Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tripoli Post Interview w/ Chairman of Tripoli Local Council - Hesham Krekshi

Chairman of the Tripoli Local Council, Hesham Krekshi
10/01/2012 09:19:00

After the uprising in Tripoli was crushed and scores of people were killed, it got clear that it would take a lot of strategy and courage to liberate Tripoli. So after the liberation of Benghazi, many people volunteered from within the civil society of Tripoli to risk their lives and do whatever was necessary to unite the opposition and coordinate all the moves.

It was extremely dangerous, as Gaddafi’s intelligence apparatus got very active and they even succeeded in apprehending a few of the current members of the Tripoli Local Council (TLC).

Mr. Hesham Krekshi is one such revolutionary who stood up to the challenge and played an important role in the liberation of Tripoli. He is the Deputy Chairman of the TLC and from his position he is doing his best to ensure the smooth running of the city operations with the limited resources at his disposal.

He asserts that the “Situation in Tripoli: today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better than today.” He also says that TLC officials are willing to submit to accountability test after leaving office and says, “we are responsible because we were the government then.”

When asked what would he say about the month-long vigil outside his office in Maidan Al-Jazair, he said: “I just want to tell the people that we are only here as an interim authority, as temporary. As soon as elections are held, we are out of here. We are doing all this for the nation, not for ourselves. We are doing this out of our sheer patriotism; we are not getting paid for this.”

Umar Khan, the assistant managing editor, has had the opportunity to interview Mr Krekshi for The Tripoli Post. What follows are excerpts from the interview:

The Tripoli Post: We thank you for taking out time to talk to us despite your packed schedule. To bring people up to date, please start by telling us how you were appointed deputy chairman of the TLC.

Mr. Hesham: This council was created under the table, when Gaddafi was in power and Tripoli was yet to be liberated. It was not easy to select people then. They would chop your head off, if they found out. This body was needed to be in Tripoli when it was liberated and when the regime ran out of Tripoli. When there was nobody to handle the operations of the city, this same body was able to manage daily operations with the aim that the city won’t stop. So to avoid that gap we were already there.

The Tripoli Post: When was the committee formed and where?

Mr. Hesham: It was created in April and it was created inside Tripoli but it was not chosen on the basis of geographic locations. It was formed of technocrats from different divisions like Healthcare, Agriculture, Education etc. so basically different sectors.

The Tripoli Post: So, you stepped up for the job because it was very risky?

Mr. Hesham: Exactly, I did it for my homeland.

The Tripoli Post: You knew you were putting your life on the line?

Mr. Hesham: We are still putting our lives on the line (laughs and then continues) and we have no problems with that! Somebody has to do the job; we are not stuck to our chairs. We are only waiting for the elections to happen and for the constitution to be approved, then we will give up our positions to whoever is elected.

The Tripoli Post: Do you plan to run for the elections?

Mr. Hesham: I am not sure, honestly. I am more in business and social work than politics and it seems there's a lot more of politics in the council than social work.

The Tripoli Post: What would you say regarding the 26th December, when there was an incident in…

Mr. Hesham: Attack, not incident!

The Tripoli Post: Ok, about the attack on the TLC?

Mr. Hesham: There was a demonstration, as people wanted their “rights” which we all agree with, and then they gave us 18 points, which were not directed to us (TLC) but to the NTC. But we are only the local council and not the NTC; I think there is some confusion among the people as to Who is who!

The Tripoli Post: Is it correct to say that Mr. Abu Hajar was actually assaulted and some furniture was broken?

Mr. Hesham: They broke these two doors by the way (points to the doors at the back) we have just fixed them. They pulled the doors out of the wall. They thought he was here in this room. They were about 50 people, they just ran inside the building. Some of them carried guns,, They were Armed!

The Tripoli Post: So who is responsible for the security of the members of the TLC?

Mr. Hesham: We don’t have any personal security, but for the building there are four-five armed police officers. We didn’t want to shoot basically; otherwise we could have started a big problem. You could shoot, I mean 50 people coming to you and you shoot them but thank God they didn’t shoot and at least it ended up peacefully.

