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 Libération 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. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pillars of New Government In Morocco: Democracy, Nationalism, Strong Economy, Social Services

Pillars of New Government In Morocco: Democracy, Nationalism, Strong Economy, Social Services

 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 18, 2012 ... The new Benkirane government in Morocco is moving prudently towards assuming power. Formally, the government still has to await the vote of confidence for the government and its programs by the House of Representatives. In the interim, ministers are studying their new fields of action without permission to engage in actual decision making. 

Almost all the new ministers in Morocco are in the process of learning their new roles. They conduct meetings with all of their secretariats and senior staff, as well as directors of central and regional services.

Benkirane and his ministers await the vote of confidence by the House of Representatives before assuming executive control of their respective ministries and their dependents. 

On January 17, the Benkirane government in its capacity of the Moroccan Cabinet Council (since the government is yet to be formally ratified by a vote of confidence) made a major step toward this vote with the adoption of the government program - the key document defining the vision and plans of government which has to be presented to the House of Representatives before the vote of confidence. 

The cabinet discussed in detail the draft version which is about 70 pages in length. The document was authored by the interdepartmental committee in charge of the government program that was chaired by the Minister of State Abdullah Baha.

While there was a general agreement on the overall vision of the new government in Morocco, there were discussions about the politically expedient way to present the government program. Ministers argued about what should be the overall tone of the government statement. Some ministers called for a statement of optimism, while others stressed the need to present a realistic program. 

Ultimately, Benkirane resolved that the realistic approach should be adopted. Mohamed Najib Boulif, the Minister of General Affairs and Governance, subsequently noted that the government decided to present a realistic work program for the next five years. He stressed that this program will focus on priorities and policy. At the end of the meeting, the Moroccan Cabinet Council adopted the draft government program.

Mohamed Najib Boulif explained that “the government’s program is based on five pillars.” These pillars consist of  deepening national identity and to ensure coherence and diversity of its components with openness to other cultures and civilizations.

The second pillar aims to focus the rule of law, the advancement of regionalization and governance, while ensuring the dignity and freedoms based on citizenship in Morocco.

The third pillar seeks to produce conditions for a strong, competitive economy and the creation of jobs and new employment opportunities.

The fourth pillar strengthens national sovereignty and influence in Morocco.

The fifth pillar installs a new social pact which establishes solidarity between the layers, generations and regions. It guarantees all Moroccans access to basic social services.

On the evening on January 17, the Benkirane de-facto government decided the date of presentation of the program and the government in Parliament for formal approval and the vote of confidence. The government statement will be presented at Parliament at 11am on January 19. 

Parliament will hold a plenary session to hear the government statement which will be presented by Prime Minister Benkirane. Subsequently, the government program and the cabinet membership will be submitted to a vote of confidence at the lower House. All indications are that the House of Representatives will then endorse the new government and its program with a large majority.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Morocco: New Democratic Government Fights Corruption

Morocco: New Democratic Government Fights Corruption

Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 18, 2012 ... During the election campaign in Morocco, Prime Minister Benkirane had repeatedly promised that the fight against corruption would be a high priority for his new government.

Now, the Benkirane government has begun to make good on this promise and embarked on a major anti-corruption campaign. At the instructions of Benkirane, Morocco’s Central Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC) is preparing a document with “priority” proposals how to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Kingdom. 

The ICPC President Abdeslam Aboudrar pointed out that the ICPC is preparing for a major transformation. With a new priority status, the ICPC is gearing up for a major surge in order to bolster the campaign against corruption in Morocco.

Aboudrar notes that the new Constitution in Morocco awarded the ICPC a new status for the national-level prevention of, and fight against, corruption. This will allow the ICPC to consolidate its missions to prevent corruption. The ICPC will now be able to assign and launch major investigations dealing with various forms of corruption.

This new status will also give the ICPC the prerogative of horizontal framework of efforts in order to both prevent and fight against corruption through a national strategy in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies. 

