True to its tradition of holding flashy public vents in luxurious surroundings, Morocco is to host the 4th session of the conference of the 154 state parties to the UN Convention against corruption (UNCAC) in Marrakech from October 24 to 28. Part of its strategy to gain international respectability, the Moroccan government will undoubtedly flood the conference with glossy hand-outs and flowery speeches asserting that it is taking the fight against corruption seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Corruption affects all walks of life in Morocco, high places as well as the lower strata of public administration. Whether you renew your ID card, ask for a birth certificate, open a shop, travel by road, give birth in a public hospital, buy land or are involved in a court case, you will find it very hard not to be forced into giving a «bakchich» to a public official, whether it be a nurse, a policeman, a judge or an employee behind his desk – and this simply to get what the law entitles you to. While some officials and politicians are prosecuted and kicked out of civil service or the political scene for their corrupt practices, accountability stops where closeness to the powers that be starts.
More importantly, while corruption is no new phenomenon in Morocco, the authorities are mistaking public communication about corruption with the fight against it. A new body, the Central Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC) has been set up, and some legal texts have been put in place, but to little effect, as Morocco has been sliding on Transparency International’s corruption perception index – its score was 4,1 in 1999, and 3,4 in 2010.
Corruption has therefore turned into one of the main issues fuelling political discontent in Morocco, especially the public protests initiated by the February 20th movement that have taken place on a weekly basis this year all over the country. The protests have not only been targetting the daily petty corruption, but also the much more significant instances of sleaze, bribery and conflict of interest affecting high officials and politicians. That kind of corruption and sleaze is seldom punished in Morocco, or only when it is considered politically expedient to do so – such as the case against Abdelmoughit Slimani and Abdelaziz Laafora, indicted and convicted once their sponsor – former interior minister and strongman Driss Basri – had fallen out of grace. Khalid Oudghiri is another case in point – this banker has been convicted in absentia for accepting bribes, but only after having fallen out with the leadership of the royal holding owning his bank, and this while the person having admitted to bribing him hasn’t even been prosecuted.
Conflict of interest is a very visible public integrity problem in Morocco – made visible at the very top since the royal family, through its family holding SNI, controls many substantial business sectors, including some which are heavily subsidised (sugar and food oil) or heavily regulated (insurance, banking, telecom). That example being set at the top, it’s hardly surprising that King Mohammed VI’s private secretary, Mounir Majidi, also presides over FC Com, a company selling ad space on public billboards for which it pays no or little rent, courtesy of local councils mindful of who they’re dealing with.
Nor is it surprising that sports and youth minister Moncef Belkhayat has seen his department being involved in dubious public procurement contracts awarded to relatives of his, as revealed by February 20th website mamfakinch.com, or the deal relating to his very expensive official car, an Audi A8, being exposed as grossly above the market price. Despite the very extensive, vocal and detailed coverage of these dealings in the press and social media, no official investigation has yet been launched.
The most worrying aspect of Morocco’s corrupt environment is the lack of transparency. There is no protection of whistleblowers – on the contrary. Morocco’s most well known whistleblower, former army captain Mustapha Adib, was eventually jailed and ejected from the army after having revealed corruption and misappropriation of funds at a military base, and lives now in exile in France. Monthly business newspaper Economie & Entreprises was fined about 550.000 euros in 2009 for an article alleging that a royally owned company, Primarios, overcharged the well-known and state-owned Marrakech luxury hotel Mamounia. While the 2011 constitution contains provisions on transparency and the fight against corruption, there is still no entrenched right for Moroccans to freely access public documents and accounts.
The organiser behind this week’s conference, the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), could bear witness to this lack of transparency. When submitting its report under the periodic review mandated by the Convention, Morocco did not consult civil society, and neither did the UN experts visiting Morocco in 2011 – this is all the more shocking as Transparency Maroc is a very active and well established NGO, which supports the February 20th protest movement. Moroccan authorities‘ reluctance towards transparency – and Transparency Maroc – has gone so far as to ban four times in succession an anti-corruption award ceremony in December 2010 and January 2011, where former detainee and anti-corruption activist Chakib al Khayari was to be rewarded for the terrible personal prize he had to pay for having denounced the corrupt complicity of police, judiciary and other authorities in the drug trafficking plaguing Northern Morocco.
We, February 20th movement activists as well as other Moroccan citizens fighting against corruption, therefore demand the following from participants to the 4th session of the Conference of state parties to the UNCAC:
To all participants:
do not let yourself be seduced by the luxurious surroundings of this conference – Moroccan authorities are better at holding high-profile international conferences than at fighting corruption;
make sure to consult systematically with Moroccan civil society organisations at all stages of the review of Moroccan state practice in implementing the UNCAC and whenever visits are made to Morocco;
design tools able to go beyond official statements and legal texts in measuring anti-corruption efforts;
To state parties to the UNCAC:
exert pressure on the Moroccan authorities to take effective steps to fight corruption, including increased transparency and accountability;
publicly disclose all information that your government might hold concerning corrupt practices in Morocco, in relation to trade, foreign investment and development aid or any other sector;
subject Morocco to rigorous scrutiny during the periodical review mechanism;
To civil society organisations taking part to the Conference:
reach out to Moroccan civil society organisations active in the fight against corruption;
publicise the efforts made by Moroccan civil society organisations in the fight against corruption, as well as the shortcomings in the government’s anti-corruption efforts;
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