The Tripoli Post: Would you like to name the brigade responsible for the attack?

Mr. Hesham: I can’t, I don’t know! We don’t want to blame anybody because we don’t know exactly… let’s just say Saadawi brigade has said that it was not them.

The Tripoli Post: There were rumours that they are responsible for it indirectly?

Mr. Hesham: Yes, They were outside, in their cars. The tags and the logos were theirs! But they say it was not them. They didn’t go inside. So I don’t want to say it’s them.

The Tripoli Post: There was another assertion that the brigade of Souq Al Jummah was responsible because of their anger regarding the Bani Waleed incident.

Mr. Hesham: Yeah, that too could be true. But to be honest the main issue is money for the brigades, for the Revolutionaries themselves. They did not get paid. When you think about the other cities they all got paid while the revolutionaries in Tripoli did not. This created the problem, which is what we think.

The Tripoli Post: How much have you paid so far to the revolutionaries from Tripoli?

Mr. Hesham: NTC gave us 4 million and we got those from Dr. Ali Tarhouni, who was the Finance minister then. On those days we had 20,900 revolutionaries, so basically to distribute this it was only 200LYD per revolutionary. And that is what we did. In other cities they took 500 LYD.

The Tripoli Post: Every month that is?

Mr. Hesham: Yeah, Now with our figures here in Tripoli, we said OK now let’s get another 8 million. We asked the government to give us another 8 million, so we finish the 500 LYD, and we pay everybody the 300LYD extra to balance things out. But we didn’t get the money and now the number of ‘revolutionaries’ has increased to 49,000. That’s a big problem.

The Tripoli Post: Alright, coming back to TLC, after the liberation of Tripoli did you select any new members?

Mr. Hesham: Actually for the last three months we were trying to unite the mini councils of Tripoli. Those mini local councils were formed immediately after the liberation of Tripoli in every single street or every two streets. They got united and formed a little committee in order to run the city, so there were over 180 mini councils in the whole of Tripoli.

Now what we have done is, that we have combined them all into 10 city councils based on the districts. Those 10 districts have many committees underneath them. The heads of those 10 city councils are now the members of the TLC.

The Tripoli Post: So they were elected after the liberation of Tripoli?

Mr. Hesham: Yes, but I wouldn’t say elected exactly but they were chosen. It was not an election. Election means everybody has an input. They were chosen from the committees. Their names were put in the mosques for three-four days to check for any problems or objections. Those who had problems were dropped and those who had no problems were selected basically. And now we have 10 members who unanimously chose Mr. Abu Hajar to be their boss here.

The Tripoli Post: What are you doing to make sure that the salaries are paid to the revolutionaries?

Mr. Hesham: We spoke to the minister of Finance, Mr. Hassan Zighlam. He said he cannot give money like this, which is true. So we have an application form now with a photo ID. Which will be given to every single member of all the brigades. They will be asked to fill and submit it so that we can pay them. We don’t have the whole 47 thousand; we have some but not that much.

The Tripoli Post: Is Mr. Abu Hajar representing Tripoli on the NTC?

Mr. Hesham: No, No, he is not the member of the NTC.

The Tripoli Post: Then who is representing Tripoli on NTC?

Mr. Hesham: We have 11 people representing Tripoli on the NTC. From Tripoli city, not from the council. The council doesn’t report to the NTC. The council reports to the ministry of the local governing (Hukam el Muhalli). It is called the ministry of Local governing. Although we are not a local government, we are just managing the city, not governing it.

The Tripoli Post: You said that you have some forms that you will send to all the brigades in Tripoli, to register all their members, to come under one roof. Is this the first step towards the national army and disarmament?

Mr. Hesham: That is a different story; this has to be chosen by the individuals in the brigades if they want to join the army or the police.

The Tripoli Post: Is the TLC responsible for the security of Tripoli?

Mr. Hesham: Tripoli is not just a city, it is the capital. So if the national government does not take care of the capital, security-wise, then it will be a big problem. I mean it is not the job of the TLC alone.

The Tripoli Post: So it means the TLC is coordinating the security with the interior ministry?

