The Moorish Wanderer

The Civil Service, The Bureaucracy & The Citizen

This is a piece I wrote for Talk Morocco, the August issue being “Red Tape” in Morocco. You will find some interesting pieces on  how foreigners and nationals alike have to deal with bureaucratic inertia. I thought perhaps a wider picture
is needed
to understand why Civil Service Isn’t Working.

No one can deny it: the civil service is vital for any society. With the level of complexity the post-modern societies reached -including ours- the need for a group of individuals devoted solely for public service is increasingly compulsory. I am sorry I have a bias for the civil service, even though I suffered, like many other fellow Moroccans (and foreigners, when those had the unfortunate opportunity to deal with the ‘idara) who didn’t need a paper for their everyday business? Who hadn’t had enough from long queues, rude civil servants and stupid remarks regarding their applications? But the work of government, the ultimate cement holding society together, has to be carried out. I know the red tape can be of invaluable help when it is rightly and properly managed. My piece here argues some ideas on the issue.

The civil service is an ancient institution in Morocco. It is the institutional aspect of the Makhzen. Whether you believe in its present existence or not, the Makhzen provided the backbone of the Moroccan civil service for many centuries.
The pre-modern civil service was not a public service per se. The idea, as A Laroui or J. Erckmann noted, was more about taming the tribes and imposing the Sultan’s power, rather than serving the public and improve its standards of living. The civil service, as it were, was about maintaining, consolidating, imposing and displaying the imperial power to the rebels or potential ones.
The ultimate goal being of course, the complete submission of the tribes to subjects. The paramount pretext to endless “Harkas” was the Prophet’s saying about Muslims need to be submitted to a Khalifa’s authority. The Sultan, as God’s and the Prophet’s  representative, has the duty to do so.
Laroui managed to see in the Makhzen the first foundations of modern government. The need of civil service is therefore of an early stage. The modern aspect of it might lay in the attempt to “organize” as it were the basic means for collecting taxes and enforcing the Sultan’s power. Despite all the medieval aspects of such arbitrary administration, there remained two arguments for any modern power that were already taken as sovereign symbols: Regal privilege of circulating money and the Legitimate Monopoly of Violence.

One might wonder why they were subjected to this brief historical review-and I do apologise for it is quite incomplete and subject to debate moreover-. It is essential to bear in mind that the past institutions do shape the present ones. However concealed their influence is, it remains so, and perhaps even stronger than one might think. The “modern” -or shall we say, European-style- civil service came in with the Protectorate. For the first time in Moroccan history, the tribes have been tamed; the borders and the land have been controlled, even if it was divided up between the victorious colonial powers. Even with this so-called “modern” state apparatus, the core working hypothesis of the whole she-bang remains the same: square the territory, and squash any glimpses of autonomous will. It has been Morocco’s plight to witness the unhealthy mating of French Jacobin centralism, and the Makhzenian perpetual lust for control over the tribes. It may come to a surprise for many of us, but deep inside every civil servant one meets in one’s life to deal with administrative matter, there’s this tradition that makes administrative journeys of hellish nature.
A bureaucracy like this does not meet the requirements Max Weber designed for the true administration. In facts, the whole post argues that the Moroccan bureaucracy is not really one. That’s because the academic definition of it involves a battery of conditions our civil service cannot meet, because of its intrinsic nature.

Let me now present Weber’s definition of Bureaucracy: “characterised by an elaborate hierarchical division of labour directed by explicit rules impersonally applied, staffed by full-time, life-time, professionals, who do not in any sense own the ‘means of administration’, or their jobs, or the sources of their funds, and live off a salary, not from income derived directly from the performance of their job. These are all features found in the public service” These are features of positive connotation: an organization with pre-defined set of rules is unlikely to block, or for its members to take bribes or to bribe for a specific requirement.
Max Weber tends to use a lot of his Ideal-Type methodology, and in real world, no civil service matches that ideal, though some services managed to get closer than others. Nothing of the sort for Morocco, though. Let me walk you through some facts and figures.

Morocco has an overall civil workforce of some 684.889 civil servants (2004 figures) These figures are of course pre-DVD, the famous Départ Volontaire Demandé, following which the current size of the civil service should be around 640.000, ceteris paribus (a reasonable assumption based on the facts the civil service no longer recruits huge amounts of workforce). This number is distributed as follows
Our civil service is not, in broad terms, incompetent, in facts, according to the Rapport de Développement Humain (a report His Majesty ordered for the 50th independence anniversary), our service is doing quite well compared to African opposite numbers. Its mapped distribution follows quite closely the population’s pattern of distribution. In its own administrative capacity, the civil service has no intrinsic problem of its own.

