At least 20 officials, including several from the Muammar Qaddafi era, are expected to be detained pending an investigation into the collapse of two dams that left thousands dead and thousands more missing, a senior official in Libya's Benghazi-based government told The National.
Earlier, prosecutors said they had questioned several officials, including current members of the Water Resources Authority and the Dams Management Authority, over allegations of mismanagement and negligence.
An arrest order was issued for a number of officials, including the former mayor of Derna, which bore the brunt of the deluge of water and debris that was unleashed following the dams' collapse last month.
“This is not a political game. Every person responsible should be held accountable,” Deputy Prime Minister of the parliament-backed government Salem Al Zadma told The National.
By some accounts, the dams had not been maintained in more than two decades, resulting in their dilapidation and eventual collapse during the unexpectedly heavy storm on September 10.
“The recent arrests were just the beginning. There will be many people, including some officials from the former government, who will be a part of this investigation. That is, at least 20 people, including former ministers,” he said.
Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, before a split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.
While Mr Zadma admitted to corruption across the country, he said the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity is “the most corrupt in the history” of Libya.
Last year, only nine other countries were deemed more corrupt than Libya in Transparency International's ranking that included 180 countries.
Economic mismanagement has also been rife, amid rows between the rival governments over oil revenue and production, as well as local disputes that have seen oil production repeatedly shut down, costing billions of dollars in revenue.
That crisis came to a head in 2019 when oilfield shutdowns wiped out most of the revenue for the year, and again in 2020, when production rebounded but Covid-19 hit global demand, wiping out even more.
But the country has benefited from high oil revenue and rising production this year, which has translated into notable reconstruction progress in Tripoli and Benghazi. Critical public services however, remain neglected, particularly in outlying regions.
Figures published by Libya's central bank in 2022 showed that spending on public salaries rose to 42 per cent of the total state budget, making them the biggest expenditure item, at the expense of reconstruction and development.
Mr Zadma faults the Tripoli government for such a short-term approach.
“There has been a massive hiring campaign in the government sector in the government of the West. More than 50 per cent of Libyans work in the public sector,” Mr Zadma said, commenting on accusations that many people working for the government do not actually do the work required of them.
A senior aid worker told The National that when touring areas affected by the disaster, Libyan officials told him that some hospitals were only 10 per cent staffed, even before the disaster, because despite being employed by the government, most medical staff were working second jobs in the private sector and not showing up for work.
Mr Zadma also admitted to a staff shortage in the southern cities, where he is based, but said it was due to logistical issues.
“Despite there being a complete lack of doctors in some areas, due to poor infrastructure, lack of flights to those places, there was an outpouring of medical assistance following the disaster.”