Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Morocco: First Formal Meeting Of New Democratic Government

Morocco: First Formal Meeting Of New Democratic Government 

Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- 8 February 2012 ... Having won the vote of confidence in Parliament on January 31, the new, democratic Benkirane Government in Morocco convened for the first formal session on February 7.
To mark the occasion, King Mohammed VI chaired the Cabinet session in the Throne Room, the Royal Palace in Rabat. The main subject on the agenda was the Finance Act of 2012.

The King Mohammed VI opened the session by inquiring about the status of the crop in lieu of the cold wave and frost. The King also inquired about the precipitation rates and their impact on national agriculture in Morocco. Aziz Akhannouch, the Morocco Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, provided a detailed survey of the situation. He emphasized that the quantities of rain to-date were good for most provinces of the Kingdom, although some crops were damaged in the southern regions. He added that weather forecast was promising.

Subsequently, Nizar Baraka, the Morocco Minister of Economy and Finance, presented the principles of the budget for 2012 as articulated in the just approved government program. 

Baraka reiterated Benkirane’s commitment to utilizing the government’s expenditures in order to “strengthen the rule of law, strengthen the principles and mechanisms of good governance, and strengthen the foundations of a strong and competitive economy - thus generating wealth, jobs and employment.” 

Morocco’s budget plans for 2012, Baraka further explained: “also aims to ensure social justice, democracy, to restore macroeconomic balance, to promote social programs, to strengthen the equal access of citizens to basic services, and to establish the principles of solidarity and equality chances.” 

The Benkirane Government in Morocco is committed to “the creation of a fund dedicated to supporting the poor and the expansion of medical coverage for them,” Baraka added, and to the increase of the Rural Development Fund expenditures in the mountainous areas.

However, these programs and projects must be reevaluated and studied in view of the modified and updated economic projections. This reevaluation of projections is a direct consequence of the worsening international situation - especially the crisis in the EU countries, and particularly “the economic gloom” in Morocco’s most preeminent economic and financial partners France and Spain. 

Although the Benkirane program projected an economic average growth rate of 5.5% - Baraka warned that realistic growth will not exceed 4.2% in 2012. Even with these constraints, the government intends to meet its key macro-economic challenges - namely, a budget deficit not exceeding 3% and inflation limited to 2% - even though Baraka admitted that these challenges would be very difficult to attain.

Baraka then presented the revised measures in order to continue public sector programs and public investment and financing of major projects in view of the above economic indicators. Baraka explained that the government in Morocco would also support the establishment of incentive mechanisms in order to encourage private sector employment and self-employment, as well as the creation of job positions and private investment in various public interest projects. 

Chief among these is Benkirane’s “solidarity fund” in which private sector firms will match government funds in order to sustain joint programs. This approach would enable the government in Morocco to maintain the budget deficit within manageable proportions. Baraka acknowledged that a big question mark remains regarding the funding sources of the solidarity fund. 

Subsequently, the government addressed and confirmed several nominations for senior positions in the public service. In the process, Benkirane reiterated that the principles and criteria for appointment to senior public service positions will be dominated by commitment to strengthening good governance and the moralization of public life in Morocco. As well, all nominations will ensure equal opportunity, merit and transparency, unrestrained non-discriminatory - particularly on the basis of gender - public access to position application. Benkirane emphasized that these are constitutional principles that his government is sworn to adhere to. 

The Government also approved the bill on the fundamental guarantees granted to soldiers of the Royal Armed Forces. This law is a standardized and comprehensive legal reference to define, clarify and strengthen the fundamental guarantees granted to the military. This law also takes into account the unique nature of military service in Morocco - the troops’ obligations, the need to be impartial, accept discipline and self-sacrifice and the obligation to defend the nation and its territorial integrity.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Morocco: Benkirane's Democratic Government Committed To Social, Economic Reforms

Morocco: Benkirane's Democratic Government Committed To Social, Economic Reforms

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco ... 3 February 2012 ... Morocco’s new Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane addressed the core issues of his government in the context of the Arab World’s “Awakening” in an interview with the Jordanian daily As-Sabil. Benkirane stressed that Morocco has produced its own unique model of reforms that is different from the rest of the Arab World. 

