Former parliamentarians, ministers, directors of public establishments, and billionaires are being prosecuted for corruption, squandering of public funds or mismanagement in Morocco. But is it enough?
It’s accountability season in Morocco. Heads are falling by the looks of it, and quite a few of them too. Although it’s not always apparent, here’s what Morocco has reportedly been up to.
We have followed with great interest last week the developments in the case of the Istiqlal parliamentarian , Abdellatif Abdouh, prosecuted in the notorious Casino Essaâdi matter in Marrakech (where bribes were paid in exchange for a selling the land on which the casino sits at a very discounted price). After a trial that lasted almost two decades, Abdouh was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of MAD 50,000. The property acquired during his mandate will be confiscated.
Another parliamentarian, also from Marrakech, but this time from PAM, Abderrahim El Kamel, was convicted of corruption by the criminal chamber in charge of financial crimes at the Marrakech Court of Appeal. He was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of MAD 600,000. This case dates back to January 2020 when the PAM parliamentarian was caught in the act of corruption, when he received a bribe of MAD110,000 from a Moroccan residing abroad (MRE) for the granting of a license to construct a 20-storey building.
Eternal president of the commune of Fkih Bensaleh, Mohamed Moubdiî, also head of the parliamentary group of the MP in the first chamber, has just undergone an interrogation lasting ten hours in the premises of the BNPJ in Casablanca, also for mismanagement of the commune.
Former socialist deputy, former president of the municipality of El Marssa, near Laâyoune, billionaire Hassan Derham, is said to be involved in a municipal management case pending before the courts.
Among the cited cases is also a case of the embezzlement of more than 115 billion dirhams at the CNSS (Social Security), a case which also dates back almost 20 years (what is up with these unusually long trials?) and which was brought to justice on the basis of the conclusions of the report of a parliamentary commission inquiry initiated by the second chamber. In the judgment of the Court of Cassation, the final stage of this trial, which has just been handed down, the main defendant, Rafik Haddaoui, former director general of the CNSS, was ordered to return, jointly with the rest of the convicts, nearly 32 billion dirhams. The property of the condemned will be confiscated within the limit of the sums judged.
Mohamed El Ferraâ, former boss of the General Mutual of Public Administration Personnel (MGPAP), has long been accused in a case of squandering public funds at the MGPAP (we are talking about a sum of 1.17 billion dirhams which has evaporated in the air). Although he was acquitted by the Rabat Court of Appeal in 2016, today, he is the subject of another investigation linked to another case of mismanagement, but this time as a former president of the commune of Essaouira. He will soon be heard before the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Marrakech Court of Appeal.
By the looks of it in Morocco, corruption is still rife in the ranks of senior officials. A 2019 report of the African Institute “Afrobarometer” laid bare this reality and revealed that an overwhelming majority of Moroccans (74%) believe that the Government is doing a bad job at tackling corruption. Moroccans believe that members of the parliament are the most corrupt in the Kingdom. Behind them line up ministers and other government officials. The list is not exhaustive: parliamentarians (41%), ministers (39%), local officials (38%), other government officials (37%), judges & magistrates (26%), police (24%) .
Corruption and the squandering of public funds costs Morocco 50 to 70 billion dirhams, or 7% of GDP. To illustrate, income tax generates 50 billion dirhams for the state, so all Moroccans will have to work a whole year to compensate for the loss of earnings due to corruption.
The Commission for the Protection of Public Property and Public Goods in Morocco (INPBPM) has expressed much public outrage at the corruption, bribery, and the embezzlement of public funds occurring in Morocco and has called for more responsibility and accountability and ending the impunity enjoyed by government officials who are implicated in scandals.
The Moroccan Criminal Code criminalizes corruption, active and passive bribery, giving and receiving gifts, attempted corruption, extortion, bribing a foreign public official and abuse of office. Morocco has criminalized money laundering under the AML Law No. 43-05 (in French), which covers concealing and altering goods originating from trafficking, corruption, extortion, influence peddling and misappropriation of public and private property.
Anti-corruption laws are not effectively enforced in Morocco, and government officials reportedly engage in corruption with impunity. Morocco’s anti-corruption legislation provides for the compulsory disclosure of assets by government officials, but it does not provide for criminal or administrative sanctions for non-compliance . Morocco has ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption and announced its intention to ratify the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption in late 2018.
It its latest report “Implementing and Enforcing the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption” (December 2020), Transparency International made a remark that Morocco was the only country from the African Union Convention that ” has yet to criminalize illicit enrichment.”
Whilst Morocco ought to consider making illicit enrichment an explicit, standalone offence subject to criminal sanctions, the bill is still facing much opposition in Parliament. In December 2019, Moroccan MPs sitting on the Parliament’s Justice and Legislation Committee have blocked a bill criminalizing corruption by introducing in the penal code clauses on the “criminalization” of MPs’ “illicit enrichment and embezzlement”. The MPs argued that the proposal is ambiguous and it could be used as a political instrument by the government or a ruling party to silence opposition MPs.
Whilst Moroccan MPs’ refusal to support a crucial bill that would track and punish corruption and illicit enrichment via the misuse of public funds sounds puzzling, Abdellatif Ouahbi, an MP from the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), said that MPs are not opposed to the widely acknowledged need to tackle corruption. He argued that, because a parliamentary adoption of the proposed bill could be used by the government to get rid of critical MPs, the best course of action would be to have the Court of Auditors deliver on the cases of MPs suspected of embezzlement or create a whole new “independent institution”, with the mission of arbitrating corruption and illicit enrichment charges against MPs.
Ultimately, Morocco should ensure full independence of prosecutorial and judicial bodies so that offences
can be prosecuted impartially and without favor to powerful, politically connected individuals.
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