The Moorish Wanderer

The Imperial Sultanate of Morocco & The Western Sahara

I have been racking my brain on the subject for quite a while: why is it always the monarchy that has the initiative to announce things, to decide for all of us, and most of all, negotiate on our behalf the crucial issue of the Sahara dispute without the slightest consultation with the people of Morocco, whose money and lives, and resources are generously spent and used with no involvement on their part.

Oh, but I have forgotten: we have this undying covenant between the King and his People, following which His Majesty has an unlimited mandate to do as He pleases, while the loyal subjects await His good pleasure. And in matters like the Sahara dispute, elegantly dubbed ‘matters of territorial integrity’ there is a crypto-fascistic tendency to demand absolute unity. Let us then lecture the regime and his supporters on their arrogant nationalism: How come true patriots have been betrayed when, in 1957-1958 their passionate involvement was on the verge to take back a still occupied territory?

How come that very same monarchy preferred to focus on consolidating its hegemonic grip on independent Morocco, rather than try to realize its independence in its unity? Why is that the same regime quickly abdicated its claim on Mauritania, yet falls in incredible harshness on those who call for a dissident view on the Sahara dispute? And finally, why are we celebrating the Green March, a cynical and nationalistic move engineered by an unpopular and isolated monarch?

To be sure, the monarchy has long since lost any claim for moral leadership on the matter, and subsequently it can no longer be the sole originator of proposals to the Polisario. It is high time The Radical and Liberal side outflanked them on the ‘original’ autonomy proposals.

Above anything else, I am a staunch proponent of the federalist option. As it is, I would go even further when it comes to the Sahara region. As the Late King Hassan II himself once said: ‘aside the Flag and Stamps, everything is negotiable’. Well, let’s negotiate everything then: The proposal calls for the establishment of a joint sovereignty, stylized as the ‘Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Sahara’, or to remain faithful to our heritage, ‘The Imperial Sultanate of Morocco and the Western Sahara’.

Sucessive Defense Walls, 1982-1985

Funny, isn’t it? No, I didn’t smoke pot, nor did I indulge in some heavy drinking. I mean, if we can stand idly by and look on the blatant contradictions between an Islam-based absolutist monarchy, and the more-than-symbolic Western features of the present system, then we might as well just bow and follow the herd of politically correct behaviour: clap when the King announces a shallow reform, frown whenever our ‘sacred unity’ is threatened and shut up and look the other way when the police apparatus beats up or tortures the dissidence.

Let us remain true to our past history and retain its distinguished symbols: we had no king in Morocco. The very concept of Kingdom is disgustingly Western. Why not keep the monarchical system, but instead stylize the Monarch as the “Imperial Majesty, the Sultan Of Morocco”? If we are to retain the monarchical regime (against which I cast no definite hostility, nor do I engage in sheer alacrity) then we might as well take back the old styles. That’s what a genuine Parliamentary Monarchy is about: the Monarch retains the honours, the titles, the Protocol, but relinquishes all powers to the People’s representatives. Why, we might even look back and feel as proud about symbols like the Evening Retreat, or some ceremony performed by Scarlet-clad Royal Guardsmen as we would when referred to the Moroccan monarch as “His (or Her) Imperial Majesty”.

Now, I referred to an alternative autonomy plan that would devolve virtually all powers (save for the regular sovereign ones, i.e. the Armed Forces, the Foreign Representation and Legal Tender Monopoly). The style “Of Morocco and Western Sahara” means that, within the same entity, the Imperial Sultanate, a Moroccan Kingdom and a Sahrawi Republic vow to seal an unbreakable pact to remain together as one country. The Flag and the Stamp, as well as the essential features of sovereignty remain indeed untouched.

This, of course, is but what the proposal aims to achieve. Details would of course entail a great deal of debate, but beforehand, let us take a look at the official proposal for Autonomy; To be fair, the proposals are very advanced, but there remains the roadblock for genuine democracy, the royal fetters that hold back the will of the people; Indeed:

[4]. Through this initiative, the Kingdom of Morocco guarantees to all Sahrawis, inside as well as outside the territory, that they will hold a privileged position and play a leading role in the bodies and institutions of the region, without discrimination or exclusion.
[5]. Thus, the Sahara populations will themselves run their affairs democratically, through legislative, executive and judicial bodies enjoying exclusive powers.  They will have the financial resources needed for the region’s development in all fields, and will take an active part in the nation’s economic, social and cultural life.
[6]. The State will keep its powers in the royal domains, especially with respect to defense (sic), external relations and the constitutional and religious prerogatives of His Majesty the King.
[7]. The Moroccan initiative, which is made in an open spirit, aims to set the stage for dialogue and a negotiation process that would lead to a mutually acceptable political solution.
[12]. In keeping with democratic principles and procedures, and acting through legislative, executive and judicial bodies, the populations of the Sahara autonomous Region shall exercise powers, within the Region’s territorial boundaries, mainly over the following:
· Region’s local administration, local police force and jurisdictions;
· in the economic sector: economic development, regional planning, promotion of investment, trade, industry, tourism and agriculture;
· Region’s budget and taxation;
· infrastruture (sic): water, hydraulic facilities, electricity, public works and transportation;
· in the social sector: housing, education, health, employment, sports, social welfare and social security;
· cultural affairs, including promotion of the Saharan Hassani cultural heritage;
· environment.
[14]. The State shall keep exclusive jurisdiction over the following in particular:
· the attributes of sovereignty, especially the flag, the national anthem and the currency;
· the attributes stemming from the constitutional and religious prerogatives of the King, as Commander of the Faithful and Guarantor of freedom of worship and of individual and collective freedoms;
· national security, external defense (sic) and defense (sic) of territorial integrity;
· external relations;
· the Kingdom’s juridical order.