Mr. Hesham: Exactly! It has to be done that way. Again it is in Tripoli, but the Tripoli International Airport is not under us, it is under the national government. The same goes for the sea-port. Because it is the capital, a lot of the buildings belong to Libya and not to Tripoli.

The Tripoli Post: Does the TLC have any brigades under its control?

Mr. Hesham: We have good coordination with Abdel Hakim Belhadj. We meet weekly to discuss the situation of the city, both civil and security.

The Tripoli Post: So it means that as of now the TLC doesn’t have any brigades at its disposal, you just coordinate.

Mr. Hesham: Yes, we coordinate. We cannot give orders. This is very clear.

The Tripoli Post: How do you view the current security situation of Tripoli?

Mr. Hesham: I keep saying one thing, today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better than today. It is not easy to explain everything and to see everything. The bigger picture is clear and there are lots of armed people in Tripoli. We all know that. Alhamdulillah with the help of the people of Tripoli we got rid of the 14.5mm’s and we don’t see them in the streets anymore. This is a big achievement.

And you don’t really see lots of people walking around in the streets carrying their guns as we used to have in the beginning. Basically that is what we need and that’s what we are doing. We need to keep the revolutionaries busy. We got to find them jobs and as you said, in the police or in the army. You have to have salaries and paying jobs and then everybody will be busy working. That way they will forget about the guns and everything and the country will return to normal.

This is all dependent on money. Finance is the main thing. To cope with the jobs' issue the TLC is organising a Job Fair in February. We are asking companies to participate and to teach people how to write a resume and how to sit for an interview, how to form a company, how to create small factories and small businesses to help them out with workshops like carpentry.

I’m sure lots of people will get involved , then we will start turning it around. They will be able to make some money, and from there on they will get busy. They will blend.

The Tripoli Post: How capable is the Police Force?

Mr. Hesham: Let’s put it this way, the police stations are back, some of them have “Twaar” supporters. Gradually things will get back. Now their documentation has started, they write the reports, and their officers are back. These things were not happening two months back or even one month ago. Now, those things are getting better. I don’t want to say that police have any powers as this is not true but people are accepting them. They are back in the streets, on duty at night and setting up the checkpoints.

The Tripoli Post: Next question is regarding the Libyan assets, almost 100 billion are already unfrozen, how should they be used?

Mr. Hesham: It is up to the government, not us, and hopefully they will not give it to us as we don’t want to be responsible for any corruption. (he laughs). Personally I think the money should go to the ministries and all the councils should ask the ministries. All the funds should be sanctioned through the ministries.

(Phone rings! He answers it and later explains that it was his wife trying to check out on him after hearing gun-shots! “I answer because they get worried”.)

Mr. Hesham: Actually there was a "note" found in Mr. Abu Hajar's room, threatening him to leave today or be ready to die! This is ridiculous. We don’t know for sure if it was a serious threat or just a joke. This happened four days ago. Somebody just dropped it in the entrance. It is a risky thing.

The Tripoli Post: There is a security concern for the TLC members as you people are working for the nation, what type of security is in place for the council itself?

Mr. Hesham: Our s is a good problem though; we have our doors open to everybody. There are scanners, cameras and guards at the entrance. That is enough as if somebody wants to come as a civilian, we have no problem. But as I said if it is an unusual attack of 60-80 people then you need a whole brigade to defend you (laughs)

The Tripoli Post: You have too many issues in Tripoli, how do you prioritise?

Mr. Hesham: First come first serve (laughs). No, seriously the main problem is that we don’t hear it before it happens and that hampers the effort to solve the issue even before it’s been created. Other than that we try our best to do everything but we have limitations. Like collecting garbage is a huge problem, water problems, roads and pavements etc. but our resources are limited; we have no labour at all. They are all gone.

The Tripoli Post: How could you address this issue?

Mr. Hesham: All the relevant ministries should work together to make the new laws enabling the workers to return. Garbage collection is a big issue and its management is a huge thing but it’s in chaos now. Basically what the previous regime used to do with the waste was to dump it. So it is a very big task for us to manage it.

The Tripoli Post: The educated Libyan youth, who want to serve their country, do you have any special policy on utilising them?