“Moroccan officials seized early on the message of the street and responded to it in a positive way, away from any ostracism or contempt for the calls for reform. In so doing, the Kingdom of Morocco has produced its own model that is different from those followed in other countries affected by the ‘Arab Spring’,” Benkirane explained.

All Moroccans have won, Benkirane argued, “for the population does not claim that the disruption of stability affected the activation and the pace of reform.”

Benkirane noted that the populist movement and the street protests in Morocco were driven by real problems.

He praised Moroccan officials for realizing from the very beginning that the problems were real and therefore must be treated with all seriousness. Indeed, the reforms announced by King Mohammed VI in the Royal speech of March 9, 2011, “were brave and were followed by the new Constitution and other positive steps, leading to the organization of transparent and credible election.”

Benkirane attributed his victory in the election to the climate of democratic reforms in Morocco enshrined by the King’s reforms process.

Benkirane readily admitted that he was surprised by the extent of the PJD’s electoral victory in Morocco. The party leaders, he noted: “expected to get 60 seats, but the people showed us confidence with 107 seats.”

Benkirane acknowledged the socio-economic and governance motives of the majority of the PJD’s voters.

“The people of Morocco elected us because we believe in justice,” he stated. Benkirane reiterated anew his commitment to personal freedoms and his rejection of any imposed program that might impinge on the freedoms of individual citizens.

He stressed he knows that most Moroccans, including PJD voters, are not Islamists. Benkirane is cognizant that “the people did not elect us because we are Islamists and will apply religion as we see it but because we believe in justice and will apply it.”

Benkirane emphasized the government’s commitment to social, economic and good governance reforms.

The Moroccan government “firmly believes in this reform program, really wants to serve the country and not just come up with slogans for electoral purposes.”

As the leading party, the PJD is facing the hardest challenge from the Moroccan electorate, Benkirane explained: “because many citizens see the PJD as the party most willing to enact reforms and change, most committed to the country’s stability and the party whose managers have proven their reliability and competence.”

Moroccans “do not wait for results in order to judge us, but only for demonstration whether our governance is free of patronage and corruption.”

Benkirane reiterated his conviction that the economic problems of Morocco are the main challenge facing the country. The new era of reforms - that is, of establishing good governance and the fight against corruption - will evolve from the emergence of a new economic posture. He repeated his call for Western investments from Europe, North and South America and belittled the significance of Islamists being in power.

Benkirane stressed anew that “everyone understands that their interests lie mainly with a stable country.” 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Benkirane's First International Test, Seeks Economic Investments For Democratic Morocco

Benkirane's First International Test, Seeks Economic Investments For Democratic Morocco

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- 30 January 2012 ... Shortly after his new government won the vote of confidence in Parliament, Abdelilah Benkirane left Morocco for the Economic Summit in Davos - his first and most challenging international test. 

On February 27, he shared the podium with Tunisia’s PM Hamadi Jebali and two Egyptian presidential candidates, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amre Moussa, for a discussion of the future of governance in North Africa.

Both Benkirane and Jebali focused on the economic challenges of the consolidation of democratic governments in their respective countries and the region as a whole.

Jebali opened the session with a passionate appeal to the West. He argued that it is in the overall interest of the affluent West to ensure that the democratic process succeeds in Tunisia. Therefore, it is incumbent on the West, irrespective of the current economic crisis, to subsidize Tunisia and other nascent democracies.

“I appeal here in Davos to those who are listening. We are asking for your support as we do not have sufficient means to stand on our own,” Jebali said. “We are counting on the support of our friends in Europe and the United States. Tunisia is a country which is open to all our neighbors, in particular the Europeans.” Jebali further argued that the ongoing failing of Tunisian economy must not be a consideration for Western help given the magnitude of the endeavor to build a new regime. “It is the first time that we have been able to build a democratic state, with the first step a constitution that will establish our democracy,” he concluded.