The proposal itself is a good workable platform, and, provided some other prerogatives are expanded, and the symbolic recognition of the autonomous Sahrawi region as a Republic, the proposal might even induce more Polisario people into either joining the Moroccan cause, or even pressure their leadership into accepting the deal.

There is, however, one catch: the proposals, for all their generosity, cannot be credible if the Makhzen still stifles dissent, concentrates power and uses corruption to maintain itself in power. There is no need to point our that, in the camps, Polisario is even worse when it comes to dealing with dissent. And yet, we need to take the moral high grounds by being purer than pure. The Moroccan democracy, to convince the Tindouf people, needs to be of impeachable integrity. A radical institutional overhaul is more than needed, an essential, but not necessarily sufficient condition.

The proposal retains a few aspects of Sovereignty, but does not go beyond general principles; To be sure, currency will be one. And yet, I can foresee at least one problem, the most important of them all: How will the Central Bank define its currency board? We know, from various sources, that the bank defines Dirham counterpart as 60 to 80% Euro. And yet, the one thing Sahara can supply the world with , Phosphate, is Dollar-labelled. Morocco exports goods mainly to the Euro-zone (and thus, conditions its monetary policy with that of the Euro’s) it also exports Phosphate and gets paid in Dollar. This might be construed as a fickle, but believe you me, even within the official proposed scheme, sooner or later (and rather sooner than later, I would say) troubles about currency value and board will inevitably arise. How can we solve this?

Obviously, if joint sovereignty is to be exercised, so will need to be currency valuation; The Central Bank board needs to reflect a balance in its members, a balance that would be reflected on the Dirham’s value. In this particular issue, there can be expected very little dissent: it will be a mutual incentive to keep the Dirham’s value stable and reach consensus whenever possible, and as far as the currency board is concerned, a change in the Bank’s policy regarding transparency can solve the issue; Instead of decreeing it confidential, the Central Bank needs to be open about it, a further deterrent on the board of representatives not to engage in chaotic argument.

The Union Jack designing process can be useful as as a benchmark to design a new Moroccan flag

Same goes for Police (national security), or even Army; Police staff and establishment can be local (just as in the northern regions) but the Army’s issue is trickier. It’s a bit of a quandary, especially when one considers the Army as a unifying symbol. However, the establishment of an autonomous militia, a National Guard of sorts, can provide a good compromise. As for the Federal Armed Forces, a token invitation to defend the common border completes the picture and forestalls any potential problems on the matter.

So there it is: a complete independence in managing local finances (including bond issue backed by Phosphate receipts) and politics, the only infringement on such autonomy is the payment of a Federal solidarity tax, as well as recipient of Federal funds for infrastructure and the like. And because the union needs to feed on common institutions aside from the Monarch’s, the Republic’s representatives seat in the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Armed Forces Imperial Staff and the Board of the Central Bank.

Furthermore, the Super-Constitutional powers the King enjoys need to be curtailed, either by transferring them to the Federal Prime Minister (a Chancellor of sorts) or by simply abolishing them altogether. The Faithfuls’ Commandership, and its potentially troublesome extra-constitutional interference with earthly matters, needs to be dealt with in the new constitution. Finally, the Judiciary can be expanded to allow for a separate set of rules in the Sahara. However, and because the Supreme Federal Court would be common to both entities, mechanisms can enforce the widest possible set of similarities in laws and legislative standards.

Why would we therefore need to change the King’s styles and get involved in all minute details? Well, mainly because once such proposal is adopted, there will be a great deal of symbolism to be changed: the National Coat of Arms, which will need to be bifurcated from the Royal one. If it wasn’t for the ambiguous Hassan II‘s statement, I would very much like to see a change in our national flag just like with the Union Jack: some sort of combination that would seal further the union between both entities.

And since we are introducing changes in the symbols of the State, we might as well correct a 50-years old anachronism in the Monarch’s style; We have no King. We can retain the monarchical form if we want it, but the title must change and revert back to the old, multi-millennium style of Imperial Highness, the Sultan.

This is an idle dream. A waste of time. If Polisario bosses keep on being fed by Algerian occult lobbies (and the soon-ousted Colonel Ghaddafi), as long as Moroccan lobbies still benefit from the status-quo, in short, as long as this unholy alliance between reactionary forces everywhere keeps on drawing benefits to the participants, then people from both sides of the wall will still suffer and live in mutual hostility. Time to stand up.

Open Society Project. Part II: The Social Fabric

Part of the Open Society project is to achieve a secular, tolerant and individual-oriented society for Morocco. There are ways to achieve these objectives by means of designing adequate social engineering programs, but the essential feature of this project is that it needs to rip out the pungent effects of a policy implemented some 40 years ago.

It is true Morocco stands out as ‘Moderate’ in terms of religious observance, and many well-documented commentators do consider our country to be much more liberal -in its laws or its tolerance to social deviance– and, up to a point, this is true. But the trouble is, Morocco cannot be reduced to the Kenitra-Casablanca axis and a few urban centres around. There are parts of our country were fellow citizens are living miles and centuries away from Morocco Mall. And as it happens, talking about sexual freedom and de-penalising homosexuality might appear insulting to villagers in the Middle Atlas who die of frostbites whenever heavy snow blocks the roads up there.

I take the argument that we need economic development before we start addressing issues like gender equality or other items of individual rights and freedoms. A seemingly sound argument, but it betrays a static view of society. Humans living within organized communities do not mute their social background, nor do they shed away their education as soon as their material status improves; Though there is no distinguishable pattern to have a definite statement, it can be argued that, as far as Moroccan households are concerned, there is a certain amount of decorrelation between social status (and ensuing wealth) and professed social values. I always stand amazed at the way socially conservative acquaintances of mine can justify some of their own deviant behaviours (deviant with respect to the values they pretend to uphold, and frequently derail me for my own straightforward deviance) that, I guess, might be one of the numerous features of Moroccan genius, or sheer schizophrenia.

