27 November 2012

Morocco: Transparency Move Draws Criticism

Rabat — An effort by authorities to increase transparency is catching flak from some Moroccan lawmakers.

Morocco recently released the names of sand quarry licence holders in a bid to boost transparency.

But the November 12th move by Infrastructure Minister Aziz Rebbah stirred a heated debate over efforts to clean up the business of government and tackle the rentier economy.

While some people have praised what they see as the bravery of the current government, which published the list of transport license holders a few months ago, others said that this latest measure would not change the sector.

Rebbah argued that publishing the list of sand quarry operators would boost transparency. He said that both the public and the media made pressing demands for access to the information.

The list publication was intended as a first step towards the planned reforms of the sector, which will soon be launched in partnership with industry figures. The aims, Rebbah said, are to streamline the operation of quarries, tackle the phenomenon of companies drawing unearned rents and also to protect the environment by adopting specifications with clear procedures.

Industry figures have called for vigilance. David Toledano, the president of the Building Materials Federation, said that a distinction must be made between unruly operators which are merely taking advantage of the system and operators which make big investments in quarries, pay taxes and look after the environment.

The opposition has been critical of the government. MP Larbi Lhabchi said that publishing the list of license-holders without taking any further measures would achieve little in the fight against corruption and the rent-based economy. He said that a comprehensive strategy of transparency and running the economy in an ethical way needs to be adopted.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has said that the government should not be criticised for choosing to make things transparent by publishing the lists of transport and sand quarry licence-holders as the public has a right to access to this information.

Slimane Amori, a political analyst, commented that although transparency is indeed a matter of great concern to the public, the government's decision should be backed up by concrete action, otherwise it will prove to be nothing more than a publicity gimmick.

Amori said that the government has opted to unveil the list of sand quarry operators at this particular time in order to deflect attention away from other current issues, such as social discontent and the discussions over the 2013 finance bill.

Many members of the public have welcomed the decision to publish the list of sand quarry operators and hope that from now on, the authorities will adopt objective criteria which serve the interests of the nation.

That was the view of Maha El Maaroufi, a student. She said that for years, relationships between the government and companies have been shrouded in secrecy and characterised by patronage and that it was time to adopt an approach based on equal opportunity. This, she argued, can only be done by using very specific criteria when granting licences in order to achieve transparency.

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