The Moorish Wanderer

Proposal For Financing Strategy, PSU Case Study

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on February 24, 2011

The label is not bound to come off as yet: I should perhaps put in a word about my political affiliation: it started out of a blindly commitment; Not out of ignorance, you understand, but for more emotional motives. Then, it morphed into something more documented, less attached to doctrinaire, almost philosophical matters. And now, out of more reasoned stand, I would like to contribute one time or two for the Moroccan Radical Left.

I think I referred to that ambivalent state of mind in a raging –or supposed to be so- about Ben Barka’s legacy. Well, it’s more or less the same thing: still passionate about principles, but utterly realistic, almost disillusioned about any likelihood of change from the radical left, and they taking power (democratically, let us be absolutely clear). And you know, the whole nostalgic motley of Red Flags, Che Guevara portraits, even Lenin flags are fine. I mean, the Moroccan public –already severely lacking culture, as the recent internet-based exchanged have proved- is not bound to react to the reddish symbolic. They are more prone to react to the secularist, almost atheistic stance, as well as the vanguard stand on homosexuality, and, quite expected, on de-penalizing soft drugs, legalizing prostitution, alcohol and many other taboo issues.

On the other hand, there is definitely a shortage of able operatives in these parties. I should restrain my demonstration to the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU) ‘Que Bene Amat, Bene Castigat’ one might say. Perhaps this should be salutary. This shortage is positively dangerous, in the sense that intermediate activists with specialist skills are much needed when a political party, out in wilderness for many years –of not always in opposition- was suddenly in charge, or part of a ruling coalition (most likely with other ill-staffed left-wing parties) How can they man things then? Rely on the civil service? I should certainly hope not. What might happen was admirably caricatured in ‘Yes Minister’ (and its sequel ‘Yes Prime Minister’) where political power was merely struggling to second-guess the civil service into implementing their policy, instead of actually carrying it out.

Despite all these misgivings, there remains the question of finance. Party finance at the PSU (and from now on, it applies indiscriminately to the PADS the CNI, and Annahj too) is abysmal for a number of reasons: debts, mismanagement of resources during campaigns, reliance on old-style communication, and of course the status of ‘small party in opposition’ that prevent it from the many perks larger and more docile parties enjoy.

Still and all, there’s a need to shake up the finance policy and start looking for the money. The nexus of political action, in Morocco and elsewhere, is money.

”]Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

I have almost finished ‘Race of a Lifetime’ (courteously recommended by Anas Aloui, bless him) on the backdrops of Democratic nomination, and ultimately the US Presidential Elections in 2008. I was particularly amazed at how important fundraising was to Hillary Clinton (and later on to soon-to-be US President Barack Obama). I caught a glimpse of it in a more dramatized way when I caught on to the West Wing, but this documented account was mind-boggling. What is public in the US about political and party finance is more covert in France, and opaque, almost mafia-like here in Morocco..

I also remembered what I read in ‘Blog!’ about the Dean campaign (Democratic candidate for nomination in 2004, before he dropped out of the race) I also remembered reading about John Kerry’s commitment to drop federal money and rely solely on activist support and individual donations. I know it is a bit of a long shot, but we really should listen and learn. Benchmarking France -as we always do, whether we like it or not- is out of the question: it has a detestable public funding for political parties, who rely heavily on that, even the largest parties are ready to cheat to get the maximum out of the public purse to fund their activities. Let us not forget that Moroccan officials, some decades ago, dully copied the “caisse noire” methods shadowy activists like Charles Pasqua liked to use.

Systems that allow political parties to fund themselves (by adopting for instance legislation allowing individuals to deduce some of their income tax when donating, whether to charities or political parties) are better suited for Morocco, where the State has a dark story of money-laundering, illegal financing and acrobatic financial dealings that allowed for parties to rise from dust and, ex nihilo, be large parties (Union Constitutionnelle, Rassemblement National des Indépendants, even Parti Authenticité Modernité) with quasi-majority in the house.

So, the PSU, with an official batch of 10.000 activists, spread out across 131 or so groups (numbers date back to the 2007 Convention). At best, 5670 militants are already contributing one way or the other in financing the party. If one was to take out about 31% of young activists (and as such deemed unable to contribute financially) one is left with at best 3200 activists. If an average annual contribution was, say 100 Dirhams (which many activists cannot afford, truth be told) then the immediate war chest is 320.000 Dirhams, plus about 25.000 Dirhams from leadership and members of parliament, a total of a little less than 350.000 Dirhams. This might seem a lot, but it barely covers debts the party accumulated from failed electoral campaign to the other, as well as the unfortunate incident in 1996 after an OADP splinter group (A. Ouardighi group) absconded the Newspaper ‘Anoual’ from its assets and left the OADP party with debts.

USFP Imposing HQ at Hay Ryad. Not very left-wingy...