First off, and however thick it was laid, the veneer of national unity should not abuse the observer: the Moroccan society is deeply divided, and it will not heal it any time soon. It is divided on matters of race and ethnicity, on wealth distribution, on values and norms, it is divided, in my opinion, because it has been robbed of its history, and constrained with a straitjacket alien to all that made it what it is. We need to go beyond the dividing lines, and create a symbol of strength out of these differences, not perceived weaknesses.

Indeed, with 1956, we have been first robbed of Amazigh heritage when Istiqlal and UNFP nationalism decreed Morocco to be solely an Arabic-speaking country, and embraced Pan-arabism regardless of a substantial population’s own roots. Such pan-Arabist nationalism was marshalled by the monarchy too to enforce its hegemony and later on, to stifle Amazigh dissent. The current outcome is now a mess: yes, there is some official effort to rehabilitate Amazigh heritage, but there is political cowardice, or plain hostility in pushing further, and there are many who perceive this rehabilitation as a threat to our Arabic heritage.
The unbearable pressure for Arabic hegemony built up an equally radical Amazigh activism, and both sides settled on a cold war that heats up from time to time; In good times, such entrenched positions would have feed a passionate debate on our identities, but it seems not to be the case, each side refers to the other as the enemy: the invader or the traitor, make your pick.

We have been robbed of our present history: the Islamist lobby wants to impose on us an ideological version of Islam alien to the ‘local version’ that mixed up with pre-Islamic pageantry. A double curse as it is, Nasserist pan-Arabism gave way to the Islamist Internationale with a clear totalitarian agenda for the Apostate and the Unfaithful. ويل to whoever tries not to strictly observe the Islamic dogma. Begone the Jewish heritage, begone the numerous instances of gender equality in many of the Moroccan mountains, enter Wahhabi-style Islam.

The Moroccan society is ailing from the dividing lines because it has been deprived of its intrinsic wealth; Diversity has been stifled in the name of social cohesion and the ‘5th column’-style conspiracy theory. It is high time we addressed these wrongs.
The Social Project might be referred to as Grand Design, and it might be, by nature at least, but it is no burning vision of a holy city, nor is it a megalomaniac project for Übermenschen. Its primary internal logic is simple: put the individual as the nexus of social interactions, and abolish all intermediary entities between them and the State. Ambitious indeed, but not a contre-courant of the long-run trend as observed and recorded by various studies.

Let us first be clear about one thing: in its broad range, the Moroccan society is not ideologically conservative. If, and When the proposed policies below are implemented, the vast majority might feel hostile towards them, but actually a few activists will take to the street. And in any case, when the values of democracy, free speech and reasoned debate are upheld, there isn’t much to worry about, is there? Let us go forward and explore opportunities that would arise from an Open Society.

1) Ethnics: whether we like it or not, and whatever the level of mix-ethnicity in Morocco, there are strong self-identification patterns to be observed: It is almost impossible -and a bit racist- to claim, or to prove it, that such and such are pure ‘Aroubis, or Chleuhs or an Imperial City’s denizens. And yet, there is regionalist pride among say, young Riffis just as self-centred as that professed by inhabitants of Fes. Obviously, we cannot overrun these differences (it was the case for the last half a century, and it did nothing by to exacerbate the mutual defiance and transform them into open hostility) and any attempt to do so will at best weigh in hegemony from one side over the other, if not outright totalitarianism.
Why not recognize these differences as they are? Why is it such a perceived threat that moving from a ‘One Identity, One Nation’ would lead to the destruction of national unity? Is our society that fragile to constantly re-assure itself?

Let us consider the language issue: It would only make sense to cast aside Arabic as the Official Language, and put all three national idioms (plus Arabic because many Moroccans do speak the language) and elevate them to the position of National Languages? The argument of administrative cost is idle (and can be addressed by accelerating education reform and changing curriculum in local administrative school, if it is not already done. The Ecole des Cadres teaches local administrators an idiom, which can be useful when a Caid is posted in some remote Rif village) When human resources do master the language material, administrative procedures do not suffer from this hypothetical burden; Both arguments are shallow in fact, because they use the traditional bureaucratic inertia to block a legitimate aspiration, that of carrying everyday administrative procedures in one’s mother tongue. Is it such a onerous shore to print up forms in Soussi or use in the Agadir region?
Diversity comes first from ways to express it; in this case, languages are the main vehicle to consolidate this diversity the Open Society is set on protecting and nurturing.

We are De Facto living in a divided society, and the younger generations are no better than their elders in picking their choices; A constitutionally recognized diversity takes away the hegemonic position some ethnicities (or, to be more precise, some few families from a few Imperial cities) have abusively held for too long a time; It also defuses any future tensions between communities; By abandoning a monolithic norm, Morocco finally makes the right steps toward the essential feature of a democracy: diversity in all its forms.

2) Social Deviance: The word deviance here is used in its Durkheimian sense, i.e. behaviour that deviate from the perceived set of norms the majority of members identify as theirs. A refusal to observe Ramadan is considered to be a deviant behaviour, and it is highly disapproved of. Walking the street hand in hand with one’s significant other is frown upon. And yet, the Moroccan society acts as though these things do not exist, a bizarre enforcement of a rules that goes by : “What I don’t see doesn’t exist”. So there it is; as a whole, the Moroccan society, as noted on the Values’ Survey (50th Independence Anniversary Report) is not ideologically conservative, though elements of past policies have left a durable influence on the ambient conservatism, the essential feature of it is mainly due to a loss of ‘anchor values’; the Weltanschauung no longer fits the real world, thus the withdrawal to the safer and more secure conservatism, a behaviour indiscriminate of demographics or social classes.

