Ombudsman moving Morocco forward

by Moulay M'Hamed Iraki
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Rabat - Established in 2001 by royal decree, the ombudsman office in Morocco, the Diwan Al Madhalim (the Office of Grievances), started its operations in April 2004. It was enthusiastically welcomed by Moroccan political circles and human rights organisations and was tasked with the difficult mission of reducing injustice, arbitrary treatment and abuse of power in relationships between Morocco’s public service sector and its citizens, and encouraging public servants to adhere to the rule of law.

Nearly six years later, it is worth taking a look back to assess the usefulness of this institution in Morocco and its standard-setting value in the region.

The ombudsman, or protector of the citizen, is meant to ensure citizens receive fair and just treatment in their relations with public authorities. In Morocco, the authorities sometimes refuse to enforce judicial decisions. In such cases, the ombudsman is responsible for the defence of aggrieved citizens, although it cannot and must not interfere in the judicial process itself. Of all the complaints that have come under the jurisdiction of the institution, 30 per cent of those declared admissible and well-founded have been taken up with the departments concerned–mainly local authorities, public education, justice and finance.

In view of its crosscutting mandate, which gives it jurisdiction over the entire public administration sector, the Office of Grievances is also in charge of proposing reforms to improve the performance of all administrative, legal and judicial services.

A follow-up of all complaints submitted to the institution had revealed a number of recurring problems pointing to structural deficiencies. To correct this, several practical corrective measures were suggested to the prime minister, and other proposals concerning corruption matters were submitted to the king.

Several measures were taken, including the appointment of a special representative in the ombudsman's office in charge of processing corruption cases in coordination with the Justice Department; the development of a national awareness programme in the fight against corruption; a nationwide declaration against corruption; the adoption of a charter of rights and duties for the public service sector; and the creation of a new legal process to monitor government procurements.

In order to encourage government departments to follow up on complaints, the Office of Grievances adopted a new approach based on direct contact with relevant department heads in joint committees held at regular intervals. The ombudsman thus reminds civil servants that they cater to the needs of Moroccan citizens.

In order to establish better communication networks, both internally and externally, the institution also set up a website (www.dam.ma) which records over 1,800,000 visits a year.

Seven editions of the institution's magazine, Diwan Al Madhalim, were also distributed to 150 foreign diplomatic missions with a view to strengthening links with other countries. The presence of the Moroccan ombudsman on the international scene is of major importance, specifically through its work in the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen (AMO), of which it is a founding member and current president, the Association of Francophone Ombudsmen and Mediators (AOMF), where it holds the vice-presidency, and the regional network of Arab Ombudsmen, of which it is a founding member.

In its efforts to guide Moroccan society towards an increased appreciation of human rights values and equity, the Office of Grievances is also active in the area of education and training. In this respect, Frederic Bovesse, mediator of the Walloon Region in Belgium, and former President of AOMF, stated that "through its activities and initiatives in Morocco and abroad, the Office of Grievances is now a respected advocate of the defence of human rights and values in the francophone area."

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* Moulay M'Hamed Iraki has been President of the Ombudsman office in Morocco since 2006. He is also a member of the Human Rights Consultative Council (CCDH), and President of Chamber at the Supreme Court of Morocco. This article is part of a series on the evolving role of ombudsmen as conflict resolution practitioners in changing times written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 5 January 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
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