“The ICPC is in the process of preparing a paper on priority proposals to strengthen the efforts made by Morocco in the fight against corruption, including the adoption of legislation concerning the implementation of certain existing laws as well as the enactment of other legislation particularly in relation to access to information, conflict of interest and revision of the Law on Declaration of Assets,” Aboudrar explained.

“The ICPC proposals also address the need for effective enforcement of the law resulting in prosecutions and sanctions against those involved in corruption cases. In addition, these proposals aim to embed the strategic dimension in all policies against corruption, improve governance in the public and private sectors, as well as to promote the importance of integrity and the fight against corruption through public awareness campaigns.”

Abdeslam Aboudrar pointed out some of the practical aspects of the challenges facing the ICPC. 
He explained that these priority proposals relate to “the need for effective enforcement of the law” which should result in “prosecutions and sanctions against those involved in corruption.” Aboudrar calls for the establishment of specialized courts to handle corruption cases. 

The Department of Justice in Morocco has already agreed to the creation of Chambers specializing in financial crimes at Morocco’s four Courts of Appeal. The ICPC hopes to capitalize on this initiative in order to create a special system of justice “to end the impunity that is one of the causes of the phenomenon of corruption.”

Aboudrar is cognizant of the magnitude of the reforms needed. 

He argues that implementing this system of justice requires specialized adaptation of the procedures for investigation and inquiry with the specificities of the different categories of crime, creating a specialized police, assigning special prosecutors, and the adoption by magistrates and judges of the recommendations and the minutes prepared by the officers of the police and expert reports and searches. 

The new courts will also have to use the services of bailiffs and other organizations specializing in the technical aspects of corruption cases. Most important, however, will be the promotion of training and capacity building of the various stakeholders, as well as the expansion of the legal criminal code to upgrade the working mechanisms of specialist justices. Aboudrar concludes that the priority challenge is to train magistrates and judges in order to carry out this task so as to accelerate and promote the quality of casework related to financial crimes.

Also of great importance is the creation of public awareness in Morocco of the imperative to both prevent and fight corruption. The emphasis of the anti-corruption message during the elections campaign resonated positively with the majority of voters. 

Aboudrar is adamant on capitalizing on this trend in order to ensure long-term tangible impact.

“The ICPC has developed a communications strategy to raise awareness of the harmful effects of corruption in explaining its different forms, its causes and consequences. We delayed the implementation of this strategy due to lack of financial resources allocated to date to the ICPC knowing that the launch of a communications campaign on a national scale requires a large budget,” said Aboudrar.

Aboudrar is convinced that he will get the necessary budget from the Benkirane government. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Morocco: New Government Begins Work On Reforms, Enhanced Democracy

Morocco: New Government Begins Work On Reforms, Enhanced Democracy
 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 10, 2012 ... After a weekend of well-earned relaxation, the members of Morocco’s new government are starting to work.

There are huge expectations at the grassroots which the new government in Morocco must now meet. For about two thirds of the cabinet ministers and minister delegates this is their first experience in government. Most of them have managerial and or academic expertise in the issues handled by their respective ministries. However, they lack the political experience which can be a huge benefit for launching reforms and enhancing democracy, but also a hindrance in getting programs implemented by the multi-layered government and regional bureaucracies.

Morocco Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane is convinced that the cabinet’s commitment to reform and democracy should override all other considerations.

“This new government has a true will for reform and we will keep all the promises we made,” he said.

The crux of the reform process is the restoration of the public’s meaningful participation and trust in the governance process. Meeting with leading politicians in Rabat, Benkirane stressed: “the new government’s foremost priority is to restore the citizens’ trust in the public authorities, foster the culture of dialogue among the various constituents of society and pay special attention to the vulnerable social segments.”

Benkirane and his leading ministers already began articulating their government’s initial goals.

They reiterated that the main challenges facing the new government in Morocco are a confluence of addressing domestic needs such as providing for employment and social protection, and meeting the national fiscal challenges by controlling public expenditures, the national deficit and developing new forms of financing the budget. 