So a couple of youngsters went on a picnic and started eating during Ramadan. Big Deal. Others did so some decades ago and none was arrested or heckled for their behaviour; Though the word might be too strong, such frenzy over the MALI operation is very close to fascistic behaviour. Indeed, a majority of Moroccans is Muslim, but how many of those are observing ALL of the Islamic pillars? How many would still be observing Ramadan if Article 222 was abolished? How many are already infringing on all articles outlawing non-marital intimate relationship?

In an Open Society scheme, individuals’ intimate behaviour cannot be subject to administrative or legislative constraints. A couple of leafs from the Code Penal will show examples of provisions that need to be abolished.

It seems the invoked legislative argument, ‘trouble a l’ordre public‘ is not because a particular behaviour contradicts the commonly-held values, but because there is fear some religious fanatic would carry out themselves punitive sentence. In effect, the Code Penal protects the liberally-challenged from modernity, thus comforting them in the idea that ‘these are our values’. The rule of law, in this case, abdicates before religious and bigoted lobby so as to avoid any confrontation with them. And yet here they are, terrorizing, censoring, excommunicating and declaring  anathemas in the name of religion on whoever tries to practise their freedom. religious Fascism at its rawest.

The Open Society project therefore seeks the abolition of the following articles:

Art 222. “Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams”.
Art 489. “Est puni de l’emprisonnement de six mois à trois ans et d’une amende de 200 à 1.000 dirhams, à moins que le fait ne constitue une infraction plus grave, quiconque commet un acte impudique ou contre nature avec un individu de son sexe”.
Art 490. “Sont punies de l’emprisonnement d’un mois à un an, toutes personnes de sexe différent qui, n’étant pas unies par les liens du mariage, ont entre elles des relations sexuelles”. (Penal Code)

And an amendment is required  on Articles 497, 498 and 501 so as to de-penalize prostitution, while increasing deterrent punishment on child prostitution and pornography. De penalization should encompass abortion (Articles 66, 446, and 449 to 458) and propose a fully-fledged law detailing recess and cooling-off periods, deadlines and medical conditions to be met, as well as the recognition of  principles of anonymity and free access to teenagers and rape victims.

Furthermore, mediaeval punishments, like death sentence should be abolished and replaced with perpetual imprisonment (Article 19) just like the tolerance of castration as an expeditious punishment  (Article 419) [Yes, the penal code allows for special circumstances, no pun intended…]

In addition, discriminatory dispositions should be lifted on married women (as they contradict the constitutional principle of gender equality) in this spirit, articles 495 to 496 assume married women to be submitted to their husband’s will, in flagrant contradiction with the principle of the status of co-head of household as specified in the 2003 Moudawana reform.

One of the characteristics of a democratic society is its tolerance to social deviance when it comes to contradiction with its census values. We need not be coy on these principles, and a radical shake-up of legislative texts like the Penal Code are more than needed to achieve this aim.

3) Protecting and Shielding the Weak and the Misfit: even though more and more women are contributing to society outside their homes, and whatever achievements the official line can boast about the reformed Moudawana, the fact remains, there is some resistance from influential lobbies, even within the administration itself; The tragic example of Fadwa Laroui should not delude us on the hardships that lay ahead.

There are conservative pundits that warned against a (relatively modest) increase of divorce court suit, and yet do not express similar outcry and turn the blind eye when judges indulge in generous dispensations for under-age marriage (but when Feminists care about the issue, it is swiftly dismissed as ‘typical feminist razzmatazz’ . As mentioned before, women are increasingly (and future projections are unequivocal on that issue) becoming breadwinners in their households, but those who do not fit within the social norms and are unfortunate to sustain themselves financially are cast aside. There are, following official figures, about 500.000 single mothers and divorcées, many of whom cannot sustain themselves or the children they are left with to care. The introduction of a Universal Benefit, for this population and for many others, is the most direct contribution of society to sustain them and help them to re-insert themselves in society.

This, in my opinion, is the difference between the social conservative and the radical reformer: the former couldn’t care less about the underdog, the latter tries to find ways to help them get through the rough patch. A radical social planner cares about society and individuals, a conservative one only about values and façades of social decorum.

I referred in another post to the idea of introducing Unemployment Benefits. I would like to devote the next ‘Open Society’ post to try and make up an comprehensive scheme that would go beyond that: a Universal Benefits scheme targeting the 5 to 10% of the less well-off of our citizens with enough resources to get them rolling before they join back in their productive contribution to society.

Open Society Project. Part I: The Economy (Continued)

What sort of budget would we have in a Open Society-upholding government? First, as mentioned before, investment budget would be much higher than the current level of expenditure, i.e. less than MAD 54 Billion. The idea is to take investment up to MAD 100 Billion; with a target of MAD 200 Billion over 5 to 7 years, and, more importantly, keep up a long-term average 10-years incremental increase rate of at least 2.77% with an ideal target of 3.93%. The lower bracket corresponds to the average real GDP growth over the last 20 years (thus taking into account depression years of the 1980s) and target level is the average GDP growth over the last decade.

Parallel to this ambitious program, there will be a need to downsize civil service human resources and expenses. Figures show that civil servant are spread evenly with respect to the Moroccan population, but reports also show a great deal of central bureaucracy (cost centres) that do no provide essential services. Furthermore, positions of education, health and local government are relatively underpaid when compared to these very same bureaucratic services. As a matter of principle, government money is taxpayers’ money. The idea that public sector is a last-resort recruiter for misfits should be definitely dropped. Indeed, it is a constitutional right for any citizen to apply for a government job, on the essential condition that they meet requirements, usually determined by their entrance exam results (difficult exams of course) and required degrees; Ideally, government civil service is an aggregate of competent, full-dedicated and bright minds fuelled by their public service spirit. That rules out unemployed graduates that are desperate for a job and settle in -as well as the arrogant Grande Ecole graduate with no idea whatsoever on how to actually run a country (those without the proper training and education, that is).

