Morocco: Glaring gaps revealed by response to the coronavirus pandemic
Flickr: Chris Ford
Scoring 40 out of a possible 100 in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Morocco is failing to make progress against systemic corruption in its public sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the extreme fragility of the country’s economy, and brought governance challenges into relief.
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Morocco imposed a state of emergency on 20 March 2020 that led to restrictions on movement, such as curfews, and travel restrictions through the closure of national borders. On top of high levels of inequality prior to the pandemic, Morocco’s economic vulnerability worsened further due to the decline in tourism, remittances and agricultural exports. Economic output contracted by 13.8 per cent, leading to a tax revenues shortfall that increased the budget deficit. Morocco’s poverty rate rose from 17.1 per cent in 2019 to 19.8 per cent in 2020. The unemployment rate went up from 8.1 per cent to 12.3 per cent. A third of Morocco’s families lost their main source of income due to the imposed quarantine measures.
Morocco’s consistently below-average CPI score attests to a severe and systemic level of corruption that has led to social services being neglected, increasing the precariousness of livelihoods and worsening the impact of increased poverty.
The state of emergency also increased the governing authority of the executive, which failed to involve the parliament in decision-making processes, sparking debates and criticism.
The suspicious awarding of public contracts continued during the crisis. Under the state of emergency, Morocco allowed procurement measures that lacked oversight and allowed special exemptions for which the government has not been held to account. Officials authorising payments from public institutions were essentially given legal cover for abuses. These exemptions extend to areas beyond health care and posed significant risk of mismanaged funds and corruption. Public authority of all kinds was monetised during the pandemic, even through outright extortion.
Unfortunately, beyond empty words, there have been no positive signals of political will to effectively fight against corruption. The National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which was approved on 28 December 2015, has not been seriously activated; no tangible progress has been made on the level of implementing its requirements. The National Anti-Corruption Committee, which is supposed to lead this program, has only met twice since its inception in 2017. There are also attempts to undermine the foundations of the law establishing the committee, reducing its ability to investigate and removing guarantees of its independence.
The rights of those who hold the government to account have also been threatened. Journalists known for their criticism of the public authorities or their embarrassing investigations into cases of lacking transparency have been arrested and imprisoned. Morocco ranked 133rd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index in 2020, with the imprisonment of journalists and judicial harassment of media highlighted in the report. According to Amnesty International, along with 91,000 Moroccans prosecuted for breaking the new health emergency laws, five human rights activists and citizen journalists have been imprisoned over accusations of “offending public institutions” and “spreading false information.” It is little wonder that Moroccan human rights organizations have described the state of emergency as a human rights setback.
Fighting against widespread corruption in Morocco requires the strengthening of effective anti-corruption measures. This presupposes real political will to endorse a set of basic measures, in particular the following:
- Activating the National Anti-Corruption Strategy
- Protecting the National Anti-Corruption Committee from threats to its mandate and independence
- Adopting and implementing a law on conflicts of interest
- Activating the law to ensure effective protection for witnesses and whistleblowers
- Amending the laws related to the declaration of property and their implementation, and monitoring the integrity and independence of agencies that have investigative mechanisms
- Mainstreaming accountability for all those with public responsibility and for the beneficiaries of public funding
- Criminalising illicit enrichment
Updated on 4 March 2021
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