Who’s Who in The Dark Blue Suit: Winners and Losers
[There’s a heated debate going on about women representativeness in the new government. Tough call: I wonder if feminism in Morocco translated into some concrete policies to improve gender equality, ever. Some gender equality-oriented legislation perhaps? I doesn’t matter how many female ministers are up there; what matters is how influential women of power can be to further the cause of gender equality.]
Morocco’s brand new 27th government is finally out, although Mr Benkirane looked like he was wrestling with security before the line-up for the picture. Some smiling faces, some grinning through: That picture is heavy with symbolism, with unexpected winners, unlikely losers and some that should -in account of their service to political life- be associated to the business of running government.
‘Upwards & Onwards’:
Mustapha Ramid: the maverick attorney is finally in place as the country’s (second) most important lawmaker (and enforcement) official. His appointment wasn’t a walk in the park, according to Abdellah Baha, Benkirane’s right-hand man; in fact, his appointment might be a pyrrhic victory, carried at the expense of other prominent PJD members. Still and all, Mr Ramid can boast to manage a large department, even more so because of PJD’s credo in fighting corruption and injustice.
Reform of justice is a crucial, if not vital bet to PJD’s chances of re-election in 2016. This is particularly true for Mr Ramid, given his credentials as a ‘troublemaker’ both within and outside parliament. If he does manage to pull this one off, his leadership claim could grow stronger, especially if other departments, or even the Head Of Government, do not deliver.
Saad-Edine Othmani: the mild-mannered, soft-talking former PJD Premier was allocated a tailor-fit department -though burdened perhaps with a minder like many other political ministers- he could have made a very good Head Of Government – one with a much more moderate discourse for the same actions.
The trouble with Mr Othmani is his lack of experience with foreign policy: parliament in Morocco isn’t usually at the vanguard of diplomatic talks, and elected officials usually deferred to the Palace in such matters. Same story goes for him: if he manages to produce a good record when other PJD ministers failed, he can challenge incumbent PJD leader as well -though his record might not be as appealing as Mr Ramid’s-
Mohand Laenser: for someone who has made their entire career as a public administrator, and even with former Police chief Charki Draiss as a minder at his side to make sure the right decision is always made, this is the ultimate achievement – quite a story indeed, given his status as a former protégé of Driss Basri. Not since the 1970s has a partisan official been appointed to the position of “Premier Flic” as G. Clémenceau once referred to the office of Interior minister.
In a sense, Mr Laenser confirms his leadership as Mouvement Populaire Premier: the switch from the defunct A8 alliance could have cost him a lot; now that he and some of his allies have been given relatively important portfolios (Interior, Youth & Sports, Tourism and a liaison office to HoG for public sector reforms) he can therefore provide other lucrative postings to supporters and dissenters as well. Trouble is, can he provide the Interior Ministry with new and fresh ideas? I would suggest that given his curriculum at the French Ecole Nationale d’Administration, where innovation is hardly a tactic to win favour with one’s superiors, this is very unlikely to ever happen.
Lahcen Daoudi: The third man from the PJD troïka (Othmani & Ramid) has a near-mission impossible task to reform the Higher Education in Morocco. Contrary to diplomacy or justice, the metrics to evaluate a minister’s job with education are difficult to grasp, and policy effects tend to take years to show up.
Abdellah Baha: though in his case it is a bit of a mixed bag; rumour has it Benkirane wanted originally to create him Vice-Head Of Government, a formal n°2 to his side, but the Palace is said to have objected for. Still, he retains a senior position that could enable him to influence other ministers, as a spokesman for Benkirane.
Nabil Benabdellah: his last term of office as Communications and Government spokesman ranks definitely lower than his new job at Urban development. The other portfolios allocated to PPS also maintain his leadership with the party, and I foresee very little dissent because he is now able to distribute favours and perks to allies and dissenters alike.
Nizar Baraka: his promotion from the junior position of liaison minister (to the Prime Minister -his Father-in-Law– with the outgoing government) to the second most powerful ministry -second only to the Interior Ministry- is a wonderful gift to his Istiqlal party and a sad omen for the much-needed reforms in fiscal policy and public finances.