And even if arrangements were found to reschedule the debt, this modest amount of money could barely pay for  new equipment in some branches, or for a year’s salary on staff and regular expenses, certainly not for a full committed campaign, let alone the re-opening of a newspaper, an idea dear to many party activists and leaders, at a time newspaper circulation in Morocco is at its lowest.

Could a PSU newspaper compete with Rachid Nini? Because the only way to do so is to play to the hand of demagoguery, and then I’d seriously consider my commitment… So, to cut the story short, activist self-financing is not going to make up for much expenses. There is a need for a plan. For a while, I thought it was presumptuous of me to start devising recommendations to some leaders and activists old enough to be my father. But then again I found the 2007 convention booklet. I rushed to read the Finance committee’s findings, and let me tell you: I was expecting figures, charts. I found only laconic comments; Resources were down from at least 50% to non-existent. The new legislation on political parties completely closed down any hopes for public funding (the party did not succeeded in securing the necessary 5% in many elections) while donations and contributions from members of parliament and local councils dropped by half. Contributions from the Youth organization was a meagre 2.500 dirhams (meagre, in the sense that there was potential for more) and no contributions from the Women’s organization. Funding, and by ricochet, party finance are in disarray.

First, let us be optimistic (can we? sorry, let me put the noose down here… thank you) because, by Moroccan standards, finance at the PSU is a transparent matter, and far more transparent than any other party on the political spectrum. That is why they look so in disarray. Other parties are certainly in the same situation, but they either cover up for it, and/or receive money -bribes- from the regime. How do you account for the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires to build a lavish party headquarters in the Hay Ryad cozy suburb? Or for Al Bayane, newspaper spokesperson for Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme to have a brand new printing equipment?

But that weakness can, I hope, be turned into a strength: the party can make a pledge never to take legal public funding (it has already outlawed any brown-envelope payments-style from the authorities) and rely solely on individual, collective and corporate donations. While it is still represented in government, their members of parliament could introduce a private members’ bill allowing tax deduction for donation to charities and political organization (including trade-unions). Then, with the help of grass root activists and party leadership, there can be hope to levy money from the affluent as well as the middle and working classes. I am quite sure that there are many sympathizers that would gladly contribute if they are given a chance, and a clear framework to donate and be allowed to follow closely party activities. And precisely because of this traditional transparency, there are little risks of mismanagement, abscond and the like. One might even dream of more and more professionals joining in and reshaping the party into a fighting electoral force.

'Die Partei Hat Immer Recht'. If only...

Let us first determine the costs of such policy. The changes would deal with the following issues: operational assets, past debts, current expenses and human resources

a/ Operational assets: Since the newspaper option is out of the question, the party needs to focus on internet communication. Far from being the dada of political geeks, it is an pre-emptive policy as more and more Moroccans are on the look out for news on the internet. As a matter of evidence, a website like Mamfakinch is turning into an alternative agency news with many internet-users logging on the lookout for news unavailable on traditional media outlet. Lakome, Goud, Youtube, even Big Brother are turning into popular news-hubs. While internet contents are usually quasi-free, hardware costs money. And for every branch to have at least one decent computer might cost dearly. Supposing the party secured a good deal of 130 computers at a reasonable price of 2.500 Dirhams, the total cost of such investment is about 400.000 Dirhams. That could be partly financed with party activists chipping in, but other means of financing are needed.

Computers alone are not enough. There’s also a need for electricity and, above all, internet connection. There’s an additional 400.000 Dirhams too (assuming a minimum internet consumption of MAD150 a month, same for computer electricity consumption). All in total, capital cost is about half a million Dirhams (not to mention the annual expenses of similar amounts). I remember a discussion with an ‘old-style’ activist, two years ago. He told me, with a straight face, that the branches faced high levels of expenditure because they could not systematically send a deputation when meetings were organized, say in Rabat or Casablanca. So, he said, they had to communicate via Fax. I was taken aback, because when such a problem was presented to me, I thought of an obvious choice: ‘Skype‘! Ok, the answer seems ludicrous, but at least it does cut down the fax cost to considerable levels. That was, among others, a clash of generations: I, practical, looking for rapid solutions, and his generation, clinging on to useless decorum (his reply was: ‘well, we need a proof of meeting‘).

There is also a need for cameras. As February 20th events unfolded, and police repression has been recorded against human rights activist (and not, strangely enough, against the hooligans) videos flourished on the internet. I am certainly not advocating for ‘a video camera recorder for every branch’ (for the mere reason that its cost is an unnecessary overkill) However, it seems to me the party adopted the administrative regional boundaries to list its branches. I’d advocate to purchase two camera recorders for populous regions (typically with more than 500 activists) and one per region. I really have no idea what type of camera recorder is suited for demonstrations (or local podcasts and interviews) but a nominal unit price of MAD 2.000 would bring their total cost to MAD 50.000. With microphones, cables, spare batteries, total cost can be priced to MAD 60.000.