In sharp contrast, the new Prime Minister of Morocco Abdelilah Benkirane stressed the commonality of economic interests between Morocco and the West, and particularly Europe. He urged his audience to increase and expedite investments in Morocco to the economic benefits of both sides. 

“We are very open. We can now guarantee your interests and investments much more than in the past. What more do you want? Our interests complement each other. We need these investments. Morocco is looking to you.” 

Benkirane emphasized that Western investors from the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Norway and the rest of Europe need not fear the Islamist party in Morocco. 

“Whether these governments are Islamic or not, who cares? What is important is that they are democratic.”

He further stressed the all-Moroccan quintessence of the government’s economic programs and plans.

“They, the government’s economic plans, represent the people and are open. Actively fighting against corruption, they can even further ensure your interests and investments than previous governments,” Benkirane said. 

He recognized that Western support of the new plans was conditional on Morocco’s respect for human rights and women equality and stressed Morocco’s exemplary record in these fields.

In his presentation, Benkirane also sought to distance Morocco from the “Arab spring” chaos in Tunisia and Egypt. He noted that Morocco had “a different trajectory” than the other countries of North Africa.
In Tunisia and Egypt, he pointed out, “the explosion was inevitable” because both countries had been dominated by corrupt elites with “an iron fist”. The situation in Morocco is completely different. 

“In Morocco, the reforms began twenty years ago,” he noted. For the last two decades, Morocco has been experiencing “change in progress” aimed to “carry out reforms for the poor and needy.” Therefore, Morocco remains extremely stable and business friendly - exactly what Western investors are looking for.

During the Q and A part, Benkirane was asked to address the issue of “extremists” in contemporary Islamist governance. Benkirane explained that the genuine democratic process in Morocco has been essential to the moderation of Islamist politicians. “It, the democratic process, takes them - the Islamists - out of the woods to participate in political life and to be moderate,” he argued. 

Benkirane pointed out to his own personal evolution in the context of his political ascent in Morocco. 

“When we were young, we were also extremists in our ideas. Then we became realistic, and we moderated our views,” Benkirane acknowledged. At the same time, he complained, the West fails to distinguish between a person’s observance and that person’s political stand. 

“When I ask you not to serve me alcohol, I’m considered extremist,” he noted.

While in Davos, Benkirane met Klaus Schwab, the president of the Global Economic Forum, and both agreed to strengthen the partnership with Davos. Benkirane also met with Angel Gurria, the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Gurria praised the economic plans of the Moroccan government and congratulated Benkirane for his political courage and determination in the spheres of economic and social development. He agreed to strengthen the OECD’s collaboration with Morocco on various topics of common interest. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Morocco: Benkirane Government Advocating Reforms, Democracy Wins Vote of Confidence

Morocco: Benkirane Government Advocating Reforms, Democracy Wins Vote of Confidence

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- 26 January 2012 ... The House of Representatives in Morocco approved today the programs of reforms and democracy of the Benkirane government as presented by the PM in his speech to Parliament. The program was adopted by a vote of 218 in favor and 135 against. No abstained votes were recorded.

The session of the House of Representatives in Rabat, Morocco continued in order to enable the various parliamentary groups to explain their decision to vote both in favor and against the government program.

Newly elected Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane opened the debate by stressing the government’s commitment to taking the position of the opposition into account.

“The opposition must be an efficient and constructive partner,” Benkirane stated. “The opposition is expected to become an efficient and constructive partner in the development process experienced by Morocco, in developing the quality of debate, in deepening the analysis of the situation of the country and by moving up to the level of force proposal to be worthy of the position that gives the new Constitution,” he explained.

Benkirane argued that the opposition parties in Morocco must not limit themselves to criticizing the government’s program without making specific proposals for correcting the deficiencies as they see them. He stressed that the principle of good governance “ensures a balance between innovative change and continuity in the implementation of responsible strategies and policies which already exist and which had been selected by previous governments.”

Of the adopted specific strategies and programs which illustrates the new government's commitment to reform, democracy, a potent economy and greater employment - ten are a continuation and twenty one are new programs.

