The law and law enforcement

A past senior magistrate of our country, General M. M. (God rest his soul) — who usefully helped me when he was Colonel and effectively contributed to facilitating my reintegration some forty years ago into the Moroccan market in my return to the country after a first stay of university studies and post-doc work which was close to thirteen years in Switzerland — used to recall in connection with one question or another this precaution “You have to see what the law says”. Other leaders, whom I count among my friends, also have this attitude.

This being the case, during my work of decades past, among other things, on interventions as a legal expert in Casablanca and beyond, on hundreds of files, relating to the fields of food security and others, I was able to observe the recklessness or contempt that many players in the national agri-food sector repeatedly showed towards our regulations —  the embryonic one left by the French Protectorate and then the 28-07 law on food safety currently in force — frequently with the full knowledge of the supervisory authority, namely the fraud prevention services previously and the ONSSA (National Food Safety Office) currently. These are (Breaches of the law and passivity of the Supervisory Authority) proven facts that other observers have commented on in various national media without any notable action by the higher authorities appearing to have been taken to correct on the ground this grim observation.

On the other hand, there is no longer any doubt that today the Moroccan state is definitely determined to crack down on fraud, corruption, cronyism, wherever they come from. This robust consolidation approach — an essential requirement following the Kingdom’s great opening to foreign investors of all stripes — which continues to this day, will have concerned most of the nation’s public and private sectors of activity. But the civil servants assigned to the control of food products — who evolve in the nebula which brings together the supervisory authorities in the agri-food sector coming primarily from the Ministry of Agriculture and also from the hygiene offices and the Ministry of Trade and industry and independent official laboratories—seem to have been spared by this national sanitation and upgrading campaign.

Someone can deduce from this that the food and assimilated products control system is fine with us. But, in light of the many examples previously reported in several blog posts and hundreds of well-documented observations in my archives—dealing with food safety law violations in the presence of culpable passivity on the part of the ONSSA and others — the regrettable finding is that we are actually still very far from being close to a food control system comparable to those in force in countries with which we trade under free trade agreements.

But our food control officials believe, or let themselves be convinced, that their approach to working to reassure Moroccan consumers is sound. Their strategy, a kind of infantilization of us adult consumers, still and always consists in bringing out from time to time a list compiling a quantity of defective food products discarded by them. These officials forget, or pretend to ignore, that food fraud professionals, who brew colossal sums of money from their criminal business, do not care about the promulgation of anonymous lists of these officials. As long as their names are not disclosed for information to consumers, this will not prevent them from continuing their frauds or starting them again.

However, it is true that the Quality Control system is a highly sensitive subject. In the sense that if the exaction of a cop or a crooked judge only has an impact on one individual (a file) at a time, a defective food control immediately impacts all consumers, i.e. everyone. It is understandable that the State can make a clear distinction between a wrongful individual action in the first cases and the potential impact on all consumers in the event of the quality control system being called into question, as well as the risk of a slippage of popular reaction.

This was the case, for example, during the so-called Indian wheat affair which hit the headlines in the nineties of the last century and in which we have been, at the request of the courts, opposed to the Staff and technicians of the Ministry of Agriculture at the time. The objective elements in the file submitted to the courts do not provide any tangible proof of the presence of a contaminant which the officials used to block wheat at the port of Casablanca. It must be said that this type of lucrative transactions (imports of wheat shipments) has always previously been carried out by business men related to a known European country. These frustrated people then stirred up the national media with manipulated information that created a sense of confusion and dread among consumers and the agricultural community. To avoid an uncontrolled skid of popular reactions, the State then used all the regulatory means at its disposal to prohibit the official entry of this cargo of wheat into the national territory.

It is obviously very difficult to speculate on what would have happened if this wheat had had access to the Moroccan market. Similarly, it is difficult to speculate what would happen if ONSSA officials decide to add to their recurring lists, mentioned above, of discarded food products, the names of the fraudsters behind the offences.

Unfortunately, the dilemma does not end there.

The fact is that now Morocco is sort of between a rock and a hard place when it comes to upgrading our food control system. Internally, there is of course this question of the sensitivity of the subject and the fear of slippage which could be a source of disruption in the normal functioning of the cogs of the local market and the mood of the population which remains profane about questions related to health control. But, Morocco is now considered by international bodies, UN, World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank and others as a leader giving the way to other African brotherly and friendly countries to, in particular, industrialize and get out of poverty. This therefore becomes a heavy responsibility now for Morocco, which must assume it in its entirety. This includes the now urgent upgrade of our quality control system encompassing ONSSA, LOARC, EACCE (now Morocco Foodex to erase its colonial past), IMANOR, Hygiene offices and others.

The reason is that in short, Morocco is now experiencing its industrial and technological transformation on credit thanks to the money of the banks that will have to be repaid. But the money must first be earned by developing our exports, particularly where we have comparative advantages over competitors. This is obviously the case for agro-industry and cosmetics where God has served Morocco well with a great potential in agricultural and other resources and a favorable climate. We can produce as much as we want, but the limiting factor for export is the quality and credibility of the control. In this regard, it would be naïve to consider that our former colonizers will continue to watch us take commercial shares from them on the African market. They will use all honest and dishonest means (as was the case with the Indian wheat mentioned above) to curb the enthusiasm of our operators for exporting to the African market and elsewhere.

The best defense, the saying goes, is attack. So, we have in Morocco a string of operators of European obedience who work as if they were in their proper country on the sector of expertise and certification and other advice to companies in all illegality. For example, they allow themselves to flood our market with certificates produced and issued from abroad. However, the law on the exercise of the activity of expertise with us is clear. In particular, in the event that the opinion of an expert is questioned in a well-founded manner, the latter must be reachable to report on his work before “Anyone entitled” in general and the courts in particular. This seems difficult or even insoluble when the expert is domiciled abroad. So, the thing with which our authorities concerned by this subject must begin is to ask these firms of expertise referred to apply the law which exists in our country on the experts to practice with us. Otherwise, order them to cease all activity in the field of expertise. This is the price to pay for our supervisory authority to be taken seriously by professionals from here and elsewhere.

The application of the other measures mentioned above in this text will be greatly facilitated.