“Issues relating to employment, social protection and the promotion of the national economy represent the main concerns of the new government,” explained Minister of Economy and Finance Nizar Baraka.

At the same time, he stressed, “a series of new measures will be undertaken at the financial, economic and social levels in order to enable the new government to carry out its priority programs.”

Industry, Trade and New Technologies Minister Abdelkader Aamara also foresees the imperative of greater national cohesion in order to meet the development challenges within a reasonable budget.
He considers the main challenges facing his ministry to be “how to continue the various initiated projects, and more cohesion and mobilization of all stakeholders in a participatory manner in order to meet the challenges of development and competitiveness.”

Although Benkirane effectively outlined the program of his government and articulated the guidelines for its policy - he now has to follow the formal process as stipulated by Article 88 of the Moroccan Constitution before the new government can actually govern.

Under Article 88 of the Constitution, the first official act of the Prime Minister in Morocco is presenting the detailed government statement to both Houses of Parliament. Subsequently, Benkirane will have to request in writing from the Speaker of the House of Representatives Karim Ghellab to determine the date of submission of the final government statement to Parliament for a formal vote of confidence. Only then can the government start working legally.

According to officials in Morocco, this formal process and vote of confidence will be completed within a week or so. Then, the traditional 100 days of grace will begin. Benkirane assured the leading politicians that he intends to use these 100 days of grace in order to introduce “100 steps” that would lead to the speedy implementation of the promised policies. Benkirane hopes to win the confidence of the Moroccan public through these initial steps.

Meanwhile, King Mohammed VI continues to maintain his tight grip on the new government and particularly regarding issues of great importance to Morocco’s foreign allies. Western senior diplomats in Rabat note that all the defense, security and financial portfolios remain in the hands of royalists.

Moreover, the Minister Delegates in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior - Youssef Amrani and Charki Draiss respectively - are two highly experienced expert senior officials who rose up in the ranks of the establishment and not the political world. They are likely to ensure continuity and pragmatism. As well, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch retains his position from the previous government. Having resigned from his party - the royalist RNI - in order to retain his portfolio, he is now considered a technocrat appointment. Akhannouch’s is an extremely pragmatic and important nomination given the complexities of the current crisis negotiations between Morocco and the EU over fishery rights and agriculture export issues.

Driss Dahak retained his post in Morocco as Government Secretary-General.

“The post was given to Driss Dahak in order to block the advancement of legislation proposed either by Parliament or the Government and opposed by the King,” noted leading Moroccan politicians in Rabat.

“The King did not lose any control,” concluded Western senior diplomats.

“The King wants Benkirane to succeed, but not at the expense of harming the Kingdom.”

Morocco’s closest allies in Europe and the United States are extremely happy with this balance of powers in Rabat. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Morocco: Benkirane's New Government Program for Democracy

Morocco: Benkirane's New Government Program for Democracy

 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 04, 2012 ... As a quintessential element of their coalition forming, the General Secretaries of the four parties in Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane, Abbas El Fassi, Mohand Laenser and Nabil Benabdallah, jointly signed on December 16, 2011, a landmark document in the history of Moroccan politics: “The Charter of the Majority”.

The Charter is a contractual document that defines the scope of the joint action of the coalition’s partners and the basic principles of their government’s democratic program. With the swearing in of the new government by King Mohammed VI on January 3, 2012, the Charter of the Majority becomes a legal document of immense importance for it outlines and articulates the Benkirane government’s program and modus operandi.

The Charter of the Majority affirms that the new coalition government in Morocco is “committed to serving the supreme interests of the nation and to defending its sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of its people within the framework of respect for the sacred and immutable values of the nation and in accordance with the Constitution.”

To realize these objectives, the coalition irrevocably adopted four fundamental principles of government work: “joint action, efficiency in execution, transparency in management, and solidarity of responsibility.”

The Charter stipulates further that coalition members “are committed to work in a harmonious and united way” in order to “fully assume the government’s constitutional responsibility and solidarity, as well as the political management of public affairs.”