Whatever political allegiances one might hold and its derived policies on the matter of public administration, our own history with public service (even before 1912) unfortunately compel us to assume its actions to be evil, though the lesser of civil service’s evils is public investments, hence the heavy spendings commitment. Let me elaborate on that: traditionally, and I suspect many radical left-wingers in Morocco still hold it to be a good policy, the Moroccan left trusted the State to be the most efficient tool to achieve their objectives (I direct the reader to have a look to a post I wrote on the various stands regarding civil service). This might be due to a Trade-union tropism – and the history of struggle against the monarchy to take control of what was very early on, perceived to be the most powerful institution in post-1956 Morocco, but nonetheless, efficiency doesn’t compute in their design. What they don’t realize is that it will take on more bureaucracy, more waste of the taxpayers’ money, and ultimately the defeat of their projects. And in that respect, liberal Big-Statists -whether on the Right or on the Left- fail to notice the danger they are running into: behaving just like the Makhzen does, i.e. considering Moroccan citizens as irresponsible, with the indefatigable state intervention to run their lives. A genuine democratization goes through empowerment of communities and individuals, with a light touch regulation and intervention from the state (hence my stand on federalism and downsized civil service human resources).

It is high time the civil service factored in the concept of ‘Taxpayers’ money rather than ‘State money‘ and the promotion of a ‘self-reliance’ culture. Does it sound Blairite and Right-wing? Perhaps. But that is the most straightforward approach to break down the Makhzen system, and free individuals from a culture of dependency. “فلوس الشعب فين مشات” should be the watchword on every government spending.

Now, 2011 Budget figures show the following balance:

Finances Ministry 2011 Budget

Overall, government budget should be increased, but not in a discretionary fashion. Ideally, and alongside the increase of public investment within the assigned target, other government expenditures should be constrained with yearly inflation levels.

One way of doing so is to propose a reduction of central government wages by 5%, a moderate cut in the teaching corps (due to its ageing demographics) so as to match a student/pupils ratio of 12:1 as well as a pay rise to a median wage of MAD 17,000. [similar computations are run and observed on the health service] The first step for this to work is to spend, in two years’ time, windfall taxes from the fiscal reform to pay back the debt and terminate in that amount of time all debt payment (which amount to about xx). This expenditure, besides the positive effects it can have on government budget balance, is a strong signal the Moroccan government is committed to build up a reputation as a thrifty and efficient (in reference to Nigel Lawson‘s “primitive language”, but caring instead). The 5% cut mainly targets the high expenses account, such as the MAD 20 Billion of high salaries and the Civil List’s MAD 2.433 Billion.

There are several loopholes than can be filled, as well as policies that can either boost receipts (policies on income and VAT for instance) as well as reduce expenses (a shake-up of pay wage, or the detail analysis of ‘Charges Communes’). Furthermore, debt expenses should be phased out as early in the government’s legislature as possible, as these expenses represent a double exaction on the nation finances: first, 12.47% of total expenses were channelled to pay for debt; Knowing that about MAD 2.4 Billion of it is foreign-held, that means a direct annual pressure on total reserves of 5.98% which needs to be phased out as quickly as possible.

We need a cross-breed Prime Minister between Abdellah Ibrahim and Margaret Thatcher: strong Liberal credentials and a ruthless leadership

The alternative budget (with 2011 figures and holding all assumptions on Oil price and projected growth constant, as well as retaining specific items) would subsume the following projections:

1/ Military spendings to be cut by MAD 17 Billions, mainly by selling off obsolete or non operational hardware, and a reorganizing the military establishment. That means mainly a reduction in number of servicemen, the phasing out of compulsory military service (and the subsequent closing down of a number of military bases) and a re-organization of military units for more small outfits and more mobile forces. My own proposal for a radical change in defence strategy tries to make the numbers fit in, with an overall target of 2% GDP in defence spendings.

2/ Common expenses phased out: There are some MAD 36 Billion usually earmarked by the Finance Ministry as a common, inter-departmental  expenses. The trouble with such expenses is mainly the opacity.

3/ Reconsider accounting standards for SEGMA departments, if not an outright off-balance sheet outsourcing: this would save the public taxpayer about MAD 2 Billion. Even though SEGMA departments’ books have to be balanced, the budget often makes provision for subsidies, which on the long term weigh on public finances. If anything, an outright privatization of these SEGMA (Secteurs Gérés d’une Manière Autonome) might yield good money instead. For instance:
Golf Dar Es-Salam (receipts for MAD 18 Million)
The National Press (Imprimerie Officielle: MAD 13 Million)
Habous Ministry’s own Pligrimage Agency (20 Million)
Dar Annakhil Press (MAD 2 Million)

Overall reduce expenses by 53 Million, but saves capital account of about MAD 590 Million every year. Though it is difficult to put a fair valuation on these entities, if properly re-structured before privatized, a net yield could be around the Billion at least.

4/ Introduction of flat fees to replace ‘Grima’ applications. According to the 2007 Cour des Comptes audit report, 1749 ‘grimas‘ were delivered in 2007, an estimate of 3000 by 2011  (many of whom where for transport and fishing permits). Assuming a conservative estimated median flat fee of about MAD 10.000 per permit, the new system yields for 2011 about MAD 30 Million. This remains a conservative estimate, since many applicants eventually give up out of frustration (actual figures are more around 9000 applications. A detailed application listing (which doesn’t appear on the report) could allow  finesse discrimination (for instance by charging more on fishing permits than on taxi licenses) could yield even more. This policy -under assumption it remains tax-neutral- can actually contribute efficiently in fighting corruption, and bringing down one of its main features.