There are however other problems that out-range these positive points: Though civil servants are evenly distributed among the population, the evidence shows that services are very centralized: central services (Education department not included) gather 80% of the overall workforce. The civil service, in other terms, is mainly administrative, and centralized-oriented on the top of this. Furthermore, the civil service is ageing, 60% is more than 40 years old. (This figure is bound to be a bit lower now, because of the DVD, but no more than 10% or so)
Finally, there is this question of income. The figures are rather confusing. In absolute terms, the civil service absorbs a lowly part of the GDP (about 13% in 2005, 10.2% in 2008, IMF figures) nonetheless when compared to the total taxes the Moroccan state levies on the economy, the figures are much more important. According to the Finance Ministry, the total fiscal levy amounts to some 24.5% of the GDP. That means a huge amount of it is devoted only to the payment of their human resources (basically, some 40% of the total budget income, According to the 2008 Budget).
The issue is the civil service costs quite a lot, and furthermore its income distribution is quite random, all of which creates frustration among all services, and increases the probability of corruption, passe-droits, nepotism and the like.

According to the figures some department are employing large numbers of civil servants, but these receive a lower share of the total income spending. For instance low-grade civil servants (echelon 4 and below) represent 13% of the total workforce but receive only 5% of the total Personnel spending. These are people that didn’t enjoy much real increase in their income for the past years, particularly when one bears in mind the fact that the average working experience oscillates between 20 and 22 years. Surely in these conditions, the temptation of taking a bribe or abusing their position grows on the frustration of income inequality. I would like to add on last batch of data before I can put discuss some policies that could, in my opinion, bring a bit of change about. Remuneration is a plight and is considered so, as the reports points out: “…Pris en otage par une vision purement budgétaire, le système de rémunération qui comporte de nombreuses insuffisances, constitue l’une des problématiques essentielles auxquelles le gouvernement est actuellement confronté.” (p.117)
The report goes on the various shortcomings of the civil service payroll:
– une grille de rémunération obsolète, dont l’établissement remonte à 1973 qui ne joue plus son rôle d’instrument de classification des emplois, car une masse importante de fonctionnaires changent de grade sans pour autant changer de fonction. […] De nombreux fonctionnaires plafonnement dans leur grade après 21 ans de services sans perspective d’avancement alors qu’ils sont encore en milieu de carrière et loin de l’âge de la retraite.
– l’absence d’équité en matière de rémunération, en raison du caractère excessivement large de l’éventail
des salaires : le rapport est de 37 pou 1 entre le salaire le plus élevé et le salaire le plus bas dans la fonction publique marocaine, alors qu’il est de 7 pour 1 dans les pays à économie comparable.”

And finally: “À ces dysfonctionnements en matière de rémunération, il importe d’ajouter l’absence d’un système de promotion fondé sur le mérite. La promotion de grade qui reposait depuis des décennies sur le principe du quota n’a pas résisté aux pressions syndicales qui a amené le gouvernement à plusieurs reprises, à offrir des promotions en masse au profit de milliers de fonctionnaires.”

Just as the bald man from Lena said: “What Is to be Done?” I discussed in another post the possibility of a high level of decentralization (actually, an effective Federal Monarchy) with civil servants much closer to the citizens.
That means an increase in the local administration staff to a ratio of 1 federal (central) civil servant for every 2 local or regional civil servants. One way or the other, the trade-unions as well as the civil servants will have to come to the idea that their income is not guaranteed, that they must produce an evidence of their work, thus introducing a parameter of performance in the service.  These are implemented for the high levels of officials, and they prove to be working. When one speaks of high-ranking officials, one does not refer to the “high-flyers”. Unfortunately, firsts and upper seconds graduates from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration do not count as high officials.
We need a clearer system in the way the civil service recruits its officials, especially for high-entrance levels (those involved in policy-making) a graduate from Polytechnique, Centrale or HEC might be bright, but when lacking knowledge of public service, results can be counter-productive. The problem is, our top-level recruitment is still handicapped by a certain partisanship, and if I may, of tribalism. I do hope that things will change a bit, and allow in professionals, rather than technocrats, to run the job properly.

Finally, there is a need for a firmer and more direct citizen’s control over their civil servants. It is their money that pays for the administration, and they have every right to know what is done with it. Basically, a first step would be to abolish the sacro-saint administrative principle of “indiscriminate channelling of resources” (Principe de non-affectation des ressources), without which things can get clearer for the taxpayer.
Academia provides rich resources for the ways citizens can get involve in controlling the way the civil service behaves and acts. This permanent control deters (or should do so) the service from turning its bureaucracy into an inert body without which nothing can be done. The way I advise to follow is to “hit’em where it hurts”, i.e. the money inflow and the power to produce their own legislation. When those are transferred to local government, say, to smaller autonomous administrative entities, then things become much simpler for the citizen to control.

Please enjoy this fantastic excerpt of “Yes, Prime Minister”

2 Responses

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  1. Paloma Pentarian said, on August 31, 2010 at 11:50

    I found this an interesting post, but never found the answer to the original question you posed, why is the civil service not working. Are you saying it’s because some of them are not well-enough paid?

    • The Moorish Wanderer said, on August 31, 2010 at 15:19

      Actually I am saying they act like that because they are, in their huge majority, ill-paid and ill-trained for their jobs. Plus civil service recruited a lot of lame ducks.


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