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Questions of Interest: What are the Priorities of Morocco’s Youth? Do Moroccans Face Corruption on a Daily Basis? Will Borrowing Dim Morocco’s Fiscal Health? – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
November 15, 2019

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

According to the latest findings of the Arab Barometer, which surveyed approximately 2,400 Moroccans in face-to-face interviews in the fall of 2018, attitudes are largely split along generational lines. While the older generation (50+) still has confidence in the country’s institutions, younger Moroccans, reflecting trends across the Arab world, are frustrated with the lack of economic and political opportunities. Overall, all groups see the economy and the quality of public services as the most important challenges facing the government; and also “say corruption is found in state institutions,” although to a lesser degree than the last survey in 2016 (38% vs. 39%).

The weak performance of the government has resulted in a corresponding low level of trust among the citizens, especially the youth; yet all support the army, policy, and judiciary according to the survey results. Among those under 30 years of age, fully 70% believe they have to emigrate to have a good life, which only falls to 50% among all those surveyed. Unfortunately, it is the young people with higher levels of education who feel most strongly that they have to leave to succeed.

This concern with emigration was the subject of a very critical opinion piece in Morocco World News by Hassan Masiky who pointed out the great loss to Morocco because educated young people are leaving and finding success abroad rather than at home. He says that this is both a validation of “the competence, aptitude, and talent of Moroccans and evidence of the failure of the Moroccan government to create an environment for attracting and keeping a talented workforce.” He blames this on three conditions.

The first is that “Unqualified people hold many high-level positions in the public and semi-public sectors in the Kingdom. Nepotism and favoritism continue to dominate the hiring practices in the government and in some private sectors. This fact nullifies the government’s heavy investments in human capital.” He next takes aim at “a deteriorating public education system, nepotism, incompetence, and lack of transparency,” which is depriving the Kingdom of some of its brightest youth. He also points to the lack of enforcement in contracts for programs targeting employment opportunities as the third force destabilizing the economy and not firming up the local job market.

Perceptions of corruption were part of the focus of surveys done by the Global Corruption Barometer – Africa 2019. It compared attitudes of Moroccans from 2015 and 2019 and found that 53% think that corruption has increased in the past year, twice the 26% in 2015; while 31% responded that they had paid a bribe in the previous 12 months to access a public service (down from 48% in 2015). While 74% think that the government is doing a poor job of tackling corruption (up from 64% in 2015); and importantly, 49% believe that ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. When asked which institutions were corrupt, the biggest increase was in the office of the Prime Minister from 20% in 2015 to 39% in 2019; followed by members of Parliament which rose from 36% to 41%.

Funding for economic development always has conditions; and one of the biggest challenges facing developing countries, particularly non-oil producers, is borrowing to build needed infrastructure for transportation and power production, education and health facilities, and environmental projects. One only needs to look at the high-speed train from Tangier to Casablanca, the trams in Rabat and Casablanca, large-scale renewable energy projects, and funding for the growth in ports over the past two decades to identify where external funding is required for their realization. While some, like toll roads and ports have built in revenue streams, other projects are built on the assumption that their revenues, in time, will offset the interest and principle payments when they come due. While this is true for public-private partnerships in renewable energy whether solar, wind, or hydro, it does not apply to programs that have no direct revenue streams, for example, building human resources.

This is a conundrum faced by Morocco, which must reach out to international agencies and donors to support its efforts to develop its human resources. Building the skills and capabilities of Morocco’s citizens is a consistent policy focus of King Mohammed VI underlying his plans to build cities focusing on regional advantages and promoting technical and vocational skills needed in the country. It is in this context that The World Bank announced its approval of a new $300 million loan to support the strengthening of “Morocco’s municipalities” as part of Morocco’s reforms to upgrade public administrations. This is tied to both the country’s regionalization and decentralized economic development goals.

The statement from the Bank said that the loan seeks to help Morocco in its “broader efforts to upgrade urban services and turn urban conglomerations into engines of growth and job creation.” It is critical that local governments receive training in all the skills needed for providing services institutionally and effectively. According to the release, “The program will target key gaps in performance to promote a transparent, efficient, and accountable urban management system that can drive long-term local development and enhance Moroccan cities’ attractiveness.”

This program and the recent $500 million loan from the World Bank to improve the education sector exemplify the mounting external debt that results from borrowing for development. While Morocco’s external debt is still relatively manageable, Abdellatif Jouahri, the governor of the Central Bank, said that he expected external debt to rise to 16.6% of Morocco’s GDP in 2019, up from 13.8% of GDP in 2018. In his annual report, he noted that Morocco is in a financial crisis as the economy is not able to keep up with growing special demands financed by external sources. Global Economic Data CEIC found that the external debt in Morocco reached $53.2 billion in June 2019, compared to $51.4 billion in the previous quarter.

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