Local Government History
The Socialist People’s Republic of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was founded on principles of profound political decentralization. In the last 35 years since Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and a group of military officers seized power in September 1969, Qaddafi has developed his political vision for the Jamahiriya, meaning “state of the masses.” Implementing this political system would involve the total decentralization of all decision-making to the citizens themselves through direct democracy. In a series of essays compiled in the Green Book, Qaddafi spells out a vision for what he termed a Third Way, or an alternative to capitalism and socialism. The regime has sought repeatedly to breathe life into the revolution by transferring power among government bodies.
The structure of national and subnational government is subject to constant revision. The most recent reorganization occurred with the issuance of the Law 1 of 2001 on the Organization of the People’s Congresses. In 1998 the GPC reinstated the 26 governorates (Sha’biyah), which had been abolished two decades ago, with each of the governorates to be headed by the secretary of its People’s Committee. The most local units of political organization are the Basic People’s Congresses (BPC). Every Libyan citizen is considered to be a member of the local BPC. Each BPC has a Basic People’s Committee charged with executive and administrative functions for the BPC it represents. The members of these committees collectively form the 380 People’s Congresses, which in turn are administered by ten-member municipal People’s Committees that represent the municipality in regional People’s Congresses that in turn select leaders to represent them in the General People’s Congress (GPC), which acts as the representative body for the nation as a whole.
Municipal and Local Government Budgets
By law, Libya has one of the most politically decentralized systems in the Arab region. Local governmental institutions extend over education, industry, and communities. But in practice, leadership is highly centralized; the authority of the BPC’s is purely consultative; their ten-member committees ultimately either adopt or reject their recommendations, though the BPC’s do provide a means for the expression of the public will. On the premise that state institutions provide all necessary representations, civil society and all non-state political organizations are actively suppressed, creating little political participation from the bottom up. Many of the elites who could be expected to fill positions of local leadership reside overseas.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
Economic decentralization has not been effectively implemented in Libya. In the late 1980s, Libya sought to semi-privatize state-owned enterprises by decentralizing management into cooperatives. But decision-making remained highly centralized, as companies depended on subsidies to stay in operation. The potential for new private local companies is limited because economic capital is controlled by the National Banks that have restricted loans to public enterprises.
Reform: Fiscal Decentralization
In practice, most decision-making power remains in the hands of a centralized leadership. Hydrocarbon revenues are central to the government’s legitimacy and popular support. The highly centralized nature of the distribution of oil profits in Libya has hindered efforts to achieve decentralization.