The Benkirane government will serve “while ensuring the implementation of the provisions of the new Constitution, in order to carry out more reforms and build the rule of law, freedom, justice and solidarity between the different components of the Moroccan people and different regions of the Kingdom.”

The Charter asserts that a major objective of the government is to restore the morality in political work and trust in public life by restoring faith and trust in the country’s institutions.

Toward this end, the government will fight resolutely “illegal practices and the cash economy in all areas related to the rights, dignity and freedom of citizens.”

The coalition is also committed “to promote its work within the legislative institutions and the government in order to contribute to the development and implementation of public policies while defending them with the seriousness and credibility required.”

The new government of Morocco is also “committed to improving institutional performance and policy in order to move forward in the practicing of democracy and good governance,” as well as “strengthen the momentum of reforms contained in the new Basic Law.”

Echoing the public’s yearning for Benkirane to be an all-Moroccan national leader practicing a “participatory approach” to governance - the Charter of the Majority stresses the coalition commitment to helping the opposition to play its role in the parliamentary system.

The Charter stipulates that the government “will work in cooperation and dialogue with the opposition in order to enable it to fulfill its the opposition’s constitutional and political obligations.” As well, the government “will engage in dialogue with all social-political forces in the nation in accordance with a dedicated approach to the consolidation of participatory democracy and the expansion of solidarity and national reconciliation.”

The government is dedicated to enhancing plurality and respecting differences of opinion.

Regarding the mechanism for implementing the Charter, the coalition parties in Morocco agreed to transform and up-grade the eight-member high-level high-power commission that originally formulated the Charter. The joint presidency of the governing coalition will remain an eight-member group except that it will now be comprised of the General Secretaries of the four parties and four senior members of the parties’ leadership selected by the General Secretaries.

The coalition leaders agreed that the presidency of the coalition would meet frequently with the Prime Minister acting as chairman. The primary role of the presidency of the coalition is “to monitor and evaluate the progress and performance of the majority, to examine all issues relating to the coalition, and to ensure cohesion and integration of government action and public policy.”

The Charter of the Majority commits the new government “to enshrine the democratic choice by expanding the space for freedoms and citizen participation, encouraging entrepreneurship, supporting mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities in society, by consolidating the role of women on the basis of equality, promoting youth participation in institutional life, as well as expanding media freedom, responsibility and creativity.”

The new coalition government in Morocco will publish an annual report to inform citizens of the progress carried out by the government and its future prospects.  

The coalition leaders thus present all Moroccans with a “contractual document” binding the government and the coalition to a self-imposed modus operandi and road map.

Benkirane and his partners are convinced that they are inaugurating a new era in the management of public affairs in Morocco in the spirit of the new Constitution and the King’s reforms process.

At stake is the country’s future.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Democracy In Morocco - New Government To Implement Reforms

Democracy In Morocco - New Government To Implement Reforms

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 3, 2012 ... After thirty-five days of arduous negotiations, Morocco has a new government. On January 3, 2012, Abdelilah Benkirane presented his selected ministers to King Mohammed VI for royal approval and swearing in. The ceremony took place in the Throne Room at the Royal Palace in Rabat.

The lengthy process of coalition negotiations and government forming in Morocco is bound to have tangible impact on the performance of both the government and PM Abdelilah Benkirane. 

There are huge expectations from the new government at the grassroots level. 

“Rarely in the political annals of independent Morocco has a government evoked so many hopes, expectations, promises and questions as Benkirane’s,” opined a leading Moroccan political observer. 

Most important is that the Benkiran government is the first to implement the provisions of the new Constitution. Since the Constitution was approved by an overwhelming majority in a referendum - there is widespread public commitment to its implementation. To a great extent, Benkirane was elected as the political leader most trusted to be able to undertake this task. Indeed, according to an early-December poll conducted by the LMS-CSA Institute - 82% of adult Moroccans have confidence in Benkirane’s ability to form a government that will implement the new Constitution and improve their personal and communal lot.

