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LIBYA: Anger and debate over higher bread prices

October 7, 2010 | 10:48 am
Ghadaffi1-5dce7 A decision by Libyan authorities to dramatically increase bread prices for the first time in more than 30 years is stirring anger and debate among regular citizens and intellectuals alike.

While bread prices in the socialist country presided over by Moammar Kadafi have always been and -- are still technically -- subsidized by the government, some regard the near 100% raise as yet another sign of Libya's leaning toward capitalism and the free market.

"The state is trying to gradually evade its role in subsidizing bread, and the Libyan citizen might end up paying the bill for the increase in wheat and bread prices," financial analyst Ahmed Khamissi says. He added that the price hike is the government's way of covering up corruption, especially the involvement of black market tradors in determining bread prices.

According to the new tariff, a 100-gram loaf of bread will be sold for 0.25 Libyan Dinar ($0.2) and 0.5 Dinar ($0.4) for 200-gram loafs.

"There are large amounts of missing subsidised wheat and no one ever knows where these sums go. Where is the Ministry of Finances and why doesn’t the state punish those responsible?" Khamissi says.

Bakers are also unhappy at the increase, as some of them claim that they count on the black market for most of the bread's ingredients.

Writing for the Libya Today news website, columnist Obeid Rakik stressed his belief that Libyans have the right to complain about the irritating raise, which could have been avoided if every subsidized commodity was subject to a clear pricing plan to enable a gradual rather than swift increase in prices.

Other observers adopted a pragmatic approach to the higher prices. Fatthi Bin Eissa, editor of Mal wa Aaamal (Money and Business) newspaper,  said, "Now the government needs to maintain such realism by increasing wages."

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Credit: Associated Press

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