Struggling Jordan demands Libya to pay bills

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A Libyan patient convalesces in one of the Kingdom’s hospitals. Some 50,000 Libyans have come to Jordan for medical care in the past year at the expense of their government, but Libya has been slow in paying its debts to hospitals and hotels. Photo - Jordan Times

Jordan has demanded Libya to pay more than $200 million in medical and hotel bills for tens of thousands of Libyans who were flown for hospital treatment in Amman after the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime in an armed uprising.

The Hashemite Kingdom, a top destination in the Arab world for medical care, is desperate for their bills to be paid as it grapples with economic hardship and austerity measures with fuel and electricity prices rising to unprecedented levels. The country has little or no natural resources and a huge external debt that could reach $24.6 billion by the end of this year.

“Around 40 out of Jordan’s 60 private hospitals treated more than 55,000 Libyans in the past six months. I think many other countries would have failed to meet such a challenge,” Fawzi Hammuri, head of Jordan’s Private Hospitals Association, told AFP.

“Every week, we used to receive 10 or 12 airplanes full of Libyan patients, including those who were wounded after the fall of Qaddafi. The hospitals didn’t ask for guarantees from those patients on humanitarian and brotherly grounds.”

National carrier Royal Jordanian flies 13 times a week to Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.

According to Hammuri, Tripoli now owes $105 million to Amman in medical bills. He added that around 2,000 Libyan patients are still receiving treatment in the Jordanian capital’s hospitals.

“We signed an agreement in November with a Libyan committee in charge of treating Libyan patients. The panel asked hospitals to do everything possible for the patients. When we asked the committee to pay, it told us the bills needed to be examined first, and they are still being examined,” said Hammuri.

“Many Jordanian hospitals now refuse to take Libyan patients.”

Hammuri added that Tunisia, Turkey, Italy and Greece have treated around 50,000 patients since last year’s conflict in Libya. “This has cost the Libyans $1.4 billion,” he said.

Libyans rented furnished and serviced apartments and stayed in dozens of hotels during their stay in Jordan, which now demand around $100 million in bills.

The outstanding bills have exacerbated conditions for many hotels, which, according to industry experts, are close to bankruptcy.

“Many of the hotels face bankruptcy. Others failed to pay back loans they took from banks to accommodate the Libyan patients. It is chaos,” said Mohammad Balluti, a spokesman for a group of 70 hotels.

“I think the Libyans owe $100 million to Jordanian hotels.”

The Libyan government’s programme to treat the war wounded abroad has come under intense criticism after reports of state funds lavishly spent on cosmetic treatments, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and stipends for spouses and relatives surfaced during the last few months.

Hatem Azraai, Jordan’s health ministry spokesman, asked the Libyans to “organise themselves.”

“The problem started when the hospitals made deals with the Libyan side, outside the umbrella of the Jordanian ministry, which had to interfere at a later stage when the hospitals failed to get their money,” Azraai told AFP.

“The health ministries in the two countries signed an agreement to resolve this issue. But the Libyans need to organize themselves in order to pay the bills.”

A Libyan health ministry official said a joint committee is currently reviewing the outstanding bills.

“Many of the bills have errors,” she told AFP. Libyan officials insist the two countries have agreed that half of the outstanding bills will be paid as soon as the audit is completed.

“There are people who are going to Jordan for treatment through the ministry and others through other means,” the official added on condition of anonymity.

Protests

The Jordan Hotel Association, which represents 470 hotels and guesthouses across the country, said 200 establishments had received Libyans in Amman alone.

Jordanian hotel owners have held demonstrations outside the Libyan embassy in Amman, while some of them have reportedly evicted their Libyan guests.

“We have outstanding bills due to disputes among the various Libyan groups which organised the medical trips to Jordan,” said Michael Nazzal, chairman of the association.

Tourism accounts for 14% of GDP in the kingdom of 6.7 million people, and revenues from the industry generated $1.3 billion in the first five months of 2012.

“We need a solution to this problem. It is summer now. We expect tourists and we have to accommodate them,” said Balluti.

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