Ex-Libya minister tells of death fears


An Irish-based consultant ophthalmologist who became Libya's health minister after the overthrow of Colonel Gadafy said she feared for her life doing her job.

Dr Fatima Hamroush was based at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda until November last year until she was appointed by the National Transition Council as the country's health minister.

Dr Hamroush said she became a marked women after attempting to deal with a massive fraud on the Libyan state by bogus fighters who claimed to have been wounded in the overthrow of Colonel Gadafy.

At the end of her tenure last month she was accompanied by eight armed guards carrying Kalashnikovs and lived inside an army compound. She said it felt like house arrest.

She was a member of the Libyan opposition based overseas since 2008. Her original appointment was for eight months but it was extended for a year. She is now back in Ireland having worked in the post until November 21st and has been replaced by Dr Noureddine Daghman. She will return to her post in Drogheda in January.

Speaking at a conference on the future of eye care hosted by the the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) in Dublin this morning, Dr Hamroush described Libya as a rich country ruined by the previous regime.

She recounted having to deal with a major fraud in her short time in the ministry. One involved a major corruption which cost the State €1.2 billion in fraudulent payments to those who had claimed to have been wounded in the overthrow of Col Gadafy.

Others were getting payments to receive treatment abroad and the system was abused. She said the scam was run by a different department. When it was brought to her attention, she put a stop to it. She was then accused of denying medical treatment to those who had been involved in overthrowing the old regime.

At one stage she was stopped by four armed men on the way to a television station and was saved because her drivers knew her putative kidnappers.

She was later physically attacked in her office and on another occasion she barred them from her office. "At that stage I thought I should resign."

Dr Hamroush said her experiences in Libya made her appreciate Ireland a lot more and she would happily swap her previous role with the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly.

"There is a law here and people are held accountable. There is respect and a code of ethics here and nobody is above the law."

Despite her experiences in Libya she said the country was progressing.

She told delegates: "I would particularly like to mention here is that for 40 years, all what you could see on the billboards were Gadafy's propaganda, then during the revolution that changed to photos of the martyrs and the missing, then, a year later, billboards of the candidates for election. This is change."

Speaking at the same conference Dr Reilly said he had family experience of the problems of impaired vision.

His father had a stroke at 66 and was totally blind for the last 14 years of his life. "The impact on our family will never leave our memory."

Compounding the problem, he said his mother developed Oeosphegal cancer and lost her voice. They could only communicate through third parties. He described it as a "tragi-comic" scenario.