The vast majority of Moroccans now expect Benkirane to emerge as a national - rather than partisan-political - leader capable of ushering Morocco into a new era of modernization and democratization. 

For the public, Benkirane now represents “the apostle” of a “participatory approach” to governance. There is grassroots endorsement of the government’s decision to give high priority to justice, education, employment, housing and health care. This is a mighty challenge not only on its own, but particularly given the overall context of regional turmoil and global uncertainty. 

The Euro crisis and the global recession already have adverse impact on Morocco’s economy and society.  Benkirane takes office bearing the weight of a heavy responsibility to address difficult challenges while remaining attuned to, in the words of the leading Moroccan political observer: “the groans of the street and the vagaries of the economy”. 

The new government in Morocco will be facing many challenges. 

The Moroccan grassroots expect to quickly feel some progress in the five priority areas set by Benkirane: justice, education, unemployment, health and housing. These are, Benkirane repeatedly stated, “the strategic areas for improving the lives of all Moroccans.” 

Implementation constitutes mighty economic undertaking. In order to reduce unemployment and raise the standard of living, Morocco will have to markedly improve the growth rate of the GDP. At the same time, Morocco must ensure the medium-term sustainability of public finances in order to guarantee stability and continuity. Finding the delicate compromise is the main challenge facing the new coalition government in the immediate term. 

The solution advocated by the PJD during the election campaign - namely, recovering additional funds through “the fight against corruption, privilege and inequality, good governance and the reform of justice and administration” - will neither suffice nor deliver results in a timely manner. 

Hence, explains a senior PJD official, the real major challenge of the Benkirane government is to immediately commence “building a strong and sustainable economy, able to absorb the effects of the international crisis and cope with the ensuing economic constraints on wealth creation but not consumption.” 

Moreover, the members of the new government in Morocco cannot ignore the political reality that they will return to seeking public endorsement in the forthcoming local and regional elections, and, subsequently, in the next parliamentary elections. This means that in selecting the means to implement the social and economic program - the Benkirane government must not only abide by the guidelines of the new Constitution, but also ensure the sustenance of public support.

In accordance with the new Constitution, Benkirane must submit in the coming days his government’s program statement for the approval of both Houses of Parliament to be followed by a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. 

Formally, this vote will complete the three elements required to ensure the “democratic change” process, explained the leading Moroccan political observer. The first element is “fair and transparent elections.” 

The November 25 parliamentary elections were unanimously recognized as such. The second element is “respect for the democratic rule in the constitution of the government and by entrusting the responsibility of the head of government to the party who obtained the largest number of seats.” 

The King’s selection and nomination of Benkirane, the leader of the party that won plurality, as the next prime minister of Morocco addressed this requirement.

The third element is setting “optimal implementation of the provisions of the new Constitution, especially in the direction of strengthening the powers of the prime minister and Parliament.” 

The presentation of the new government’s program for a vote of confidence will complete this requirement - thus setting Morocco on the path to further democratization.

