By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Morocco World News
Casablanca, March 10, 2012
Mr. El Habib Choubani, Minister-in-charge of Relations with the Parliament and Civil Society spoke to Morocco World News correspondent Loubna Flah about a host of issues from the government delivery of services to the collaboration with the civil society organizations.
Since its appointment, the PJD led government has launched substantial reforms with a special focus on corruption, manifested in the sprouting of corruption lobbies and the infiltration of the rentier economy in all vital sectors. Though it is too early to assess the government’s delivery on its campaign promises, it is obvious that the actions taken at the level of different ministries seems to coalesce over a major choice: the eradication of corruption that runs counter to the public interest. Corruption of the state has sapped all efforts undertaken in the past to implement drastic reforms in the most ailing sectors and to provide economic prosperity and social justice.
MWN: In this program, the government plans to pursue a comprehensive strategy based on consensus among ministries regarding the major axes of reforms rather than a sector based approach. How is this holistic approach reflected in concrete terms?
Mr. Choubani: I would like first to thank Morocco World News for your efforts to inform English-speaking audiences about the reform process in Morocco, in addition to a wide array of issues. The government has made political reform its top priority through the enforcement of good governance, especially at the economic level. Our approach is comprehensive in the sense that all the ministries are expected to channel their efforts towards the eradication of corruption and the consolidation of transparency in public affairs
Let’s remember that when Moroccans took to the street, they did not challenge the foundations of the state; for example, God, country and king. Rather, Moroccans are appalled by bad governance and its implications. We have diagnosed the real ailment of the Moroccan society and economy and we are resolute to counteract corruption firmly. This strategy will have a direct impact on the economy and will definitely promote a brighter image of Morocco before the international community.
MWN: I would like to cite a statement made by Mr. Nabil Ben Abdellah, Minister of Housing, Town Planning and Urban Policy during the eighth session of the PPS central committee where he said that “unilateral declarations to the media are unlikely to sort out problems like the rentier economy.” Is there any dissonance within the coalition government regarding the methodology to accost this complex issue?
Mr. Choubani: The action by the Minister of Equipment and Transport was by no means an isolated move. On the contrary, it is part and parcel of our program. And as we are going through especially critical times, we can’t afford to waste time on political wrangling. In our campaign against corruption and rentier economy, every minute counts. We have to join forces in order to eliminate corruption. Our chief aim is to sweep the dust off of corruption cases and put an end to impunity. We are all aware that corruption has permeated all vital sectors in discrepant proportions. Therefore, I believe that Mr. Rebbah acted in utter alignment with the government program since the fight against corruption is at the core of our concerns as decision makers. Similarly, Mr. Ramid is following the same path by enforcing legal prosecution against corruption cases.
I trust that the Ministry of Housing and Town Planning will also uncover corrupt practices in the real estate sector. Each ministry is expected to take a firm stand against corruption on issues pertaining to its competence. No one stands to gain from conveying a distorted image about unity within the government, especially regarding corruption. We are required as ministers, as majority parties and as a coalition government to crack down on corrupt lobbies with an iron fist. This is exactly what Moroccans expect from their new government.
MWN: All political parties and especially the opposition noticed a delay in the promulgation of the finance law. What are the reasons looming behind this delay?
Mr. Choubani: There is indeed a delay in the promulgation of the finance law. Yet, this delay is ascribed to valid reasons. When it was sworn in, the government had to review the finance bill that had been drafted by the outgoing government, which possessed a different outlook on crucial issues and that had a different order of priorities. It was important therefore to undertake government-wide consultations with all stakeholders. On the other hand, we had to take into account the economic crisis and the fluctuation of oil prices. Not to mention, the problem of drought which has affected the agriculture sector in Morocco and with it the Moroccan economy. We are trying to finalize the bill and we intend to present it to the parliament within 10 days. The last round is to take place during the cabinet meeting on Thursday March 8.
MWN: The House of Counselors elected under the old constitution is undertaking its mission currently under the new constitution. Do you think that there is any constitutional paradox?
Mr. C houbani: The House of Counselors is not unconstitutional since the constitution stipulates that legislative institutions continue their work until elections are organized. Meanwhile, the upper house does not by any mean impede the legislative process. By virtue of the new constitution, the House of Counselors and the House of Representatives work in synergy, and we no longer have conflicting chambers as was the case before. The new constitution has granted the House of Representatives more significant prerogatives, its members being elected by direct ballot.
MWN: What is the government’s take on media reforms and the very heated debate on the issue of the salary of the national soccer team coach Mr. Eric Gerets?
Mr. Choubani: Depending on their nature, some reforms will be implemented incrementally. In the media sector for instance, the government has to honor its commitments laid down in program contracts it signed with Moroccan channels. For the time being, Mr. El Khalfi, the Minister of Communication and the government spokesperson, and his cabinet have started to review the clauses of all contracts. Very soon, more talk shows will be phased in as part of the new reforms.