Budget balances with larger debt payment. A few items were retained due to a lack of detailed set of data

The Open Society project has the capacity to fund itself for the grand projects that lay ahead. This budget can next be broken down by regions (in accordance with the federalist option). [I haven’t got time for it, unfortunately]. Next piece will deal with the new Social Fabric.

Open Society Project. Part I: The Economy

My latest readings are taking over; Karl Popper’s ‘Open Society’ and LBJ’s biography are a great read. Catchy.

But seriously though; why can’t we think of a broad, far-reaching concept like the Great Society, and apply it to Morocco? The same ailments are there; poor education record, growing inequalities, racial problems do not arise, though we do have ethnicity problems- and as it turns out, Moroccans are quite racist when it comes to Sub-Saharan residents, even natives in Morocco.

Bully Boy. Alternatively the most liberal US President since FDR (that doesn't absolve him from the Vietnam War, though)

Or perhaps we do have some sort of scheme. That’s called ‘The Grand Design’, a rough translation of ‘المشاريع الكبرى’: Tangier-Med seaport, a brand new highway network, and even the expected high-speed TGV Tangier-Casablanca. This is just to mention a few things the official line likes to boast about.The trouble with such policies can be summarized in two items:

– Transparency issues: I sometimes watch TV, and figures are sometimes displayed when it comes to these projects, something in the line of: ‘the project His Majesty has inaugurated yesterday in Oulad s5ar has a total cost of MAD 400 Million. The project, part of His Majesty’s Grand Design, will yield approximately 2500 jobs’. Interesting and informative, but not enough. Just so to remind the readers, this is money that has been spent on a project the taxpayer has not been consulted about, and upon which spending modalities they have little, if no say at all. I’m all for grand projects and strategic investment, but if I, tax payer, cannot have some effective mean in questioning the validity of such spending, then whatever comes next is irrelevant. My money, my voice.

Parliament and government are incompetent partly because the political establishment did not renew itself by looking at the best and brightest (but rather by recruiting fools and heirs) but mainly because they have been denied real power and ultimately responsibility before the Moroccan people. I seriously doubt someone like Abbas El Fassi would remain Istiqlal (and government) leader for very long if the party or the governing coalition was actually governing and with a popular mandate.

Cost-Benefits analysis: such projects are usually presented to the executive (or legislative branch, whatever the ongoing political system) with failure standards, targets, cost per spending and expected profits, a razzmatazz of reports and projections that can shut down a failing project before it goes off course. Let us have a look at the Dam policy as an illustrative instnace. The one many of our citizens’ minds have been hammered with for so many years, that whenever an argument on whether Morocco is on the ‘right tracks’ our very own Godwin point is reached: “the Dams were not such a bad idea, were they?” Of course not. There are good ideas and bad ideas; Only good ideas work, and the Monarch (whether the late Hassan II or Mohamed VI) always have good ideas. The Dams’ building project was incommensurate, a symbol of Hassan II’s megalomania (like the Casablanca Mosque he built in a time of depression and structural adjustment program) that did little to prevent droughts like in 1995. The Dams French engineers and companies built were not suited for Morocco; and this national pride did very little to save small agricultural business to close down, and farmers to move to cities. It did not prevent Morocco’s main potential (agriculture) from lifting itself altogether from its dependency on rainfall. Can we say for sure that the Tangier Med seaport is going to be a success? Are we presented with documented material on the projects gains from buying a MAD 20 Billion high-speed train for Morocco?

This lengthy introduction is not another bitter attack on these investments; it is there to clarify my position on such ventures: My own perception of strategic investments is the backbone of this ambitious –somewhat pretentious- ‘Open Society’ thing. I believe that strategic investment is an important undertaking, which stakes the nation’s finances and potential on a long, if not very long term. The least we can do is to allow the broadest possible public debate on such spending. If in liberal democracies, a democratically elected government has to present the public with all guarantees the taxpayers’ money is not going to be wasted, then a semi-democratic, autocratic monarchy with a handful of technocrats nesting in the Royal Cabinet taking charge of the virtually everything definitely loses the moral argument they ‘know what’s best for the nation’. Grande Ecole graduates and McKinsey-style consultants might be bright minds (and from experience, this is rarely the case) but they lack the proper understanding of strategic thinking. And why should they be endowed with such quality? The latter are hired on missions, the former are trained to find immediate solutions. Just what the Makhzen ordered: short-term plugs for structural weaknesses.

Let us think over the Open Society on public investment: we need to address two important sectors to give us a head start in a versatile world: exports and education.

Exports are Morocco’s lifeline. According to a rating agency officer I happen to know, it is the only parameter that prevents Morocco from reaching a confirmed ‘Investment-Grade’ status: obviously, whatever investment is undertaken, or indeed any serious spending will be conditioned on the amount of foreign currency the Moroccan economy can field. Equally, foreign investors will be all the more interested in investing if our foreign currency position is strong and structurally viable. We cannot count indefinitely on Phosphate exports, or the Diaspora’s transfers, or even Tourism for funding our expenditure. We can no longer rely on cheap exports like textile (that destroy value, rather than create it) or low-tech devices (the new pride of these ‘Grand Design’ schemes). And as it is, the Royal Cabinet and the government have been ill-advised by McKinsey and other consultancy firms: How in the world did they come up with these ‘Strategic Advantages’? in fairness, the grim alternative was to get the advice of civil service expertise; A body which has been either drained of its competence or independence of mind, or indeed systematically shut down of all genuine decision-making.

