The Curse of Moroccan Bureaucracy
Biometric cards; websites for updating your electronic passport…
For an outsider this might look like we in Morocco have made important steps towards progress. And indeed the people here, the king, all aspire to progress. Unfortunately, these things are not readily available to every citizen in Morocco and not even a prospect for some of them. Think about it: some Moroccans can not even manage to have a regular national identity card, mostly because of the intricacies of Moroccan bureaucracy.
These days, they are broadcasting an advert on national TV channels urging people to hurry up and substitute their old regular national ID cards with the new electronic ”biometric” ones. Why the hurry? I want to tell our officials in case they missed it, that our people are overwhelmingly young, technologically aware and in no need for TV adverts to show them the benefits of new tech gadgets. All they’re ask is for administrative rules and regulations to be eased.
The most absurd in this, is that most Moroccans will end up not having the much praised biometric card. So I’m asking: what is the point of forcing everybody to prepare loads of documents including the passport, the driving license and every bit of paper to prove that you were born on this land? Let me explain more about this ridiculous situation because this might not be understood by all.
In order to get the biometric identity card, you need to collect a certain number of documents, among which, a birth-certificate, which is not hard to get from any office close to where you live or in any other place in any city or town in Morocco. So far so good. But the shocking thing is when they ask you to bring the birth “record.” You know, the one with the green paper not the white paper. I think I need to explain more about this because it’s kind of puzzling for those of you not familiar with the delights of Moroccan bureaucracy. In Morocco you have two kinds of documents for a birth-certificate: the white paper that you can get anywhere -proof that the government wants to bring the administration close to the citizens. And then you have the green paper, an ingenious Moroccan invention, that you can only obtain from the one office, in the province, in the city, where your parents registered your birth the day you were born. The green paper is essential. Without it you just can’t have a national identity card.
People keep moving from place to place. Some of us have nothing to do anymore with our places of birth, apart maybe for some who still carry the name of the city as a patronym. Others don’t even know where they were born, having grown up in a different region. I’ll give you an example: a person born in the city of Dakhla in the south, moved north to the city of Tangier for work, and ended up living there and may no longer have any link with his native Dakhla other than the fact that the father registered his birth there. And what about someone born in the city of Oujda in the east, now moved to Agadir in the southern part of the Atlantic coast and who’s health, professional conditions, or financial situation prevent him from going back to his native Oujda?
To extract the birth-certificate (green paper that is) it will cost you just about two dirhams. But how much a travel all the way from northern Morocco to the deep south, or from east to west will cost you. This is something barely mentioned. Is this what they call “bringing the administration close the citizen”? And if this green piece of paper is so important, why the hell do we have to carry the documents we are asked to carry today: what is the point of the so-called “civil status” containing the date and place of birth? What about the passport? The regular identity card? Having carried those for years, I thought they were enough proof of my citizenship. Now I’m told these documents have no legal bearing. What are all those local districts for? Aren’t they supposed to facilitate the withdrawal of our documents? And what is this so-called “electronic government” they keep boasting about? I just don’t know. What baffles me more than anything is the behavior of politicians and parliamentarians. Aren’t they supposed to speak up for the people? All they keep doing is defending their own interests.
One additional condition they came up with when it has first been decided that all Moroccans should have an electronic ID card, is that women who wear the veil, should show their ears in their photos in order for the face and its features to be completely apparent (the photo also has to have specific characteristics to fit into the biometric card). When the condition was first proposed, [Islamist] parties in parliament went mad and created a huge fuss about it. They called it the “visible ears” issue. They succeeded in forcing the government to cancel the requirement. But nobody gave a damn about the issue of the birth record. You know, the green piece of paper remember? They just don’t care because they are a world apart from what the ordinary citizen who can’t afford to pay a bus ticket worries about. How on earth is this citizen, who struggles for his daily bread, will afford to travel to the city of his birth, if it happens to be located far away from where he lives today? This is a very legitimate question. This is the one reason why many Moroccans will not be able to change their old card into brand new e-cards. Nothing will change as long as the bureaucratic conditions stay as prohibitive and stifling as they are today. In this era of “war against terrorism”, the biometric card is aimed primarily at strenghtnning the “national security” of the state. It doesn’t address the real concerns of the citizen. So who’s the real beneficiary of all this?
There’s a phenomenon that is very prevalent in our society. It is the fact that the very existence of many children is not recognized by the state when for one reason or another, the father did not register his offspring in the civil status register. I do not think a father wouldn’t register his son or daughter intentionally. It mainly has to do with the fact this is a difficult procedure to go through, particularly for low-income families. The main cause being the complexity of the conditions set by Moroccan law and administration to basically spoil the lives of citizens. The non-use of technology is also a factor at play. Just go visit some government offices. You would think you are still at the beginning of the twentieth century and that time has frozen there forever.
Morocco is well known for the mobility of its population inside the country itself. Many of those born in the north may well move to the south and vice versa. But bureaucracy is causing a lot of trouble in our society. If some parents are blessed with their first newborn, the father will have to travel to the city or the region where he, the father, was born. Otherwise his offspring is in legal limbo. The son or daughter, in case the parents divorce, can well find themselves rejected by their father with little legal recourse. Can you believe this is possible in our day and age? What’s even more outrageous is that this wasn’t the case in the past when newborns could be registered by their parents in any city in the country. Does the government and the officials only know that most Moroccans are poor? That traveling from place to place requires a lot of money, time and effort? That extracting a single certificate may take more than one day? How can the citizen afford to pay for transport, accommodation and food, and how much time can he afford to waste in order to get these documents?
The same goes for marriage. The traditional al-Fatiha mariage (a form of religious ceremonial marriage) is spreading in the country, at the expense of women’s and children’s rights, precisely because of bureaucratic obstacles. Moroccan courts are full of cases where women battle to prove their undocumented marriages and to defend the rights of their children. Things are getting worse and harder to deal with. Where does the government think we are going with this: undocumented marriages, children and future citizens without identity? Is this the progress they are talking about? If nothing changes, we are heading for a national disaster by all measures. Again, I can’t believe this things can happen in this day and age.
Despite all the benefits brought about by the new Family Code, women are still considered minors. Just take a look at the Family Record Book where only the man’s (husband’s) name appears upfront, while the woman’s name is put in a seperate box along with the children, invariably referred to as “mother.” There’s only the husband’s photo in it. If God forbid the husband passes away, the widow is left in administrative limbo, unable to register her own children.
In more advanced societies, photos of both the husband and wife appear on opposite pages and on equal footing on the Family Record Book. This document should serve as a proof for Marriage and should be provided to the couple soon after the wedding. Children should be able to be registered by either one of their parents, in an office near where they live. The way the government currently conducts the affairs of the citizens and their lives is simply ludicrous. We live in the age of the Internet and computers, and there are hundreds of technicians and specialists in computers from both sexes who are unemployed. Can’t we employ them to reform the administration and replace the current inefficient civil servants? The current laws encourage corruption. By just reforming the administration we can create millions of jobs because we live in a very large society. We can find solutions if only we can work seriously.
The bureaucratic aspects of Morocco are numerous and complex. To address them all one needs to write volumes upon volumes of books and not get to the bottom of it. Morocco has to get rid of bureaucracy because it hinders its
By Hind Soubaï Idrissi
Translated by Hisham from