The ministry of communication plans to undertake long-term strategies that are aimed at restructuring media institutions towards improving their management structures. This internal reform is liable to have a direct impact on the quality of TV programs.
Regarding Moroccan football, I would like to pinpoint that the contract with Mr. Eric Gerets entails a number of legal obligations, including the clause on the secrecy of his salary. Thus, any breach of this contract would cost the Royal Moroccan Federation of Football (RMFF) exorbitant penalties. I would also like to draw your attention to fact that the RMFF is not only financed through public subsidies, but more significantly through private sponsorships. Though the RMFF receives subsidies from the state, it remains an autonomous institution and it is up to the board and managers to make such internal decisions. On the other hand, any future government subsidies will be conditional on a set of result-oriented conditions.
MWN: Let’s talk about your stand on the Mawazine Festival. In fact you have leveled criticism towards the festival’s timing and resources. What is the government’s position on the issue?
Mr. Choubani: There are deliberate attempts to distort my statements about Mawazine, and in so doing, disorienting public opinion over the issue of the freedom to organize artistic festivals. I would like to make a clear-cut distinction between the content of artistic festivals and the governance and transparent management of artistic events. These are two different aspects. I have made it clear in many interviews that artistic expression cannot be subject to any restrictions. It is up to the Moroccan audience to appraise the quality and content of any artistic event, be it in the field of cinema, drama or music. At issue is the management of these public events, which enjoy free access to state-funded media, public subsidies, and technical and backstop support by city councils and local authorities. In democratic countries, such events are entrusted to a public institution or arts foundation, which serve as a safeguard for equitable participation of all artists, cultural diversity, and the promotion of local and national art forms. By the same token, I would like to call upon all Moroccan artists to join forces in order to form a national council for artistic festivals and events.
I would like to pinpoint that most national festivals are partially state-sponsored. Unfortunately, access to these public funds is not granted on an equal basis by festival organizers. So the pressing question is, what are the criteria for access to this kind of sponsorship? We need to define exactly what is meant by public sponsorship. The latter has indeed many facets, namely the assistance paid via municipalities and the support granted by banks and national companies where the state has important shares. Access to public funds should be managed in utter impartiality and transparency. Thus, the whole issue pertains to good governance that we are committed to put forward in all sectors.
There is also the problem of timing. It is unacceptable to schedule such youth-appealing forms of entertainment in the midst of students’ exam periods. In other democratic countries, public opinion and NGO’s would not tolerate that such highly advertised festivals distract students from exam preparations. Let’s trace back the timing of festivities in Moroccan culture. In rural areas, people used to wait for the harvest season to engage in festivities and not during the hard labor period. Today, there is a clamorous need to open a debate in total objectivity, away from misleading gibberish disguised in the name of “freedom of expression,” which is often used by those who do not want to give up their illegitimate privileges. Artistic governance does not impinge on freedom of expression.
Key to artistic governance is the promotion of diversity and indigenous cultural and artistic forms. Yet, most state-sponsored festivals, regardless of the nature of support, do not echo the cultural singularity of the regions where these festivals are organized. The issue should not be a taboo and the government is resolute to uncover all aspects of bad governance.
MWN: The ministry is expected to instill new dynamics in the interplay between the government and civil society organizations. What kind of rapport do you intend to establish with these associations? What kind of aid and support might the ministry grant them?
Mr. Choubani: The Ministry in-charge of the Relations with the Parliament and Civil Society envisions forging sustainable partnerships with civil society organizations. In the initial stage, the ministry will initiate wide-scale consultations with different types of associations in order to take into account their views regarding the drafting of key bills. Once passed into law, these bills will empower civil society and enable it to have a positive impact in society, namely with regards to the promotion of participative democracy in accordance with the new constitutional provisions.
The second component pertains to the enforcement of good governance in collaboration with civil society. Civil society associations will become actively engaged in the eradication of corruption bearing in mind that they are leading ground-work, especially at the grassroots level and can provide the government with reliable and accurate information. The third component of this partnership relates to capacity-development and skill-development of civically engaged associations and NGOs through training workshops that will empower these associations.
MWN: Moroccans living abroad did not rejoice when they were not granted the right to representation under the new constitution. What’s the position of the PJD on the matter? Are there any alternatives liable to empower the Moroccan diaspora whose remittances are reliable sources of foreign currency for Morocco?
Mr. Choubani: I would like to pinpoint that the Party of Justice and Development, which was then an opposition party, expressed its position on the absence of legislative representation of non-resident Moroccans as stipulated in the new constitution. In redressing this situation, the government is keen on involving effectively the Moroccan diaspora in the shaping of public policies and contributing to development of their country. The government will set up appropriate mechanisms and structures that will enable them to exercise their political rights, including the right to vote and the right to petition, through the revision of a number of organic laws as provided for in the Constitution.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti
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