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Exposing corruption in Morocco’s hospitals

Sanaa Zouanat

Kamal Alamy’s* anxiety increased with the heat of the day. His 11-year-old daughter, who is partially blind, had injured her head and urgently needed a brain scan. It was a hot, sticky afternoon in Casablanca, and they sat uncomfortably in the hospital, waiting for the doctor to arrive.

Eventually, the nurse in charge of brain scans spoke to them. He told Kamal that it would be several months before they would be able to find an appointment for his daughter. If he wanted her to be seen sooner, Kamal should return early the next morning with 500 dirhams (US$60), on top of the standard 200-dirham (US$24) scan fee.

For Kamal, who is a vendor at a local market, paying the nurse would mean finding around a third of his monthly income overnight. It’s a dilemma that many families in Morocco regularly face — pay an illegal backhander, or go without vital health care.

A wider web of bribery and corruption

Situations like Kamal’s are all too familiar across Morocco, where corruption frequently denies people their right to health care — even when lives are at stake.

Fortunately, Kamal knew of an alternative. He called the Transparency Morocco anti-corruption helpline and reported what had happened. Staff at Transparency Morocco’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) immediately recognised Kamal’s story as part of a bigger picture. They receive frequent reports of bribery and corruption by health professionals.

According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer — Middle East and North Africa, which surveyed more than 6,600 people in six nations about their day-to-day experiences of corruption, 14 per cent of citizens trying to access health care paid bribes to medical staff in the last year. In Morocco, the bribery rate for medical services is 32 per cent — the highest in the region.

Caught in the act

ALAC advisors recommended that Kamal file a complaint directly to the Attorney General’s Office. He quickly agreed, and presented his complaint in person that day. Legal officials recognised the urgency of Kamal’s daughter’s case. As a result, when he arrived at the hospital the next morning, Kamal wasn’t alone.

Unnoticed by the nurse, the two men who arrived with Kamal were undercover police officers. When the nurse asked for his money, the officers arrested him on the spot. Kamal’s daughter received the scan she so urgently needed — free from any excess charge.

Delivering justice

After a fast-moving court case, the nurse was imprisoned for two months. Health care professionals — especially at the hospital Kamal attended — were officially warned of the harmful consequences of corruption on their careers.

All Moroccans are legally entitled to call for police assistance when asked for bribes, but most people don’t know about this right and some are reluctant to act on it because they think the judiciary will simply ask for more illegal payments. Others fear retaliation by the authorities against which they file complaints.

Challenging the culture of bribery

Transparency Morocco is working hard to raise people’s awareness of their right to seek help when faced with corruption. Its ALAC staff run stands at hospitals promoting people’s right to denounce corruption, and are working to develop a partnership with the Ministry of Health to carry out joint awareness-raising activities.

Transparency Morocco is also working with the authorities to ensure real protection and support for people who speak out. Then more people in situations like Kamal’s will have the confidence to come forward.

The GCB shows that 49 per cent of Moroccans believe ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. Kamal’s case proves that they’re right — people who report corruption when they see it can help ensure fair access to services.

*Name has been changed

Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) provide free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. With more than 100 offices in more than 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effective way for people to report corrupt and demand action. Learn more:

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This article was written as part of the Global Corruption Barometer — Middle East and North Africa 2019, the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in the Middle East and North Africa.