When a Morocco governor buys state land for $36 per sq. metre

Sunday 14/08/2016
Rabat Governor Abdelouafi Laftit

Casablanca - The government sale of a parcel of state land to Ra­bat Governor Abdelouafi Laftit at a very low price has angered Moroccans, civil society activists and opposi­tion members who called for an in­vestigation into similar acquisitions made by civil servants.

According to the news website Lakome2, parcels of 3,000-5,000 sq. metres were sold to senior govern­ment officials and civil servants at low prices.

Lawmaker Mehdi Mezouari, from the leftist Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), posted on Facebook notarial documents showing Laftit’s acquisition in January of land in Ra­bat’s upmarket area of Zaer Road. The 3,750 sq. metre parcel, which was owned by the government, was sold to Laftit for $36 per sq. me­tre but is estimated to be valued at $2,600-$3,125 per sq. metre.

“I’m asking the prime minister to give us more information on the is­sue and the government’s responsi­bility in this abuse,” wrote Mezouari on Facebook.

Interior Minister Mohamed Has­sad and Minister of Economy and Finance Mohamed Boussaid issued a statement stating that “this land has been part of a residential devel­opment for government officials and civil servants” since late King Has­san II’s era.

“The price of the plots of land is defined by a decree of the prime minister, dated December 26th, 1995,” said the statement.

They denounced what they called “a tendentious campaign led by a political party and media that favour it”, referring to Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s Jus­tice and Development Party (PJD), which leads the coalition govern­ment.

“It has become clear, if neces­sary, that it is a premature election campaign that seeks to reap skimpy electoral gains under the pretext of implementing the rules of good governance and avoid conflict be­tween personal interests and public responsibilities,” added the state­ment.

Independent news website Hes­press released documents reveal­ing that the two ministers acquired plots of 4,630 sq. metres and 3,181 sq. metres at $36 and $38 per sq. me­tre, respectively.

Benkirane reportedly asked par­ty’s activists to “refrain from com­menting on the statement of the two ministers” in an unusual sign of re­straint.

Secretary-General of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) Nabila Mounib told Lakome2 that this problem “is not new because Morocco adopts a patrimonial regime that relies on various benefits and privileges to reward people close to the authori­ties”.

The case sparked outrage among civil society activists and opposition members who called for an inquiry. Questions were raised about the timing of the leak just two months before legislative elections.

Secretary-General of the Moroc­can Liberal Party (PML) Mohammed Ziane told Article19.ma that the con­troversy was because “we are in an electoral period and we want to play democracy the French way without having the same political parties, institutions, values and political awareness.”

The election campaign is to offi­cially start September 24th and run until the eve of October 7th parlia­mentary elections.

Ziane called on all Moroccans to address requests to the government to benefit, in accordance with con­stitutional provisions, from parcels of land at a fair price to stop land speculation.

He also questioned Benkirane’s si­lence on the matter. “What’s the role of a head of government if he keeps quiet?” asked Ziane.