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Cablegate: Moroccan Road Reform Lost in Rhetoric

VZCZCXRO1103
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHRB #0784/01 1201242
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301242Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6445
INFO RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 2993
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3295
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 4623
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 3482

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RABAT 000784

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND EB/TRA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELTN ECON ELAB MO
SUBJECT: MOROCCAN ROAD REFORM LOST IN RHETORIC

REF: A. RABAT 00492
B. CASABLANCA 00071

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: The appalling death toll on Moroccan roads is
being overshadowed by uninformed and politically inspired rhetoric
against the proposed new road reform law under debate in Parliament,
according to the law's principal champion, Transport Minister Karim
Ghellab. Moroccan roads are recognized as among the most dangerous
in the world, registering on average 12 deaths and 110 injuries per
day. In a meeting with econoff on April 26, Transport Ministry
spokesperson, Khadija Bourara, said the government had launched a
renewed information campaign in hopes of shifting public perceptions
in favor of the legislation, but admitted there was little chance
for passage before the September parliamentary elections. End
Summary.

----------------------------------------
Need for Reform Clear in Grim Statistics
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Deadly road accidents have become routine in Morocco, as
evidenced by the weekly tallies compiled by the Moroccan government.
During a meeting with econoff on April 26, Ministry of Transport
Communications Advisor, Khadija Bourara, related that the new road
reform law, which inspired two major labor strikes within the past
month (reftels), was initiated in 2003 as a result of continued
deterioration in road safety. Bourara explained that faced with a
mortality trend that would reach 5,000 annual deaths by 2012,
Morocco launched an inter-ministerial national strategic plan that
focused on infrastructure, legislative, and regulatory change. She
emphasized the new road reform law was only one aspect of the
government's plan to improve road safety (Plan Strategique Integre
d'Urgence, PSIU), which also included a public awareness campaign
and an overhaul in the licensing and registration of both vehicles
and drivers.

3. (SBU) Bourara emphasized that the proposed legislation came under
the government's primary responsibility to protect the health and
safety of its citizens. She said the law would increase the rights
of users by establishing due process for the adjudication of
violations, introduced a point system for driving offenses, and
would end the current practice of lifetime licenses. Bourara
admitted the law contained controversial measures, primarily the
perceived increase in fines and penalties. She explained the law
split simple traffic violations into three categories of fines (400,
750, and 1500 dirhams), while it established elevated penalties that
would be decided by a magistrate for more serious violations, such
as driving under the influence.

4. (SBU) Results to date of the PSIU have been mixed. Impressive
improvements in the Moroccan highway system have been made and
Morocco is in the process of expanding its highway system from 500
km to 1,500 km in a national program valued at USD 2.5 billion.
Under the expansion, auto-routes will connect Tangier to the
Moroccan Mediterranean coast, Fez to Oujda on the Algerian border,
and Marrakech to Agadir in the south. Most significant, the new
multi-lane auto-route connecting Marrakech to Casablanca opened in
April, offering a new safer alternative to one of the most notorious
and dangerous stretches of road in North Africa. Nevertheless,
while mortality and accident rates showed a steady decrease in 2004
and 2005, this trend reversed beginning in the summer of 2006. 2006
was the worst year since 2003, with 3,622 deaths and 12,024 serious
injuries in 56,426 accidents. According to Bourara, cyclists and
pedestrians account for 50 percent of Moroccan road fatalities.

------------------------------------
Cost of Corruption Stirs Controversy
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Legislative progress has been more elusive. Morocco has
been shaken by two national transportation strikes, as chauffeurs,
taxi drivers, and truckers joined forces to protest the new law.
Headed by the Union of Professional Federations (SUFP) and the
Committee of Moroccan Workers (COM), the actions were launched to
protest the law's stiffer penalties and its provisions allowing the
confiscation of licenses. Union officials criticized the government
for not discussing the proposed legislation with the unions and
argued that the new law set fines at levels that were inappropriate
for the standard of living in Morocco. They also challenged the
consequences of granting traffic police the authority to confiscate
licenses, arguing instead that such power would give traffic police
(seen as one of the most corrupt entities in the country) more
leverage to extort bribes from drivers who were at risk of losing
their licenses, and consequently their jobs and livelihoods.