As we look to the exports structure, several observations can be made:

* Agriculture and other traditional exports have a low value per exported ton: consider the 2009 export figures: Agricultural goods represent 10% of our exports and have a value of 5.915 MAD per ton.Two-thirds of our exports, the Mining industry, fare better with an average value of 11.981,1 MAD per ton, but when excluding lead, copper and iron, mining industry value averages only 8.648,72 MAD. Overall, exports in 2009 had an average value of 7075.7 MAD, and with weighted averages, about 6676,1 MAD.

Structure moves very little during the last 8 years (BKAM Charts)

* These numbers need to be compared to imports: average value for 2009 was 7232.93 MAD per ton, a weighted average of 7240,59 MAD. These computations show the differential in value between our exports and imports (mainly due to the over-reliance on low added value exports to make up for this shortfall by increasing quantities (that fail but to cover only 42 to 45% of imports)

In these conditions, how can Morocco chose sectors that can insure a good transition for strategic investment? I don’t claim expertise (not like a Consultant would do) but there’s an idea worth considering: shift efforts to the fishing industry. That encompasses fishing -as a primary sector activity- and all related activities: canned fish and other related food industry, but also shipyards. Building ships can help the industry expand beyond the scope of domestic demand and markets.

Shipyards all over the coast: We do have about 3.500 kilometres-long coastline, with about 28 significant coastal cities, out of which 8 are large enough to be equipped with such infrastructures. initial investment might be costly at first, but then it is easily offset, first by local demand for bigger and more reliable ships. And building on the experience of coastal ship, we can even consider a further step by building ships with a larger autonomy range, ships that can fish south of Mauritanian coasts, all the way down Senegal, Mali, or even on other continents –including North Europe.

Consider the fish-based flour: its value per ton is about 8.000 MAD, and all combined fishing products about 14.768,9 MAD/Ton. Ceteris Paribus, an increase of 10% in fishing exports reduces the gap in terms of added value per ton from a 7.240MAD (Imports) and 7.075,7MAD (Exports) to 7.542,1 MAD per ton. This does not bridge the trade balance deficit significantly (only about 2%, the effect of an absolute increase of 1% over these exports) but it addresses one of our structural weaknesses, i.e. the lack of high-added value in our exports; Believe it or not, an investment in fishing industry, even as a primary activity, does boost the total exported value per ton. The effect of a much bolder, much more ambitious investment in canned fishing product, shipyards and related industries and activities is bound to be more productive, with the ultimate objective to bring up Exports/Imports ratio from 45% to a more sustainable 60-70% and improve substantially our terms of trade.

Where can we find the ships then? Moroccan ports can either buy hulls for benchmarking (and these usually cost no more than a 2-3 million dollars, even less so when the ship is more than 20 years-old) or buy plans for specific ship classes. The idea is to provide our fishery industry with a brand new fleet (compared to the existing one) able to fish on our coasts, and even provide for long-range class ships. At the moment, Morocco has 2.500 boats and other ships. Instead of relying on old ships that cannot sail away from the coasts, efforts should be put in buying new ones, with a larger autonomy range. Under assumption that all the 2.500 boats have been scraped and replaced with newer, larger boats, total investment cost would match that of the High-speed train. The difference is that the new fleet can increase its yield and diversify it (by acquiring fishing rights in Mauritania or Senegal). as it is, fishing exports (a total value of MAD 15.72 Billion in 2009) can finance such investment over a short period of time (at a moderate discount rate of 4%, exports can pay for the upgrade in 5 years’ time with no significant exaction on exports revenues) and over the intermediate and longer run, generate profits in foreign currency.

Exports/Imports in 2009

Textile is the most explicit example of value destruction; following the Office des Changes figures for 2009, the synthetic textile fibre used in textile industry valued at MAD 15,855  per ton. However, value per ton for exported clothing was, for the same time period, MAD 4151,5, a differential only fur production makes up for. The idea that textile is a leading industry (as it makes up for about 19% of total exports) is a failure in view of these figures. If anything, we should move away from such heavily-subsidized industries to more productive ones. The argument about labour is irrelevant; out of the 1.267 million employed in industry, 108.000 work in the textile sector with little or no training. In the event of a booming shipyard industry (or any other booming industry) a workforce transfer would not entail much re-training, and under the condition of an unemployment benefit, wouldn’t cost more than MAD 700 Million a year for the whole employed workforce.

Other industries can be considered for possible investment, but in any case, these should meet a couple of of criteria: first, the added value per ton, net of re-export, should be positive (which is not the case for textile and outsourced services). Second, the amount of foreign currency it brings to the national economy. We need the cash to finance all the scheduled investment.

Speaking of which, the government balance sheet needs to be expanded and improved. Although I will deal with the subject in another post, the primary focus here is to increase government budget; Though it is desirable not to burden the economy with further taxes, a sensible rethinking of income and consumption taxes can actually yield money and be fairer to the less well-off. According to previous computations run on income and consumption distribution, conservative measures (upper bracket for income tax at 40%, and 20% on VAT) yield MAD 68,53 Billion, an increase of 23.% of government receipts, or a contribution to an increase of 50% in public investment. The objective is to scrap together enough resources to boost public investment to an annual expense of MAD 100 Billion on average, and sustain such expenditure over a period of at least 5 years.

Next piece will try and consider policies to make civil service more efficient and reduce bureaucracy.

The Radical Manifesto

Posted in The Open Society Project, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on March 22, 2011

Political organizations (political parties, trade-unions and the monarchy alike) have focused too long on political symbolism rather than policy agenda. This is partly true because the political institutions in Morocco have not got past the ambiguous distribution of powers, or the perpetual re-assuring rituals that confirm the supremacy of one institution over the others. Very few put together ideas of actually improving public welfare. And if they did so, it has been done so a long time ago, and these policies need to be either profoundly reviewed, or simply cast aside.

