Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.11
Why is parliament doing such a poor job in scrutinizing government? The image of a hilarious Rep. Yasmina Baddou and Health Minister embodies the symbol of the degree of contempt the elected executive holds parliamentary oversight.
True, many of our representatives might be utterly incompetent and generally corrupt, but as long as the bulk of members of parliaments are elected on the basis of family ties, or because of their notability status, ministers and governmental officials can always laugh away from accountability.
First off, even if a handful of representatives are keen on doing their job, they are constrained by the small budget allocated to their institution; the 2011 Budget allocate MAD 271.5 Million;In fairness, about the same amount is allocated to the lower chamber (235Mln) which means the legislative branch has an overall financial stipend of 0.17% of total Budget expenses.
It still is way below the proper funding for all elected representatives to conduct proper investigative work on the executive. Why bang on the discrepancies in budget terms? Because money conditions resources and funds power and political importance: I understand parliament has aForeign Affairs, Islamic Issues and National Defence committee, and there are, among the 30-strong group of representatives, some very able, public-spirited individuals that would carry on their duties frightfully well.
However, are they allocated the proper resources to scrutinize, for instance, the budget allotted to the Armed Forces? Budget Bill for 2011 funds the Armed Forces some MAD 58Bn (Art.44) but it seems our representatives do not have what it takes to exercise proper oversight on these spendings; Theoretically, they can always ask for details, convene to audition officials at the liaison ministry in charge of national defence, or even attach amendments if they deem spendings are not justified. But they don’t. Perhaps out of incompetence, or lack of proper resources to provide them with relevant information, or simply because they don’t care.
The point is, the legislative branch has no mean to assert its power over the executive, and that shows primarily in its financial resources; but is it fair to equate material resources with political power? yes; whenever members of parliament need to carry out an inquiry, or set up a study on a particular issue, they need to rely primarily on the good will of administrative and executive officials, who can very well refuse to cooperate or disclose relevant information. Rep. Brahim Zerkdi (who’s modern enough to have a twitter account, alongside Rep. Khalid Hariry) points out the poor level of human resources at their disposal, and goes as far as to agree that the ministries have a certain advantage in dealing with specific issues, mainly because they can afford to.
So financial support plays a crucial role in shaping up political balance of powers; the trouble for parliament is the potentially unpopular with the public opinion, and even if they try it, they will have to almost beg the money off the finance ministry.
These unbalanced ties between the legislative and executive branches of government could go unnoticed or even justified, especially when one puts them into context: after all, the Treasury department in the United Kingdom is almighty, and under then-Chancellor Gordon Brown, it was an executive fortress within a Blair-led Prime Ministerial fortress. The trouble is, both Gordon Brown and Anthony Blair were elected Members of Parliament (respectively Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, and Sedgefield) and thus, can claim some popular mandate on their own.
Many of our ministers are not elected, though; indeed, the one holding the cash -Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar- has long been considered a bland, un-partisan and vaguely technocratic figure.In these circumstances, the obvious benchmark for a genuine parliamentary monarchy goes right out of the window in favour of a United Congress-like scrutiny, where elected representatives are the ones re-writing the budget -considering a government in Morocco needs a parliamentary majority.
It is in our nation’s best interest to have the strongest possible coalition government after November 25th elections, in addition to a stronger parliament oversight by reconsidering the budget-writing process, so as to get representatives involved with the process as early as possible; then, an increase in their budget will not only be necessary, but actually desirable from a public opinion point of view; additionally the deadlocks of “money with no power” that have so perverted elected politicians will give way to genuine accountability;
At the heart of our institutional dysfunction is this seemingly conundrum: “can we trust elected politicians with genuine political power?” Yes. So far, concentrating power within the hands of a small clique of unelected officials hasn’t done any better, and how ever incompetent the elected bunch are, they will be whipped up by public anger if they don’t carry on their job properly. The fear of systematic electoral retribution could well prove to be a much sought panacea.