The old adage about prevention being the best cure can clearly be applied beyond the healthy diet.
In the case of Transparency Maroc, it's the very title of their book. The Morocco branch of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International – Morocco appears to be the only Maghreb country with such an independent watchdog – has published a unique book, "Proverbs Against Corruption."
An imaginative collection of traditional proverbs, in classical Arabic, Moroccan darija, Amazigh, and French, the book features artwork – posters, photos, calligraphy – all on the theme of corruption. "If I don't put my hand in the gutter, the rats won't bite me…"
Recently the Secretrary General of Transparency Maroc, Dr. Rachid Filali Meknassi, professor at the Faculty of Law in Rabat, spoke at a gathering at one of Tangier's several "quality" bookstores, Page et Plume. Dr. Filali Meknassi is an engaging speaker on a tough subject, able to inject humor and irony into a topic that is ultra-serious. He says that corruption probably costs Morocco in the neighborhood of 2 percent of its annual GDP. And does that include opportunity costs – investment scared away by corrupt practices?
Transparency Maroc also screened an anti-corruption ad, plus Le Sac, a short film by Tangier film maker Farida Benlyazid, a series of vignettes showing corruption in daily life. A payoff to a hospital employee to jump the queue to see a doctor. Bribing the teacher to guarantee good grades for your child. Want that apartment? Then you'll have to pay a special fee to the fixer. And so on. Some aspects of corruption are so rampant in daily life that people simply don't even think of it as such. It's just the cost of doing business, a fee to save time, an inevitable annoyance.
Whether the informal economy is an emanation of corruption, or simply a sign of the desperation of millions who cannot find regular employment, cash is king on the street. How do their goods come into Morocco (or whose house are they stolen from?). No one really expects these "merchants" to pay tax, and shoppers shouldn't expect receipts.
In other countries – the US with its Consumer Reports, France's UFC Que Choisir – a report on the pharmaceutical industry and the impact on the price of medicine would be a cause for consumer advocates. In Morocco, it's a question for Transparency, which devoted its entire December newsletter to outlining why locally manufactured drugs are almost as expensive as imported medicines.
In a country where millions have absolutely no medical coverage, and where doctors are rarely seen by large swaths of the population, the local pharmacist is the closest that most people ever get to a health care professional. You feel sick, you plonk down your dirhams, and the person behind the counter will dole out a pill. At profit margins that are astounding. Why? Because it is that way.
Transparency Maroc is fighting an uphill battle. Morocco's place in the worldwide corruption index is down at the "very poor integrity" category, the bottom half of the international ranking. The fight against endemic corruption extended even to the award ceremony for Transparency Maroc's 2010 "Integrity Award" to anti-corruption whistle blower Chakib El Khiyari, the head of the Rif Human Rights Association, freed during a post-February 20 amnesty. The ceremony was delayed well into 2011, and the venue was changed at least four times following successive refusals to allow the ceremony to take place, which prompted Transparency to "cage" its statuette.
It now graces the back cover of "Proverbs Against Corruption."
The 2011 Transparency Maroc Integrity Award went to Mourad Kartoumi, a Casablanca fruit and vegetable merchant, perhaps a nod to Tunisian Jasmine Revolution hero Mohammed Bouazizi. The citation on the award says that Kartoumi braved personal risk, and endangered his livelihood, by breaking the "code of silence" governing corruption in his sector.
That is exactly what Transparency Maroc does in its pioneering work.