Jean R. AbiNader
August 22, 2019
Hassan II University professor Najib Mouhtadi, in a wide-ranging interview with La Tribune Afrique, offered his insights into the notion of an executive monarchy, which differs from other countries in the region, the Middle East, and Africa. He characterizes it as “a type of power where the monarch oversees the strategic levers leaving the government a comfortable margin for the management of public affairs.” While there may be some pushback citing the redlines that are part and parcel of the public square in Morocco – the king, Islam, and the Western Sahara – he believes that the system is an organic outgrowth of the development of Morocco society, a move away from the patrimonial rule of Hassan II and not yet fully realizing the constitutional monarchy in the vision of his son Mohammed VI.
Supporting this concept is the king’s unique position as commander of the faithful, which endows him with a legitimacy that is uncommon and hard to subsume under most western concepts of political leadership. Professor Mountadi is sensitive to this critique and points out “The fact is that Morocco continues to be tormented by the difficult choices between tradition and modernity; it experiences a socio-political ambiguity that is accommodating a large part of the political society.” Some argue that the 2011 Constitution moves Morocco towards a form of constitutional monarchy while others believe that only a parliamentary democracy with a king as head of state, like in the UK, is preferable.
Poll results indicate that the majority of Moroccans do not have a high level of confidence in the political parties and hence their leadership. Others complain that with the king as the ultimate arbiter, governing institutions will never mature sufficiently to act independently with the assurance that they will seldom be second-guessed by the Palace.
While the 2011 Constitution made some significant adjustments in the distribution of some political powers, “The King continues to have control over Foreign Affairs, Islamic Affairs and Religious Foundations, the Ministry of the Interior, and a number of strategic public institutions, such as the energy, mining, and other sectors, public and semi-public companies that manage the bulk of GNP.” Reserving these critical sectors outside the purview of public scrutiny continues to be an irritant to those who want a more transparent and inclusive economy and society. Ironically, this goal is shared by King Mohammed, but getting there is a Sisyphean task for him and for Morocco in general.
The professor argues that “the head of government exercises executive power, heads the administration, implements his government’s program, and supervises public institutions and enterprises under his mandate. The government has a lot of power, but it depends on the leadership of the head of government and his team. A head of government who takes his mission seriously, can do much by applying his program, and even constitute a proposing force for a joint management of power in its political and economic dimensions.” It is this last point that is contentious: is the weakness in trends toward greater democracy a failure of leadership or obstacles put in their way?
Mouhtadi notes that the king’s arbitration function has many facets: ensuring respect for the constitution and its institutions, “safeguarding democratic choice, and protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens and communities. This means that the King sees to the normal functioning of all the institutions, including the government that is accountable to him and parliament.” With such broad powers reserved to the king, it is easy to understand why risk-taking is not highly valued in government. Why take a chance on promoting change when actions can be overridden by the king? Yet in cases such as the Moudawana reforms of family law, and granting clemency to demonstrators and protestors, the king has made clear his willingness to take on issues that are consistent with his vision for Morocco.
In fact, according to Mouhtadi, “The former head of government, Abdel-Ilah Benkirane, had himself said that in some cases he did not hesitate to ask for the king’s arbitration. This is perhaps the most popular function with the general public, which considers that the king can and must intervene whenever a public policy derails or is slow to emerge…This arbitration function is also an element of balance in a multicultural and multi-ethnic society,” think of the ministers and officials sacked by the king for poor performance of their responsibilities.
He concludes that on balance, the king’s role has given the country a favorable, remarkable identity in the eyes of investors and visitors.
One area that is under increased scrutiny at home and abroad is how the government will meet the country’s challenging economic conditions in its 2020 program. Another article in La Tribune Afrique focused on steps that are already underway. “With a growth rate of 3.7% targeted for 2020, the Moroccan government has set itself a rather ambitious goal in view of the rate of growth of recent years.” Early indications of a possible strategy are in the draft 2020 finance bill recently presented to ministries and public institutions for their input.
Given King Mohammed’s calls for improvements in health, education, public services, and job creation, the government must find more creative options for raising income to pay for more and better results. One key step suggested in the draft is reducing public expenditures that do not directly impact public services. New budget items are being discouraged and cutbacks proposed for state functions. One can already see the king’s hand in this step as he asked for no national holiday marking his birthday and cuts in other public displays that only have celebratory functions.
The government intends, according to the draft, to “ensure the gradual introduction of a new approach to select the most economically and socially profitable projects, and use new financing mechanisms, including public-private partnerships (PPPs).” This also entails greater support for the private sector “by continuing to improve the business climate, as well as incentives to attract more FDI flows to foster job creation.” This will entail “support for public investment and the promotion of domestic and foreign private investment through the continued implementation of institutional reforms aimed at to improve the business climate, improve the efficiency of public administrations and institutions, the facilitation of procedures and the adoption of the new investment charter.”
These steps and others aimed at very small, small, and medium enterprises will involve more effective use of government funds as well as those coming from international donors.
Taken together, if parliament approves the programs in the proposed bill and the government seriously implements the majority of steps, Morocco will be back on track to a growth rate in excess of 3% without relying too strongly on agricultural output.