Corruption scandals grip Morocco as governments pledge to fight scourge

Sunday 09/07/2017
Widespread anger. Protesters demonstrate against government corruption and official abuse of power in Rabat, last June. (AP)

Casablanca- The arrest of an elected official on corruption charges is the latest in a series of scandals grip­ping Morocco despite the government’s efforts to fight the scourge.
Zine El Abidine el-Howass, a deputy and president of the mu­nicipality of Had Soualem in Ber­rechid province, was charged with blackmail, falsification, forgery and corruption. He is accused of manip­ulating public records for personal profit.
Reports said 170 million dirhams ($17.4 million) had been seized at the deputy’s home, prompting widespread anger among Moroc­cans. The General Directorate for National Security (DGSN) denied the allegations.
Mohamed Tarek Sbai, the head of the National Body for the Pro­tection of Public Property, told the HuffPost Maroc that Howass “has 30 million dirhams ($3.1 million) in his bank account.” He added that the deputy does not have a good reputation.
Howass, from the Independence Party, allegedly engaged in abuse of power as president of the munici­pality of Had Soualem. A complaint filed against him by a property de­veloper alleges he demanded ap­proximately $83,000 in exchange for authorising the construction of a residential building.
The news triggered widespread condemnation on social media, with the hashtag (“Where is the Wealth?”), a reference to a speech given by Morocco’s King Moham­med VI three years ago, trending.
“Where is the wealth and who is benefiting from it?” the king asked during a speech that marked his ac­cession to the throne.
“Cleansing corruption is like cleaning the stairs. It starts from top to bottom,” tweeted Mohamed Elkammouri.
Morocco was tied for 90th — No. 1 being the least corrupt — out of 175 countries, on the “2016 Corruption Perceptions Index” compiled by Transparency International.
In an interview aired on Al Aoula television, Moroccan Prime Min­ister Saad Eddine El Othmani said his government was taking the fight against corruption seriously.
“We take the reports of the Court of Auditors very seriously,” he said, adding that several officials had been arrested and brought to jus­tice.
The second phase of the country’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-20, part of the government’s plan to significantly reduce corrup­tion, began after the results were re­leased of the programme’s start-up phase.
“The anti-corruption strategy took the time needed to be put in place and the committee will be set up in the coming weeks with de­fined objectives and means,” said Othmani.
He insisted that, to win the fight against corruption, all citizens must cooperate.
“I insist that the fight against cor­ruption is a mission of all, as proven by the last cases… The prosecutor’s office can now investigate simple press articles if they are well done,” he said.
The previous Islamist-led govern­ment, which made the fight against corruption one of its top priorities, was not able to stem the problem despite taking extensive measures, including setting up a hotline to report corruption, which received nearly 800 calls daily.
Abdessalam al-Aziz, secretary-general of the National Ittihadi Con­gress (CNI) said the culture of cor­ruption was deep and had long been part of the system.
“Corruption exists in all sec­tors. It is not being fought vig­orously despite the creation of anti-corruption institutions,” said Aziz. “It is getting worse one year after another despite the political campaigns and speeches to fight it.”
“The government must tackle all forms of corruption and educate people about its repercussions on society,” he added.