Mr. Hesham: We are just an interim body. To be honest we don’t have any announcements. We have a youth representative who is working very hard on many conferences and workshops.

The Tripoli Post: How many women are members of the TLC?

Mr. Hesham: Unfortunately,we only just have one. It was very hard to recruit then. We spoke to five ladies but it was very dangerous. But in future this will change.

The Tripoli Post: Just in front of the council there is a sit-in demonstration asking for “Mutasalliqeen” (climbers: meaning those who supported Gaddafi and now try to get a place in new Libya with all the corruption involved) to step down? Who exactly is a “Mutassaliq”?

Mr. Hesham: Usually “Mutasalliqeen” are the ones who try to benefit themselves and look for positions by stepping on the shoulders of others.

The Tripoli Post: So, people who are asking to remove “Mutassaliq” from the council, are they right in any sense?

Mr. Hesham: There must be a “Mutassaliq” somewhere. They are everywhere, in all cultures and nations. There are people who are thieves. It is the way of handling it; this is what we need to look for.

The Tripoli Post: So do you have any mechanism or check system to confirm that anybody who is serving under the TLC or NTC is not a “Mutassaliq”?

Mr. Hesham: Of course, we do look for that. We try and look for sincerity, integrity and that he was not working with Gaddafi regime in the sense of like “Lajaan Touriah” (former Revolutionary Committees) or his hands are not dirty with the blood of Libyans.

The Tripoli Post: So anybody you appoint, directly or indirectly, you do a background check on him to make sure that no such man or woman is allowed to work under the TLC?

Mr. Hesham: We try, absolutely.

The Tripoli Post: Are you talking to these people outside the council?

Mr. Hesham: Oh yes, I am. It is a bit unfortunate that they changed the honourable “matalib” demands and they came after the TLC. Then the big trouble happened here. Somebody is using them, I can say this.

They have good demands and we all support them. But now they walk in and ask us to get out of here. If we get out of here, who will you bring in; it will be the same problem, unelected people. We keep saying to let the election happen and then we will hand over to the elected people.

The Tripoli Post: At the protest in Algeria Square people have different demands, who are you talking to?

Mr. Hesham: There are three-four categories outside and they don’t have a leader whom we can talk to or look up to.

The Tripoli Post: One of their main demands is transparency, how transparent is TLC?

Mr. Hesham: Unfortunately, we are not transparent. We don’t have a strong media team. We are transparent when they ask us a question. We are not pro-active into this. Which is a problem, we admit it.

The Tripoli Post: I met two people in the Algeria Square demonstration, one was asking for transparency whilst the other was only there to voice his concerns on the presence of Mutasalliqeens in the council and to remove them. What do you say to that?

Mr. Hesham: There are no “Mutasalliqeens” in our council, nobody that we know of. I keep telling people that if there are bad people or “Mutasalliqeens” in our council, just bring us the names and proof. It doesn’t matter if it is against me or Mr. Abu Hajar himself, action will be taken.

The Tripoli Post: Why is your media team not strong? One demonstrator was saying that all they ask for is information, at least one press conference a week?

Mr. Hesham: We do… We do have press conferences every week, every Wednesday. Now we have a proper national channel and all the press conferences are broadcast live. We do regular programmes and especially from this week on our members are answering questions, it is like a campaign. But people don’t watch it on TV.

The Tripoli Post: If they don’t watch TV then why not internet?

Mr. Hesham: We have a Facebook page which I myself use every night and answer questions. We have a media professional who administers the page but I myself answer the questions every single night before I go to sleep. It is very tough to make time for it but we all are working very hard.

The Tripoli Post: What you are saying are the answers to almost all the questions of people demonstrating outside…

Mr. Hesham: I know but I don’t understand how to reach them with this. When I go outside, they want to talk 50 people at a time. It doesn’t work. We asked them three times to all go into a hall, have a seat and discuss this. Have a question and answer session. We are very open about it.

The Tripoli Post: You said you have a Facebook account, if somebody asks a question regarding the accountability, you answer it?

Mr. Hesham: We do, we put all the announcements there, all the documents too.