I. Political distribution of power: We cannot go on like this. It is a blatant contradiction with basic democratic proceedings to have a monarchy that concentrates all kinds of legitimacy. As it is, hegemonic political power stifles dissent not by repression, but by denying any conceivable mechanism that would allow this opposition to accede to power. As Mohamed Sassi put it most elegantly, the only viable compromise between a hereditary monarchy and a real democracy is a parliamentary kingdom.

I understand there are (few, but they exist nonetheless) Moroccans that would prefer a Republican instead of Monarchical regime. Such political opinion in a genuine democracy not only has to be respected (and as such, any piece of legislation that outlaws it should be aborted) but constitutional proceedings have to recognize it as a potential outcome.

There was an earlier discussion on why I would oppose the scheduled new constitution. The primary criticism, i.e. the appointment process, can be addressed by introducing a constitutional protocol that describes precisely why and how major constitutional amendment can be set. Obviously, the ultimate source of legitimacy resides within the people of Morocco (as Article 2 of the present constitution theoretically recognizes) and they should be the ones asked to put forward their representatives to meet, debate and then –only then- agree on the ‘national consensus’ that would be the underlying spirit of any major constitutional amendment.

We need to accept that idea of a Constitutional Convention is not a Pandora box. Under conditions of diversity, convention representatives are all set on an equal footing: political parties, unions, human rights charities, civil society, representatives of civil service (including the military and security apparatus), Islamic scholars, intellectuals and academics. There is no need to be coy, or cautious, or even sceptic on the outcome of such a motley convention: “Loin de m’appauvrir ta différence m’enrichit” as St Exupéry once stated. The process of constitutional reform or change does need a national census, to be sure, but a consensus that is freely discussed and in perpetually put to the question in a never-ending debate. If anything, the worn-out view that we should stick to the ‘consensus’ (broadly speaking, an imposed taboo on he Sahara, Religion and the Monarchy) is the main roadblock to the kind of change Feb20th or anyone angling for a new start are calling for. Dissent does not destroy democracy, and it strengthens it further if present opposition has a potential to become future government.

II. The Social project: the Open Society; Living in a strict Islamic society is a nightmare for non-Muslims. Living in an open society is merely an annoyance for the true believer. Political diversity calls necessarily for social diversity too. The Umma myth has long since crumbled (with the Pan-Arabism Nasserism, as well as the Islamic Internationale. The Moroccan nations (the plural is not a typo, believe me) do have a strong Islamic identity, but this has turned more into a set of rituals (that merged Islamic beliefs and ancient pageantry the Arab conquerors failed to weed out and had to live with).

Harry Popper and The Open Society

Image by bowbrick via Flickr

The open society is indeed a complex thing to define. It is however easier to define what it can avert: it prevents difference to be interpreted as dissent. It allows understanding in order to avoid fear. It prevents the “One Nation” rhetoric from turning into a moral dictatorship. Even though the professed collective set of values or norms does not allow for, shall we say un-Islamic behaviour, diversity (the very essence of an open society) does not allow for individuals, or any institution to stifle other individuals (or other institutions) that do not fall into that collective value/norm.

Individual and Collective freedoms are paramount to whatever majority belief, especially to that fallacious argument of Social Cohesion. Perceived deviant behaviour cannot be eternally repressed: prostitution, drug consumption, alcohol consumption and homosexuality are as ancient deviant practises as more approved patterns of behaviours. State apparatus is much more efficient when it is not tasked with morality enforcing (like Death Penalty). The Radical side needs its ‘Great Society’ project: “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all” bit. On social issues, that means a breakaway from tribal solidarity and submission to the common norms, the emancipation of individuals from the very fetters that stifle their humanity.

III. Economic renewal: Economists in Morocco (those with serious understanding of economics, that is) do their best to disabuse the public: Morocco has slipped into a rent-seeking economy. Its structure does not seek change and renewal. From top to bottom, the trend is in favour of ‘safe endowment’: public service for the unemployed, private monopolies and unproductive investment for the well-off. Numbers are not in favour of Moroccan economics: though we are sustaining good levels of economic growth, benefits of expansion are still concentrated among a core of few privileged (some 10% most affluent that capture 40% of Morocco’s disposable income)

Scheduled state intervention may not be construed as symptomatic illustration of ‘Tax and Spend’ stereotype. It can be easily proved that public finances are under funded (meaning, that new sources of receipts have not been considered yet). Consumption taxes, food and commodity subsidies and Income taxes are not commensurably shared by the community, and as such, profit largely to the more affluent. For all the changes and reforms that need to be introduced, as well as the forward-looking investments that are needed to push our potential further, state finances (expenses and receipts alike) are to be radically altered: out of MAD 219 Billion, only 12.5% is devoted to Public investment, and double this amount (24,8%) goes to pay wages. In addition, real executive power bypasses ministries and departments, which creates an addition burden on the taxpayer. And yet, there is a need to double the budget for reforms and projects public authorities need to undertake: there is a need for funding downsizing and improving the civil service recruitment, provision for legislation and coercive actions against private monopolies (the proposal of temporary nationalization of SNI-ONA and its subsidiaries for instance) and the implementation of social investments such as the introduction of the universal benefits program.

These expenses are necessary to improve our exports (which destroy value rather than create it) and our terms of trade. We also need these undertakings to catch up a long-lost 1 point GDP growth over the last 20 years (which would have placed our GDP per Capita on par with that of Tunisia’s) And finally, these investments are more than needed to expand our GDP potential and move from a catching-up process to a productive and innovative venture.

[More to come on that open society bit. The idea of a Moroccan diverse society and consciously admitting so might bring some benefits]