The Moorish Wanderer

Subsidized Pass the parcel: Compensation Fund

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on February 12, 2012

As per the latest Treasury survey figures, the Compensation Fund stands at about 41Bn – although the initial 2012 Budget bill provides for 45Bn; that represents 5.7% of GDP, 14% of total budget. It also represents 80% of total public investments for 2012. And finally, it seems all public subsidies equate total expenditure en education. And yet every annual budget statement pushes for a Compensation Fund reform:

L’accent sera mis, notamment, sur des questions liées à la réforme fiscale, à la masse salariale, à la réforme de la compensation… pour s’assurer de la soutenabilité des finances publiques à la lumière des exigences de développement économique et social auquel le Maroc est en droit d’aspirer.

But is the compensation fund worth the money? After all, the total resources allocated to the most important expense – or shall we say the most politically sensitive- remains wheat and sugar; According to the addendum on special funds to the Budget bill (Comptes Spéciaux du Trésor) the designated “Fonds de Soutien des Prix de certains Produits Alimentaires” is allocated with some 880 Million dirhams – and even that amount of money can be halved; either by targeting those subsidies (which hasn’t really been the case ever since subsidies were enforced) or by by setting up a task force within the Exchange Office or the Finance Ministry to trade in those commodities the Moroccan authorities consider to be valuable.

I’m looking at some of the ministry’s own figures regarding the observed average traded prices of sugar on international markets,  and they list traded average prices:

Les cours moyen du sucre brut et du blé tendre au titre du premier semestre 2011 s’élèvent respectivement à près de 652 $/t et 352 $/t contre respectivement 444 $/t et 172 $/t au titre de la même période de l’année 2010.

It is a bit strange the Sugar Index prices do not match MINEFI figures. Or perhaps looking for the cheaper alternative isn't a priority down there. (Bloomberg)

But it seems to me this is not true; not for sugar anyway. I have looked up two indexes for sugar, and the maximal value did not top up $ 360/ton – March 2011, if our government was wise enough to cover imports with futures. As for wheat, it seems the market price did not go beyond $350/ton since 2008; that  $ 20 doesn’t make a difference, and for the specific category of wheat, total cost to import was about MAD 6 Bn for 2010; that means each household had to shoulder 896 dirhams of direct expenses incurred from wheat imports. Total cost for imported sugar (of all kinds) would have been 3.3Bn, that is 511 dirhams per household

896 dirhams of basic cost computed from raw imported wheat; assuming negligible additional costs, and based on the regulated price of one loaf of bread, that means one household would have consumed an annual set of 690 loafs of bread; same computations for sugar based on an average price of 6 dirhams/kg would yield a theoretical consumption of 85kg per household. Gee-whiz statistics perhaps, but it paints a picture; international prices have only limited impact on purchasing power; as far as I can tell, domestic interactions account for a lot more, perhaps because of the strait-jacketing of specific prices and oligopolistic markets for goods such as wheat storage, sugar and distribution.

Now 2010 yielded an average annual income per household of about MAD 106,751, and based on HCP 2006/2007 household consumption survey, consume 41.3%, thus spending MAD 1812 in sugar and MAD 7847 in wheat (bread and otherwise) That’s a lot more than the raw cost for these imported goods.

This comparison suffers from major flaws however: it does not take into account other costs factored in the final product, and second, computing expenditure in average term tends to produce bias; indeed, compensation subsidies are not mean-tested; furthermore, figures are not that reassuring when one looks into the median expenditure, let alone the fact that average household does not take into account its intrinsic size. Median annual income has been MAD 77,000 and thus consume MAD 5288 in wheat and MAD 1244 in sugar per annum.

But the argument is basically sound: raw cost per household is too low to justify what might come to be a MAD 7,800 subsidy per household. Actually, that argument is strengthened by the disparities in consumption distribution; in fact, because the top 10% households (that’s 2 Million individuals, give or take) capture a third of total household consumption, they get more than their theoretical 10% share in subsidies -since those are indiscriminate- in fact they get three times more than average, and they get to benefit from 3/4 of total subsidies – this is derived from the fact that subsidies are distributed uniformly across population deciles.

I would argue it is too high a price to pay for an arcane system that may have been working when income dispersion was not that high: with a widening income, wealth and consumption gaps within the economy, an indiscriminate subsidy on food and other essential goods tends to favour those who capture the largest proportion of household consumption, i.e. the top 10%, or as one would like to label them, those who do not need the subsidy.