“The Constitution of the coalition embodies our aspiration to establish a strong government, efficient and solidarity based on the strong commitment to the Charter of the majority and reflecting the will of the Moroccan people to have an executive manager who is sensitive attentive to their concerns and their expectations,” Benkirane concluded.

The main opposition parties in Morocco issued statements highly critical of the government’s program. Two key points were stressed by most opposition spokesmen. Opposition leaders feel that the government’s program “lacks creativity and innovation, particularly in regard to the objectives set, priorities and mechanisms for implementation.”

Opposition leaders also criticize “the lack of accurate data and a clear agenda that would allow the Parliament and citizens to track, monitor and evaluate government action.”

In response to Benkirane’s call for presenting constructive alternatives to criticized policies, opposition leaders in Morocco promised to do just that in the forthcoming debates and deliberations over specific programs and undertakings.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Morocco: PM Benkirane Presents New, Democratic Government to Parliament

Morocco: PM Benkirane Presents New, Democratic Government to Parliament

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- 21 January 2012 ... Both Houses of the Moroccan Parliament held a plenary session on Thursday, January 19, devoted to hearing Morocco's new Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane presenting the statement on the government’s plan. The government’s program is now formally presented for debate in both Houses of Parliament as the first step toward formal approval through a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives in Morocco formally summoned the plenary session “in accordance with Article 88 of the Constitution.” 

Article 88 of the Basic Law stipulates that “after the appointment of members of the government by the King, the Head of Government presents and explains to both Houses of Parliament, the program to be carried.” Article 88 further stipulates that the presented “program is the subject of a debate in both Houses. It is followed by a vote in the House of Representatives.” 

Only in the aftermath of a thorough study and debate, explains Article 88, “the Government is vested after earning the confidence of the House of Representatives, expressed by the vote of an absolute majority of the members of that House, in favor of the government program.” 

Since the Benkirane coalition has a majority of 224 seats in the 395-seat House of Representatives (57%) - the government will have to win the support of a few dozen opposition MPs in order to ensure absolute majority in the vote of confidence.

In his address to the plenary session, Benkirane covered the entire program of his government - from basic principles to the macro-economic plan for Morocco. Benkirane stated his cabinet’s program is “geared to build a strong, stable, supportive and prosperous society that ensures a dignified life for all its citizens.”

The revitalization of the Moroccan economy and society will be “based on the promotion of the middle class by making available the means necessary for the production of wealth.” 

Benkirane pledged to engage in an unprecedented fight against, and prevention of corruption. 

“The government will try to base its economic governance on transparency, efficiency and improve the business environment and fight speculation and monopoly situations by adopting several measures,” he said.

Benkirane pledged to sustain an impressive growth rate, reduce unemployment rates and lower inflation rates during the period of 2012-2016. The government program “aims to achieve a growth rate of 5.5% to keep inflation around 2%, reduce the unemployment rate to 8% and the budget deficit to 3% of GDP during the next four years,” he said.

Discussing Moroccan society, Benkirane stated that the Arabic and Berber identities would be “strengthened in a framework of unity and diversity” of the Kingdom. The government also intends to “pay particular attention to Moroccans living abroad” and involve them in the affairs of their homeland. 
He pointed out that the social elements of the government program should be assessed in the context “of the democratic process facing the Arab world,” and stressed the commitment of the Kingdom “to the religion of tolerant Islam, constitutional monarchy, democracy and the defense of territorial integrity.”

Benkirane concluded by stressing that the election and composition of his government were in accordance with the provisions of the new Constitution that grants more powers to the Prime Minister and Parliament while preserving the preeminence and rule of the King. 

“The current legislature must be that of implementing the provisions of the new Constitution,” said Benkirane. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Morocco: New, Democratic Government Seeks Immediate Unemployment Solutions

Morocco: New, Democratic Government Seeks Immediate Unemployment Solutions

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- 21 January 2012 ... On January 19, five young Moroccans set themselves on fire near a building of the Morocco Ministry of Education in Rabat. The five were saved by passersby, but three had to be hospitalized. They were part of widespread demonstrations all over Morocco protesting unemployment, especially among university graduates. 