The Tripoli Post: Now just a few personal questions, what were you doing before the February 17 revolution?

Mr. Hesham: I was in Canada from 1990 till 2007. I returned with my family, hoping to rebuild Libya. I was working with a company that imports electronic appliances. I was there for three years. Then I moved to an automotive company as general Manager. But on February 15, I resigned.

The Tripoli Post: After that you still stayed in Tripoli?

Mr. Hesham: Yes, I was here in Tripoli all through the revolution. Jobless but working for Libya (laughs).

The Tripoli Post: You were never part of the Gaddafi regime, directly or indirectly.

Mr. Hesham: No, Never. I was from the opposition.

The Tripoli Post: You said you volunteered risking your life and that was in April, so how were you made deputy chairman?

Mr. Hesham: Actually I was appointed as a social affairs representative. We worked very hard on the “orphanages”. We put our lives at great risk. We wanted to make sure that these houses have everything when the movement of Tripoli happens.

You know, after 17th February everything stopped, and we knew that everything will stop once again, therefore we wanted to make sure that these people had everything they needed. There were almost 10 buildings in Tripoli and for two months, we provided them with all their necessities.

We approached them and asked them what their needs were for two whole months. It is not a small thing I can ell you. It is not about the money, it’s about going to the Gaddafi regime asking them what you need so that when we the revolution comes we don’t have to worry about this!! Just before “Ramadan” our chairman suggested that Miss Fouzia Siyyala, a very honourable lady should take on the responsibility of social affairs with me as her deputy.

The Tripoli Post: What is your opinion about the elections for local bodies?

Mr. Hesham: My opinion does not count. It’s up to the government. They have an independent committee for the national elections. We have already spoken to them. It is this same committee will organise and supervise local elections.

The Tripoli Post: So how long are you willing to serve?

Mr. Hesham: To be honest, I’d rather leave tomorrow. But I don’t know how long it will take. Maybe till June, that is when they will be ready for the election.

The Tripoli Post: By June you think you will be ready to handover the duties to the next TLC?

Mr. Hesham: If we have an elected council, we are ready to hand it over by tomorrow.

The Tripoli Post: When will the TLC be capable enough to take care of itself?

Mr. Hesham: As soon as the constitution is approved, people will know what they have to do. Now, there are a lot of grey areas.

The Tripoli Post: In the end, do you have any suggestion to bridge the gap between the people out there and the TLC?

Mr. Hesham: I just want to tell the people that we are only here as an interim authority, as temporary, as soon as the elections are held, we are out of here. We are doing all this for the nation, not for ourselves. We are doing this out of our sheer patriotism; we are not getting paid for this. We all just look at the larger picture, which is the future of Libya.

The Tripoli Post: There were rumours, that TLC is paid heavily, why doesn’t the government itself refute the claims?

Mr. Hesham: That’s what they say. None of us ever got paid from the start of the revolution. The businesses were stopped with no income for anybody. None of the TLC members is getting paid and we are all doing this for the country.

In fact last week we were audited by the Dewan muhasiba. They came and took all our files and books, and everything else away for a week. It happened following the start of a demonstration and talks of “mutasalliqeens”. They brought the things back confirming that we all are clean. We are only waiting for their report; we will publish it to tell the people that we are not thieves (laughs).

The Tripoli Post: All the members of TLC, apart from the fact that you have voluntarily served the people, are you people ready for accountability of your actions after handing over to the elected representatives?

Mr. Hesham: We have no problem at all. We are responsible because we were the government then. There was no government of Libya and we could not let the city sink. There are lots of things that we did that people don't have any idea about, like bringing water to the city, bringing in the cooking gas!

We were on the tanker when the captain wanted to leave the Tripoli sea-port, because it was not safe. He was hearing the sound of gunfire and was scared. But we were there with him and said to him to finish the unloading. People do not see this; it was very dangerous, one wrong gun-shot and one big explosion!

The Tripoli Post: Why don’t you publish a list of your achievements then?

Mr. Hesham: We are already working on it.Whatever we did in the last 4 months will be published. We will call it the TLC in 2011.

The Tripoli Post: Thank you very much for all your time and

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