The Moorish Wanderer

“Can I Have a Minute Time-out?” – “No, You Can’t”

BBC Radio 4 – Today In Parliament, November 7th 2011

Let me adapt it to the Moroccan context: a top official at the Direction des Impôts is heard by the Public Finances parliamentary committee on some tax agreements between his department and a large holding in Morocco. The tax agreement allowed the company to avoid paying a large amount of corporate taxes. The official, reluctant to provide straightforward answers to the Representatives members of the said committee, is compelled to take an oath and then provide answers; the official asks for a moment to make a decision, but they are denied by committee members irritated by the official’s stonewalling. (this is a purely fictional story, that goes without saying)

Don’t laugh, the present framework allows parliament to hear officials. But only on a non-compulsory basis.

Of all the branches of government, parliament, both chambers in fact, is something of an unloved, ugly duckling: understaffed, under-financed and allocated only residual powers. The budget bill is mostly designed by Finance Ministry officials, members of parliament can only attach amendments, and some constitutional requirements actual deny parliament any say in a budget bill their member would find too contentious or controversial to even halt the process and get with the ministry to re-write it. The record of parliamentary misbehaviour of filibuster-like amendments could be an impairment to the business of running a country, but they are, as far as I can tell, the people’s representatives, and this is a very convenient way to veil the discrepancies in liaison between government and parliament. But this is another story.

The background story is simple as it gets: parliament is the boss of government -because the latter needs to be confirmed by the former- government ministers are the bosses of civil services, so nothing legal prevents officials from appearing before parliament to testify when Representatives see it fit. But it is not. The statutory civil service code specifically places officials under the authority of governmental purview:

الباب ثاني: تنظيم الوظيفة العمومية

فصل 8: تحتوي مهمة المصلحة المكلفة بالوظيفة العمومية بوجه خاص و تحت إمرة السلطة الحكومية

And that goes on with Articles 9-12; at no point parliamentary oversight is mentioned; civil service officials are answerable to their ministers, to the Civil Service Department and the Finance Ministry. So unlike that senior lawyer with HMRC questioned by the Westminster Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts, no high official in Morocco is actually answerable to parliament, only to their respective ministers.

Can parliamentarians change something? Sure they can. The government can introduce an organic bill for their supporters to vote on, placing the civil service under joint authority of government and parliament. Even consider some appointments that need to be processed by representatives before these officials get into office. This move prompts the following questions: why would the government do that? how would they circumvent the juggernaut that is the General Secretary of Government office, and finally, will the civil service abide by it once it is implemented?

– Why would the Government Do It? it actually serves a purpose: PJD is the senior partner in this unique brand of government coalition; their caucus has a new intake of enthusiastic representatives, and because there is a certain amount of internal democracy running down its structure, they will be a difficult conference to manage, if no substantial bone is thrown to them; this could actually be it: allow parliamentarians to quiz officials, score good media points by championing the everyday citizen against the discretionary powers of the civil services (and more often than not, the abuses of officials at every level) as for government ministers, that keeps their officials on a tight leash: they toe the line.

– How would the Government circumvent the GSG office? It is known a lot of bills have not been en acted because the GSG blocked them for one reason or the other; writing legislative language is usually the official line.

This is why the Minister Of State without a portfolio needs to get down to business: he is the one with no definitive job description, so he needs to get a team of lawyers or insiders -which might not be as difficult as it seems- and tail the GSG every change he gets, so as to speed up the process. The objective is to make sure among the dozen of Organic Bills needed to pass are speedily processed.

– Will the Civil Service abide by the new regulations? the mutual fear of being demoted, fingered, losing their job, whatever. A top official is answerable to parliament and to their minister. If they do well, their minister could actually stand up to them.

Everybody wins: parliamentarians get an extra load of work that will tie them to the House of Representatives, ministers have an external threat they can use against reluctant officials in their departments, and these civil servants can actually strengthen their relationship with their ‘master’. And the best part, the public actually gets to benefit from it, either because this would lead to a reduction in administrative discretion and abuse.

House Of Representatives - With Commons' Powers.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.20

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on November 25, 2011

Today is the big day! Moroccan will flock en masse (or perhaps, not) to polling stations and vote for 5,392 candidates on local ballot, whose own results will condition the outcome of another 1,710 candidates (Women and ‘Young’ Men) on national ballot – all in all, 395 seats are in-game, and behind it, a coalition ready to muster a 197+ seats strong caucus  as its supporting parliamentary majority.

Consume by: November 25th

The campaign has proven authorities are losing their grip on media regulations: the amount of videos uploaded and share on social networks and websites have exploded over the last week, fanpages, groups, leaflet scans have flooded the Moroccan internets about the same way paper versions pollute the streets and neighbourhoods of Moroccan cities and villages.

On the other side of the barrier, pro-Boycott Feb20 movement has found itself more or less reinvigorated once again with a clear goal; random arrests, and aggressions targeting Feb20 activists only strengthen their resolve in seeing through tomorrow’s polls with the lowest possible turnout.

Thanks to a sneaky law passed weeks before elections, no serious polling could have been carried out to take the nation’s voters into confidence, and figure out the broad trends – we had instead to content ourselves with ill-defined, mysterious polls prepared by Hudson Institute and Thomas More think-tanks, with no particular insight on method, or the sample’s representativeness relative to overall population.

The available pool of candidates has improved a bit with a majority of them holding college degrees; larger districts, like Casablanca, Tangiers, Rabat, Marrakesh and Agadir alone show an average 55% percentage of college-degree candidates, with figures as low as 49% in Tangiers or Marrakesh.

The next batch of representatives is most likely to have a higher education level: I am confident at most 23 seats will be filled with representatives lacking formal education (that’s a scenario whereby all 23 of them manage to carry enough votes on the ballot); They might not be as young as we would like them to be, but many of them will certainly bring a fresh perspective,  87% of them are running for the first time (or are not incumbents running again for office); on paper, at least, we shall certainly have a relatively renewed Legislative body; whether they can fulfill their assignment as the people’s representatives is a matter of debate: needless to say that parliamentary representatives are usually left by themselves when it comes to scrutinizing the Executive, due to a lack of coherent parliamentary leadership and a sheer lack of resources to carry on with their duties: committee hearings do not carry meaningful resolutions, they cannot impeach a civil servant or a minister; they do not even initiate a lot of bills. So a batch of fresh representatives could do wonders in shaking old parliamentary proceedings.

What about the pro-boycott side of the story? I’m not pro-boycott myself, but in the event I was there, I’d most probably go to the polling station, and slip a blank ballot. I like to think voting is a matter of principle (an individual decision that does not carry judgement over what others could do) and a statement about how I believe things could change; through the ballot – I deplore the legislation curtailing polls, I abhor the abusive interpretation of the law that results in brutal crack down on pro-boycott activists, but just as July 1st referendum results have proven, all-out boycott does not advance the cause.

So Today is a big day.

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.

A poorly-funded branch of government cannot carry on properly its duties in a truly democratic regime

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.

Rep. Zekdi (MP - Agadir Ida Ou Tanane) agrees Minefi has an unfair advantage in preparing the Budget Bill

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.