One of the young people who set himself on fire explained that he wanted to focus attention on the plight and desperation of the young unemployed. The leftist opposition daily LibĂ©ration commented in an Editorial that the self-immolation was attempted in order “to protest against delays or indifference in the treatment of their case despite the commitment of the new Benkirane government.”

These five young men put a human face on one of the greatest challenges facing Moroccan society - and not just the incoming Abdelillah Benkirane government. 

Overall, unemployment in Morocco stands at 9.6% - a fairly average rate in the West given the economic crisis. However, unemployment in Morocco is not spread equally throughout the country or population segments. Among the veteran work force, unemployment hit hard on the predominantly rural population. Unemployment skyrockets to 31.4% of those under the age of 34. 

Another hard hit population grouping are university graduates - the key to Morocco’s future development.

According to the Moroccan agency of employment, 27% of the university graduates cannot find work in their profession, with the greatest difficulty lies in getting a professionally, suitable job in public service. Taking into consideration the graduates who find work outside their expertise and below expectations - the overall unemployment rate among university graduates is “only” around 16%.

Indeed, both the government’s macro-economic plan and the government’s plan as articulated by Abdelillah Benkirane in his address to the plenary session of the Parliament highlight the issue of unemployment and stress the urgent imperative to alleviate the plight of the unemployed youth and graduates. 

Benkirane promised to bring down unemployment in Morocco from 9.6% to 8.0% within five years. However, the real challenge is in addressing the employment potential for the youth and graduates. 
Indeed, as discussed before, the macro-economic plan of the Benkirane government does include specific programs to increase quality employment in the public sector as well as encourage and induce the private sector to employ more.

In a statement right after his speech in Parliament, Benkirane stressed that “the crux of the government’s plans is to target national economic growth which in turn would boost the employment sector.”

Morocco Government Spokesman and Information Minister Mostapha Khalfi added that: “the new program aims to meet the people’s expectations and deal with various social issues by introducing relevant policies in key aspects such as employment, housing and education.”

The youth and public at large have great expectations from Benkirane - as the latest polls conducted in the aftermath of Benkirane’s speech indicate. The polls illustrate that overall 88% of Moroccans are optimistic (61%) or very optimistic (27%) about Benkirane and his government (an increase from 82% in late November 2011), and only 8% of Moroccans are worried or very worried. 

Among the two youth groupings, between 18-24 and 30-39 years old respectively, there is great enthusiasm, but also higher rates of anxiety - 15% and 17% respectively - which reflect the discontent over poor employment prospects. 

Most important for Benkirane should be the opinion of Morocco’s wealthiest - the engines of the private sector Benkirane is determined to rejuvenate.  Among these, 10% are very optimistic and 64% are optimistic. Benkirane will therefore get a brief period of grace to set his economic plans in motion for Morocco. Unemployment will be one of the most discernible areas where quick impact is already anticipated by the public.

Meanwhile, the attempted self-immolation in Rabat is already having an effect on street politics and  Parliament. The leaders of the two main opposition parties announced they will not vote confidence in the Benkirane government when the vote takes place. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Morocco: The Government's New Macro-Economic Program

Morocco: The Government's New Macro-Economic Program

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 19, 2012 ... In preparation for the presentation of the Benkirane government’s statement and program, the Moroccan Cabinet Council began elaborating on the specifics of the government’s program and particularly the macro-economic and social plans.

Benkirane is cognizant that no socio-political reform is possible in Morocco without a profound economic recovery. Moreover, the rapidly deteriorating economic crisis in the West, and Europe in particular, puts additional burden on the Moroccan economy for it is connected to Europe’s.

The macro-economic data in the government’s program is most impressive and challenging but not unattainable. 

The government’s macro-economic data expects a respectable annual growth rate of 5.5% for the next five years. Consequently, the government in Morocco will have the budget deficit reduced to 3% over these five years, and the inflation compressed to an average of 2%. 