Furthermore, the compensation also encompasses the following:

à la compensation des produits de base, en l’occurrence le sucre et la farine. Le montant réglé dans ce cadre par prélèvement sur le compte intitulé “Fonds de soutien des prix de certains produits alimentaires” se monte à 880 MDH, auquel s’ajoutent des dépenses de 14.987 MDH prises en charge par le budget général (Chapitre des Charges Communes), dont 2.357 MDH au titre de la compensation des denrées alimentaires de base et 12.630 MDH destinés à couvrir la charge de compensation des produits pétroliers.

So as far as identified compensation-related items go, the industrial subsidy is 4 times larger than the more important matter of subsidizing food and edible goods. A call has been made by government officials to maintain an industrial status-quo that might not, after all, benefit the domestic economy; what if the cost of subsidizing oil-intensive industries was actually much higher than any transitional loss to alternative industries? And how come oil-related imports benefit from a 12.6Bn subsidy when the immediate household consumption of Butane is only 15%? Unless Butane is sold for a symbolic price (which is not the case as long as I can recall the commercial price of one butane cylinders) that subsidy goes primarily into business oil consumption;

So total expenses for subsidizing food is at most 3.2Bn, that’s less than 1% of total budget and 13% of projected deficit – which is so far quite a sustainable subsidy and an expenses ceiling for future mean-tested programs for targeted subsidies. As for oil-related subsidies, the same observations can be made regarding income/consumption gaps: on households’ sides, who owns/drives cars? on business’ side, which industries are hungry for oil? A valid counter-argument can be made for the poorer household deciles; how will they cook and keep their family warm? Well, given the fact that these account for 10%, and since HCP reports the following:

En 2007, 54,6% des ménages marocains disposaient d’une cuisinière à gaz. Selon le milieu de résidence, ce taux passe de 42,9% dans les campagnes à 61,6% dans les villes. Selon la classe de dépense, ce taux passe de 67,4% pour les ménages les plus favorisés à 37,1% pour les moins nantis.

[…] Au niveau national, 20% des ménages disposent d’un chauffe-eau à gaz. Ce taux varie de 1,2% pour les 20% les moins aisés à 45,9% pour les 20% les plus riches. En milieu urbain, le taux d’équipement est 10 fois supérieur à celui enregistré en milieu rural (30,3% contre 3,0%).

Furthermore, the bottom 20% households are twice less likely than the top 20% to own a gaz-based stove, and only 1.2% of those households own a gaz-based heaters.

This is to say that an inflated compensation fund, in all its individual components, is not due to the international hike in prices – only 4Bn out of the 45 have a direct impact on the livelihoods of Moroccan households;A willing (and strong-willed) finance minister can gradually start reforming the fund by first setting up a team to supervise pricing on international markets -by using commodity futures, since Morocco’s own demand is unlikely to tip futures’ valuation one way or the other- and get prices down by as much as 6% per annum for wheat for instance. Second, there must be a way to mobilize the services of the Inland Revenues (Direction des Impôts) HCP and the whole Finances ministry to design mean-tested tax deductions and breaks, as well as cash relief schemes to support as many as 661,000 households, about 5.3Mln individuals who do not have the means to sustain themselves; so far, a 7,000 annual relief (that’s a 23% boost on average income of the bottom decile) would cost about 4.7Bn and still be a relatively low burden on the budget, plus subsidy would go to those it can actually help. Third, subsidies to businesses cannot go on indefinitely; first because it skews Morocco’s industrial structure, and would give an unfair advantage to what might be obsolete and rent-seeking industries; subsidized fuel only boost the value of a taxi license, when the money can be used to improve public transportation.

The thing is, there is a way to halve subsidies gradually, though it means taking on many powerful lobbies. The only essential condition for such a scheme to succeed is political courage. I doubt Mr Baraka or his sidekick Mr Azami Idrissi, or even Mr Benkirane have what it takes to take the fight where it is necessary: suppressing rent, promoting innovation to boost growth.

2 Responses

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  1. Mohamed El Alouani said, on February 12, 2012 at 22:43

    The compensation fund is one big ugly joke. If the government felt the absolute need to do charity on behalf of tax payers at gun point, it should at least introduce a negative tax, giving cash money to households that can’t secure a set minimum income. The thing that needs to be done, however, is to leave charity for individuals altogether, as they are much more capable of it and more competent at it.

  2. fawzi said, on February 13, 2012 at 10:38

    Agreed 100%!

    In a quasi-feodal system, the loyalty of the middle-class (in its loose literal sense) is more important than the lower classes.

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