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Transparency 'urgently needed' to combat Morocco corruption

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View of the Chamber of deputies in Rabat on November 20, 2011. (AFP/File)

Morocco urgently needs to pass legislation guaranteeing access to information in order to combat an entrenched culture of secrecy and corruption, Transparency International said on Saturday.

The ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development came to power after winning 2011 legislative elections on a campaign to implement judicial reform and confront the widespread corruption that plagues the corruption.

But its critics say little has changed nearly two years on.

Transparency International said in a 45-page report presented in Rabat that the government has made progress in disseminating information through the websites of many ministries.

But other areas, notably the financial sector, the police and the judiciary, are not covered by access to information, according to the Berlin-based NGO.

It said a civil service statute prohibiting public officials from disclosing information or administrative documents to third parties without permission from their superiors has effectively "engendered a culture of secrecy" and hampered any attempts to increase openness.

Moroccan government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the Islamist-led coalition last week unveiled a charter outlining a raft of long-awaited judicial reforms, including to strengthen the judiciary's independence and the mechanisms for prosecuting corruption.

At the launch of TI's report, Mourad Gartoumi, a former market trader, told AFP of his efforts over the last eight years to expose embezzlement and the waste of public funds in Casablanca's wholesale fruit and vegetable market.

He said his own stall was closed down in 2005 after he began his investigations.

Gartoumi claims that he has acquired information showing that at least 1.6 billion dirhams (143 million euros) of public money has been wasted over the past ten years because of corruption in the market of Morocco's largest city.

"Managers, workers and suppliers were all involved. They have charged small-time suppliers but no one at the high level has been convicted," Gartoumi said.

"I am pessimistic because frankly there has been no accountability on the part of those responsible," he lamented, adding that information simply cannot be obtained from the authorities responsible for managing the market.

Gartoumi received Transparency International's integrity award in 2011.