Then, there’s transportation: for whatever reason, there is a need for vehicles (large and medium-size vans) as a mobile unit for communications, or to bring activists from neighbouring regions to help their comrades when there’s a campaign, or an election. It can also be part of a caravan touring regions for communications and PR purposes. Let us be modest in our estimates and assume there is a need for only 2 vans. If bought at second-hand price, they would cost, say MAD 150.000.

Finally, and in order to avoid further humiliation from public authorities, party leadership should, in my opinion, buy headquarters (the ground floor of a former Finance Ministry building in Casablanca). A deal can be worked out with the authorities either by paying back all the debt plus a stipend, or by simply writing-off the debt and buying the ground floor at a discounted market value. That would mean about  one million dirhams to say the least (it seems price per square meter at Rue d’Agadir is at least MAD 2.000).

Over all, physical assets investment can be estimated to around 2 million Dirhams (650.000 for tangible assets, and 1 million for party headquarters)

b/ Past Debts: I really have no idea how much money was borrowed in the party’s name. However, I know from past information that rent for party headquarters was about MAD 54.000 had to be paid, and a debt of 900.000 Dirhams from the Anoual incident. With more extrapolation, because the last 3 years of rent were not paid , one can account for another MAD 54.000 as a debt burden. All in all, the party needs to pay for at least 1 Million. very steep.

c/ Current expenses: While this remains a fundamentally local matter, grass-roots activists need to be involved with the basic principles of accounting, i.e. books have to be balanced. expenses need to be accounted for. Bills and receipts need to be kept and stored for future reference. This dangerously bureaucratic streak has at least one upside, it guarantees that local finance is well-managed, and when it fails to do so, it is relatively easier to find out the culprit. So, coming back on the estimate, apart from local headquarters rent -which varies from one region to the other- there’s the expenses for the operational assets, as well as the unexpected rush when unscheduled demonstrations take place, or unforeseen events force local activists to take to the street.

b/ Human Resources: At least at central level, the need for typists, or technicians can be partially alleviated by proposing paid internships for young graduate from typing and IT schools. It is true turnover is likely to be high, and candidates might not be the best choice, but instead of employing full-time staff, MAD 100.000 can be a reasonable budget for human resources (Apparently, Attijari Wafabank pays its interns MAD 2.000, we settle for 1.000, which is still a good deal, considering that internships in Morocco are not paid…)

Collecting donations: Red Cross-style

This is all very well, but were to find the money? What we are talking about here is 2 to 3 Millions in capital cost, and at least 600.000 in annual expenditure. Where can the PSU levy all this money? The first choice is: to go directly to the public and ask for money to support the party. Does it sound like begging? Well… Yes and No. Yes, because the party is in dire financial situation and desperately needs the cash. and No, because if someone agrees to chip in, they are also asked whether they want to keep in touch with their local branch, and by means of a newsletter, kept updated on the party’s activities. Apparently, it is quite feasible, especially when one keeps in mind that there is a need to raise everyday cash of about 1.600dhs all over Morocco. In fact, there’s a need to raise twice as much to cover for central as well as local expenditure. Online donations, party fund-raising, contact and email listings for regular calls for contributions and volunteers, there’s a lot to be done, and the best part of it is that it costs almost nothing (volunteers and activists are soliciting donations for free, and internet communication costs are shared with other operations)  As the Chicago guy once said: ‘Yes, We Can Do It’ (As long as grass-roots activists and volunteers are motivated for, then yes, it is possible)

For more heavy-weight finance, the party will resort to ask big donors, like Karim Tazy, or Miloud Châabi (or even Anas Sefrioui, Mounir Majidi, Othmane Benjelloun, what the hell, we shoot for the starts, right?). The trouble is that it’s a political minefield, for both the donor and the recipient. But then again, donations are not supposed to influence the party’s stand, but merely a helpful hand from wealthy citizens eager to see a political agenda pushed closer to power. Personally, I wouldn’t mind showing up at BMCE headquarters with my tin-cup asking for a big fat check of 1.000.000 dhs 😀 [alternatively, I could be thrown out of the building by security…]

There is big money out there. Whether as an aggregate of small donations (5dhs to 150dhs) or more sizeable (a thousands and more) if not higher figures, in case the system does work.

Now, I’ve written the piece in English, and I don’t think party leaders will read it. I mean I don’t seriously consider these measures because I know they cannot be implemented. I should also stop reading about politics in the Western hemisphere. Why would I be writing about it then, one might ask? Well… I was desperate to avoid a post about February 20th and the ensuing Kafkaesque debates with some ill-educated, sub-cultivated bullock-heads on the need for constitutional reforms…