Although, as discussed below, the government anticipates an increase in public sector employment, payroll should be limited to 10% of the GDP against the current 10.3%. The government hopes to achieve this through the concurrent increase in the GDP and recalculation of salaries in the public service.

A major component of the Benkirane economic development program for Morocco is a fair distribution of wealth through restructuring of the economy rather than debilitating taxation. Benkirane calls this approach “the moralization of public life” and it is associated with the priorities “in the new social pact” advocated by the government.

A major instrument of the economic reforms in Morocco relates to employment. The struggle against unemployment is not an easy task. The government is adamant on reaching an unemployment rate of 8% within five years. 

The government plans to create 200,000 new jobs annually via the promotion of both public and private investment. The government wants to increase the annual training and integration program to about 50,000 beneficiaries. This way, the government will be able to absorb a significant segment of unemployed graduates. However, the government plan foresees “dialogue” as the ultimate solution to addressing the youth unemployment. Young graduates will have to comprehend that the state alone cannot absorb them all. 

The idea is to explain reality while setting out the limited available resources. Instead, the government will encourage the creation and expansion of a labor market in the private sector by supporting the investment in manpower. The new, democratic government in Morocco is convinced that the private sector is willing to absorb a large proportion of unemployed graduates provided that there is no debilitating taxation on the profits from investment and business enlargement resulting from job creation. The Benkiran government already reassures the business community in Morocco that economic expansion including employment will be encouraged and rewarded.

The Benkirane government hopes to recover funds and improve the overall economic performance through the much heralded fight against corruption and bad governance. 

This objective is emphasized in the roadmap of the new government. Initially, the government intends to clean and streamline the management of public facilities. A pension reform is also a priority given the state of the various government-controlled and -guaranteed funds, and because this is a time bomb that must be defused this year or by 2013 at the latest.

The Benkirane government’s plan anticipates that a large number of presently unemployed graduates and future graduates will be absorbed into the major social programs the government is committed to expanding in conjunction with the private sector.

One of the highest priority programs of the new government in Morocco is health care. 

The government is adamant on providing access for all citizens according to their needs, regardless of their ability to pay. The services offered will be of quality and patient-centered. Emphasis will be placed on the lower rates of maternal and child mortality - achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This will require the expansion of medical and social services through the recruitment of quality manpower. To address the huge financial cost of the program, the government expects the gradual spread of RAMED (Health Insurance Plan for the poor) through better management at the public sector and the inclusion of private sector business.

The other high priority by the new government is education. 

The Benkirane government’s plan envisages a comprehensive program encompassing the entire educational spectrum from basic literacy to advance academic studies. Again, educational opportunities to all and the pursuit of excellence are at the heart of the government program. In the pipe is the launching of such national initiatives as “public schools of excellence”, “Moroccan university as a leader in training and scientific research” and “the fight against illiteracy as a pillar of human development”. 

The government is convinced that improvement of literacy is a precondition for the overall upsurge of the economy in Morocco. Hence, an urgent priority is the creation of the National Literacy program with the goal of reducing the illiteracy rate to 20% by 2016 and complete eradication by 2020.

Another priority involving employment issues in the impoverished urban slums is housing. 

The new government approach in Rabat aims to challenge the procedures presently followed for the reduction of slums and the fight against the spread of slums. The objective is to build 150,000 new homes a year. Toward this end, the government will strengthen the guarantee fund to better support access for “decent candidates” for housing who do not have regular resources. Emphasis in this program is on the unemployed uneducated youth who will be in effect employed in the building of their own houses and neighborhoods. This will put them in the workplace as skilled labor. In order to fund these programs, the government intends to revise the tax rules to encourage private sector investment in housing construction and rental. 

The new government in Morocco seeks to regulate the housing market by establishing objective criteria for project approvals - from construction to renting. Furthermore, the transfer of public land to private sector developers will be simplified on the basis of tenders.

Basically, the Benkirane government’s statement is based on the application of good governance principles to the management and implementation of the provisions of the new Constitution. The stakes are high.
The Benkirane government will be facing great challenges once it begins the implementation of the promised action. After all, the expectations of the public that has just voted for Benkirane and his government are enormous.