The new Government of Morocco as appointed and sworn in by King Mohammed VI consists of: Abdelilah Benkirane: Prime Minister and Head of the Government, Abdellah Baha: State Minister, Mohand Laenser: Minister of the Interior, Saad-Eddine El Othmani: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, 
Mustafa Ramid: Minister of Justice and Liberties, Ahmed Toufiq: Minister of Entitlements and Islamic Affairs, Driss Dahak: Secretary-General of the Government, Nizar Baraka: Minister of Economics and Finance, Nabil Benabdellah: Minister of Housing, Town Planning and Urban Policy, Aziz Akhannouch: Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Mohamed El Ouafa: Minister of National Education, Lahcen Daoudi: Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Executive Training, Mohamed Ouzzine: Minister of Youth and Sports, Aziz Rabbah: Minister of Equipment and Transport, El Hossein El Ouardi: Minister of Health, Mustapha El Khalfi: Minister of Communications, spokesman for the Government, Fouad Douiri: Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment, Abdelouahed Souhail: Minister of Labor and Vocational Training, Abdelkader Aâmara: Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies, Lahcen Haddad: Minister of Tourism, Bassima Hakkaoui: Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, Mohamed Amine Sbihi: Minister of Culture, Abdessamad Qaiouh: Minister of Handicrafts, Lahbib Choubani : Minister in charge of Relations with Parliament and Civil Society, Abdellatif Loudiyi: Minister Delegate to the Head of the Government in charge of the Administration of National Defense, Abdellatif Maazouz: Minister Delegate to the Head of the Government in Charge of the Moroccans Living Abroad, Charki Draiss: Minister Delegate to the Interior Minister, Youssef Amrani: Minister Delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Mohamed Najib Boulif: Minister Delegate to the Head of the Government in charge of General Affairs and Governance, Abdelâdim El Guerrouj: Minister Delegate to the Head of the Government in Charge of Civil Service and the Administration Modernization and Idriss Azami Al Idrissi: Minister Delegate to the Minister of Economics and Finance in Charge of the Budget.

Morocco Embraces Democracy As King Mohammed VI Appoints New Cabinet

Morocco Embraces Democracy As King Mohammed VI Appoints New Cabinet

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 3, 2011 ... King Mohammed VI of Morocco today appointed members of a new, diverse and democratic Cabinet. The Cabinet will be led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party ( PJD) leader and prime minister-designate Abdelilah Benkirane.

Benkirane's moderate Islamist party won the November 25 parliamentary elections.

“The King named the members of the new government at the royal palace in Rabat,” an official said.

The PJD has formed a coalition with the Istiqlal or Independence Party, which helped Morocco win its freedom from France in 1956 as well as the Popular Movement, a party of rural notables and the Party of Progress and Socialism of former communists.

"This new government has a true will for democracy and reform and we will keep all the promises we made," said Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane outside the palace after the swearing in.

"We will do everything to encourage foreign and domestic investment to create a climate of prosperity."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Democracy In Morocco - Benkirane Optimistic Over Coalition Talks

Democracy In Morocco - Benkirane Optimistic Over Coalition Talks
 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- January 3, 2012 ... Cognizant of the growing impatience in the public and media, Morocco’s PM-designate Abdelilah Benkirane sought to calm down the doubters about the progress in the coalition negotiations toward the composition of his government.

Addressing a Party meeting in Rabat, Morocco, Benkirane reiterated that he was “optimistic” about the formation process of the new Cabinet.

Benkirane explained that the government forming process in Morocco was taking so long because it is a precedent-setting undertaking that, in view of the historic significance of the implementation of the new Constitution, involves the entire Moroccan nation and not just the leaders of the four parties of the coalition.

“The completion of this democratic process will be accomplished with the contribution of all Moroccans committed to unity and solidarity under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, and who are anxious to achieve reform and good governance of public affairs,” Benkirane declared.

He assured that the composition of the government will be announced “in due time.”

The Justice and Development Party and the other three coalition partners, Benkirane stressed, are “on the threshold of a new stage” in Morocco’s governance which “requires us to make additional efforts and be innovative to meet the needs of the people in action and not in words.”

Referring to the members of the future Cabinet in Morocco, Benkirane emphasized that all candidates have been “asked to demonstrate their expertise and their capacity for good management” before being considered for a position.

At the same time, Benkirane refused to address, or even allude to, the speculations prevailing in the Moroccan media and blogosphere about the identity of specific ministers and the personnel-related reasons for the delays in completion the government.

Benkirane insisted he was “not aware” of the “list of ministers” floated in the media and assured his audience that the real and authoritative list will be disclosed “at the appropriate time” - that is, when the Cabinet is presented to the King in order to get his formal endorsement.

Eventually, Benkirane did acknowledge that he was putting the finishing touches on the composition of the Cabinet and trusts that the presentation of the new, democratic government would take place in the immediate future.