By Siham Ali
For the first time in Moroccan history, a number of ministers have publicly declared their assets. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane called on members of his team to set an example as part of broader efforts to clean up public life.
Ministers from the Justice and Development Party (PJD) were the first to make the move.
Members of the ruling Islamist party released to the press a list of their possessions, starting with bank accounts and moving on to their properties, vehicles and loans.
Communications Minister and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said the actions should establish a new culture in the management of public affairs.
A dahir (decree) set a 90-day deadline for the declaration following the appointment of the ministers. It also extends to the ministers’ underage children and principal private secretaries. A second declaration must be made three years later, with a final one at the end of the term in office.
The purpose, El Khalfi said, is to prevent positions of responsibility from becoming a means of unlawful gain, and to stem the abuse of power for personal interests.
“I told the ministers that anyone seeking their fortune should be in business. Even a top public official will not get rich on his salary,” Benkirane said at the first meeting of the government council on January 5th.
Despite some criticism, PJD ministers say they are determined to adopt a new approach. Some have decided not to use departmental luxury cars except on official business, opting instead to use their own vehicles. Others will continue to take the train.
There is no reason to use cars that cost more than 800,000 dirhams (71,000 euros) when vehicles costing 200,000 dirhams could do the same job, according to Minister for Economic and General Affairs and Governance Najib Boulif.
PJD officials said they would remain in their own homes, except for those living far from Rabat. Benkirane has chosen to stay in his own home, vowing to use the prime minister’s residence only for official receptions.
Even though the ruling party has been accused of populism, El Khalfi maintained that his party’s position on the use of public property for personal purposes would not change. PJD ministers seek to give the public some positive signals about their policy of remaining close to people, he explained.
Furthermore, the ministers signed a moral charter, which enshrines a number of commitments, such as working in the general interest and not for personal or party purposes.
According to the document, public servants need to abide by the principle of equality of opportunity without political, partisan or family consideration. They must refuse rewards, presents or gifts in money or in kind in return for services rendered. The ministers cannot take advantage of their position to conduct personal business. They must not be involved in a transaction, purchase or contract involving a family member or business associate.
In addition to the PJD government officials, a few ministers from other allied political parties have followed the same path, announcing their assets.
Members of the public approved the practice and hoped that this behaviour would have a positive impact on the government.
The coming months will demonstrate whether ministers, and particularly those from the PJD, will manage to maintain this stance and change the way of life in public administration, said student Karima Lamine.