Corruption scandals grip Morocco as governments pledge to fight scourge
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.