Though Mr Baraka is a former high official with the said ministry, his failure to reform the compensation fund -fund allocation swelled from a MAD 30Bn-odd budget to 48Bn- sheds a great deal of doubts over his capabilities on taking on fiscal niches and privileges that bloat public finances. The only hope to hang on to is to expect RNI/PAM-led opposition to make as much trouble as possible every time the budget bill is due for a vote in Parliament House.
‘Downwards & Outwards’:
Mohamed Najib Boulif: Sad news for the PJD-led government, great news for the opposition, and bad news for me; his outstanding record as a returning representative for Tangiers with the Finances committee. I was already picturing him at the Finances Ministry, working his way up with the directors, confronting the lobbyists to make sure public finances and the treasury are well provided for. Not that I hang all my hopes on a Boulif tenure at the treasury, but he at least has the political skiils to deal with the opposition in residence; Mr Nizar Baraka, on the other hand, for all the technical skills he can bring to this job, is no political match to a machine he knows only too well.
He ended up instead with a relatively junior position, as a liaison minister to the Head Of Government to general affairs and governance. That’s a bit demeaning to a senior member of the PJD caucus. in regular democracies, prominent members of a parliamentary caucus usually get upgraded to significant portfolio once voted into office. I don’t know much about the backdrops of Boulif’s demotion – he struck me as a bland technocrat with no particular ideological stances on the economy or public policies- but it surely has something to do with the fuss the press made about a possible rejection of Mustapha Ramid as Justice minister. I am, quite simply, saddened our Barbarossa did not get the job.
If indeed that was to be true, I guess designate Head Of Government Benkirane might have had to sacrifice a few of his allies and friends to retain what could turn out to be the ticket for re-election in 2016: the reform of justice as a radical policy to weed out structural corruption.
Bassima Hakaoui: strangely enough, I would consider her appointment to the Families and Social Affairs department to be a demotion of sorts. After all, that department has been always staffed with a female politician ever since its creation in 1998- posting the only woman in this government to such a junior department -missions and budget alike- is not only a stagnation in women’s representativeness in government bodies, but it also confirms what politicians from all political persuasion think of what fits a female politician: social and gender issues, nothing of hard substance politics, at interior or even finances, for instance.
Abdellatif Loudiyi: the one department that remains firmly secretive and non-partisan did not upgrade itself to a full portfolio; the incumbent, A. Loudiyi was maintained in office, and whether it should be a tale-telling sign of the sensitiveness of his department, the official news agency MAP did not put online his biography.A. Loudiyi was Secretary to the Finance Minister, and is credited with the good management of the public debt -up to 2009 anyway- following his predecessor’s death, Abderahmane Sbai, he was appointed to serve as what might be the nearest thing to a Defence minister. Defence is usually a mined territory, and politicians from all parties are only too happy not to risk one of theirs to gain it back. The administration of defence -let alone the actual policy of defence- remain squarely within the Royal purview.
Ahmed Taoufik: still out there. The Habous and Islamic Affairs department was not in PJD’s sights, let alone any of the governmental coalition members. The department is the King’s alone, just like Defence.
Aziz Akhzennouch: what a turnout! the RNI representative for Tiznit needs to resign his seat (Article 61 of the 2011 Constitution says so) because he has switched, or rather left his surrogate party RNI to keep his job as Agriculture Minister. I guess Plan Maroc Vert will be carried out after all. I can foresee very little changes in the much-needed agrarian reform, or even worse, no change at all in the quasi-permanent moratorium on the Agri-Tax.
What to make out of this government?
Dull men (and a dull Woman, too) in dark suits with very mainstream curricula are very unlikely to shake-up government policy: of all 31 ministers and junior ministers, nearly all of them hold a postgraduate degree, and many of them are public service insiders. I don’t expect earth-shattering fiscal reforms, either, including an end to the unjust fiscal moratorium or a radical plan to deal with the mounting public debt. On education and health, the incumbents are members of parties associated with government work for at least 14 years.
A dull government indeed.