exchange rate and subsidised fuel make Libya “a criminal and terrorist cross-border funding paradise,” said Husni Bey, chairman of HB Group, one of Libya’s biggest private firms.
“Most instability in Libya today is of a criminal nature... due to the lack of equitable exchange rate for the Libyan dinar and the subsidies that must be changed from goods to direct cash contributions.”
Last year Libya spent around $26 billion, but earned just $6 billion. “This year we estimate that revenues should increase to around $14 billion, but spending will likely be more than double this,” said Mark Griffiths, Libya Mission Chief for the International Monetary Fund. “This is not sustainable.”
The government has sought to reduce the public salary bill by 5 billion dinars annually, clamping down on abuse by removing some 100,000 people who had been claiming several salaries, according to a finance ministry report.
Libyans became used to plentiful public jobs and state handouts as Qaddafi sought to buy loyalty like other Middle Eastern oil producers. Migrant workers used to do the manual work, now Libyans without contacts have taken their place.
Salman Rashid, a public servant, said he had received just three months-worth of pay in the past year. “It’s not enough for basic needs,” he said. “Now I work on construction sites and in buildings maintenance.”
Entrepreneurs have withdrawn deposits from banks for fear of employees leaking word of them to kidnappers and others also prefer to keep money at home.
In a second shop in the old city, a woman who gave her name as Karima was changing 500 euros. “I need to go to Tunis for surgery and am selling my foreign currency holdings,” she said. “Times are very difficult now.”
Shop owner Salahedin Zarti, 52, said up to 10 people come in daily to sell necklaces, bracelets and rings.
“In the beginning it was every day, but now I think people are starting to run out of jewelry,” he said.


Yemen government to begin first evacuation flights for stranded citizens 

Updated 28 May 2020

Yemen government to begin first evacuation flights for stranded citizens 

  • Yemenia flights will be sent to Egypt, Jordan and India in the first stage of the evacuation flights
  • After returning to Yemen, citizens will be sent to health centers for check-ups

Yemen’s internationally recognized government will begin the first evacuation flights for citizens who have been stranded abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, state news agency SABA reported. 
The first evacuation flight will be sent to Jordan on Thursday, a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed with Yemen’s Supreme National Emergency Committee for COVID-19 heard. 
This came after the committee approved the protocol for evacuating citizens stranded abroad, which includes procedures and timetables for scheduling the return of citizens to Yemen, and organizing specific health and precautionary controls and procedures, the news agency said. 
The authorities are tasked with the rapid implementation of precautionary measures in preparation for the returning citizens. 

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Yemenia flights will be sent to Egypt, Jordan and India in the first stage of the evacuation flights. Yemeni nationals will be tested prior to travel and will receive a health certificate from an accredited medical center.
After returning to Yemen, citizens will be sent to health centers for check-ups, treatment and to keep track of their data. Returning nationals will also be required to self-quarantine at home.  
Stranded nationals will be informed of flight times immediately after the necessary permits with the countries in which they are in are completed, the committee said. 
The Minister of Public Health and head of the committee, Dr Nasser Baoum, and Deputy Prime Minister Salem Al-Khanbashi presented a report on the development of the situation in Aden. The report discussed the establishment of a medical unit for the treatment and reception of cases of coronavirus infection. 
The committee also reviewed the report submitted by the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, Hussein Mansour, on those stranded in Saudi Arabia and discussed measures for their return. Mansour said discussions were in place with Saudi official to schedule their return.
In Yemen, scores of COVID-19 cases have been recorded across the country, but the UN warns that the virus is spreading largely undetected. Hundreds of people in the interim capital Aden have died in the past week with symptoms of what appears to be the coronavirus, local health officials said.
The officials fear the situation is only going to get worse as Yemen has little capacity to treat those suspected of having the virus.