RABAT 00000784 002 OF 003

6. (SBU) At issue for many Moroccans is the "actual" price Moroccans
will have to pay for traffic violations under the new law.
Currently, the average fine is 400 dirhams or USD 47 for most minor
violations such as speeding. In practice, many Moroccans report
that they only make a 50-100 dirham immediate payment to the officer
at the scene. In explaining the public's criticism of the new law's
increased fines, one Moroccan asked, "If a 400 dirham offense
actually costs 100 dirhams, how much will a 1500 dirham offense
cost?"

---------------
"Man Bites Dog"
---------------

7. (SBU) When asked about the controversy surrounding the new law,
Bourara said it was a case of "Man Bites Dog." She said that the
press paid hardly any attention to the law when it was first
announced by the government and failed to convey the law's
objectives and provisions. She quipped that there is not an
interesting story when a dog bites a man, which was how the press
treated the government's information campaign. However, she said,
all that changed when the strikes occurred, with the press inflaming
the uninformed and emotional outrage against the bill. "The story
changed to 'Man Bites Dog.'" She admitted that the strikes and
public outcry against the law had put the government on the
defensive.

8. (SBU) In the end, intensive negotiations, intervention by the
Prime Minister, and some government concessions enabled the
government to weather the two strikes. Since that date, Transport
Minister Ghellab, whose personal fate appears linked to that of the
bill, launched a public relations campaign, challenging critics to
read the government proposal. Ghellab said he was stunned to learn
how uninformed many of the strikers were and described much of the
rhetoric as emotional. During his multiple public appearances, he
also reemphasized the law's justification and defended some of its
most controversial provisions, primarily the perceived increase in
sanctions.

9. (SBU) Bourara repeated Minister Ghellab's points while expressing
frustration at the public's hypocritical stance on the corruption
issue. "Everyone cries that the system is corrupt, yet it is their
own fault." She said the new law was the government's attempt to
police the police and emphasized that the government was committed
to swift action when corrupt officials were identified. However,
she added, it was a two-way street, and that the public had to take
responsibility for its culpability by ending the practice of
offering bribes when stopped.

10. (SBU) Bourara said the proposed law was a significant positive
step against corruption because it would give citizens a process to
challenge unwarranted violations. Currently, she explained, there
is no choice. When someone is given a violation they can either pay
it in total, or offer partial payment through a bribe. Under the
new law, however, Bourara said someone falsely stopped or charged
will have the opportunity, through due process, to challenge the
allegation. According to Bourara, the new law gives drivers
increased rights and the means to expose corrupt officials.

------------------
Fed-Up With It All
------------------

11. (SBU) Bourara, clearly fatigued and stressed from the past
month, said professional transporters must accept much of the blame
for Morocco's dismal safety record, and emphasized that the whole
system of licensing professional drivers had to be reformed. She
said professional taxi, bus, and truck drivers make-up less than 10
percent of the drivers in Morocco but account for 33 percent of the
deadly accidents. She added that the government planned to install
a new system of granting professional licenses that would include
periodic physicals and recurring training. She compared the goal of
the reform to the licensing of airline pilots. "It would be absurd
to issue lifetime pilot licenses to people who have not received any
pilot training... Yet that is exactly what we do for professional
drivers in Morocco."

12. (SBU) Bourara lamented that the transportation syndicates were
against the reform measures and admitted they had been successful in
stirring-up opposition. She questioned their logic by emphasizing
the cost of the current situation. "250 of the 3,500 productive
citizens killed each year are professional drivers. These are
shattered families who will have to be supported by the state; yet,
still they resist."


RABAT 00000784 003 OF 003


13. (SBU) When asked about the current state of the legislation in
Parliament, Bourara threw-up her hands and said, "Who knows?" She
sarcastically added, "We should congratulate them, they have halted
this injustice and nobody cares that 3,500 more will be killed."
She finished by saying she doubted the bill would move through
Parliament before the elections, sighing it was just too
controversial.

14. (SBU) Comment: For the second time in four months, Transport
Minister Ghellab has emerged as the government's point person,
charged with pushing through a comprehensive reform bill in the face
of stiff union resistance. However, unlike the earlier port reform
bill he pushed through in December 2006 against the protests of the
stevedores, the road bill faces both union and public resistance.
While Ghellab appears to have again diffused immediate labor unrest
by brokering private deals with transportation unions, the public's
perception of the law remains a hot potato, and the government does
not appear eager to spend the political capital required to push it
through before the elections.

RILEY

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