The Moroccan Equations

Mahdi says that the intricate problems his country is facing come from the lack of democracy. He hopes for a more sustainable development involving citizens in the decision making process.

Read Arabic translation (المتفاوتات المغربية) by Mohamed Al Bakoury.


Young Moroccan engineer and activist 6 comments

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Moroccan issues are not algebraic equations that need a formula for solution. Like any complex problem they require a solving process as complex as the issue it is meant to tackle, though this complicated process has very simple principles: checks and balances, accountability and real democracy.

Since 1999, the King has been associated with all infrastructure and development decisions, this association has helped to put pressure on equipment ministry to achieve some projects very quickly in comparison with the previous era. The classic example is the actual 916 kilometers highway. In tourism, the King was associated with projects like “Mediteranea Saïdia,” and then with every single touristic project to the extent that people now speak about machari’ sidna (the projects of his majesty). Lately, Morocco announced a huge solar energy plant, also a Royal project. If the association of the King with the projects has helped make their implementation go faster, it has given to what is commonly called Makhzen (or the Moroccan establishment) the argument to neutralize any voice notifying even technical points of view concerning the country’s strategic decisions. The Makhzen people dare to claim “they are the ones who know what is best for this country.” (1,2)

Arbitrary governance, lack of transparency and consultation with concerned populations, lack of a national and wide debate for matters concerning the whole nation, this is what came out of technocracy and the unbelievable idea that there is a unique Moroccan equation that could be solved by a magical formula that only technocrats, non elected councils and executive apparatus can provide.

Technocracy in power

High Velocity Train (HVT) project:

With its 2.72 billion dollars budget (3), the HVT project was decided outside the elected body, in spite of all civil society critics:

  • An HVT is a luxury Moroccans do not need yet.
  • There are other priorities : Investment in education doesn’t reach more than 680 million USD, wich is the quarter of the HVT budget; the budget allocated for the Ministry of Health is only about tenth that of the HVT, etc.
  • The contract is already signed with Alstom, and Morroccan people do not have any transparent information about this project: how much will the ticket cost? Is there a business plan estimating this?

Plan Azur:

Aiming to reach a 10 million tourists goal by 2010, Morocco has launched huge real estate projects on its coastlines under a plan called Plan Azur. This approach is criticized by civil society for its inefficiency from an economic point of view. The argument against it is simple: while a 1000 square meter villa will bring a one-month-per-year tourist, it wont have any use the rest of the year. Therefore it will provide only for one durable employment: a charwoman for a month every year! The same surface dedicated to a hotel, a restaurant, a diving club or any other touristic facility, will provide employment to a dozen people four or five months during the year.

Indeed, Plan Azur‘s main resort Mediteranea Saidia was nothing more than a real estate project: the whole project is composed of about 3000 villas and apartments, with no less than 6 Hotels! Civil society also criticizes the government for all the unusual advantages it gave to the Spanish investment group FADESA(3).

Mediteranea Saidia and other coastal real estate projects related to Plan Azur have affected the real estate conjuncture in the concerned regions alarmingly. The following figures show how those kind of projects have affected the front sea real estate price approximate in the province of Tetuan from 2003 to 2008; effects on surrounding villages of the launching of Golf Paradise Resort and Playa Vista near Aouchtam and Tamrabet. The name of the village is followed by the real estate price approximate increase:

Azla – 1100%
Amsa – 900%
Tamernout – 1500% to 2000%
Oued Laou – 1500%
Ka’a Asras – 1000%
Targha – Undisclosed
Stihat – 1000%

(Source: local informal real estate intermediaries or semsara, not to be considered as official statistics)

The civil society has emphasized the potential environmental hazards of Plan Azur projects. For Saidia as for other resorts, it is asking the state to make studies on environmental impact before launching such projects (4). Also from the very beginning, in 2004, the civil society warned the authorities and the public opinion about the effects of using huge quantities of sand for building purposes, on the sustainability of natural barriers like sand dunes in the Moulouya river and the risk of flooding that this would cause. Other ecologists say that Plan Azur will affect the fishing resources in the Mediterranean coast and worsen the socio-economic situation in a region that suffers already from a very high demographic density.

Solar energy plants:

You may have heard lately about a huge Solar energy plant program, which actually could sound quite encouraging, if only we had more information about it. No public parliamentary debate occurred on the matter, no information is available about the technological orientations of such an important program: will thermal Solar plants be used or will it be photovoltaic instead? And for the latter option, which raw materials will be chosen? This will have a huge influence on the maintenance and the ecological impact of such an energy plant.

These are some questions national technocrats wish to get answers for. How come Moroccan experts in the matter have not been involved yet in the conception of such a project.

People do not feel involved in the development process of the country: election abstention has reached 70% as a national average, and was close to 80% in Casablanca, the economic metropolis of the country. This shows how upset people are with this confusing situation: elections seem aimless to 70% of our citizens.

Indeed, even if the elections are nowadays much more transparent and free than during previous decades, their purpose is still too distant from the concerns of the nation: the local elected Community Council is not as powerful as the “Qaïd,” the non elected representative of the ministry of interior, the local Mayor is not as powerful as the non elected “Wali” (or Governor), and again an elected prime minister is not as powerful as the unelected Royal Cabinet, as the former elected Prime Minister Abderrahman el Youssfi put it in his famous Brussels speech in 2003.

Moroccan people solving Moroccan issues

For Plan Azur five years were enough to demonstrate that civil society’s ideas were better than technocratic recipes, as proved by the Saïdia’s flooding in 2008 due to the annihilation of the dune barrier that used to protect the city from such natural disasters. And this goes to prove as well that a democratic decision making process would have been more efficient, since civil society can influence the elected body decisions more easily than it can with non elected state representatives.

Therefore, we hope that instead of pushing the civil society aside and neglecting it, as it occurred in Saïdia, the forthcoming projects will consider the moroccan civil society as a partner capable of raising legitimate concerns on the one hand, and proposing new ideas and solutions on the other.

Central, non elected government representatives such as qaids and governors face violent protests, as in Sidi Ifni in June 2008. This was not due to a lack of freedom of speech or civil liberties, but it had more to do with socio-economic pressures caused by rent economy, particularly in the fishing industry, and because people felt that the decisions taken were at their expense instead of addressing their most basic concerns.

We all have heard one day or another that we Moroccans, whether it be our people or our political parties, are not ready yet for democracy and Checks-and-Balances-based political system; that we’re actually not responsible, not involved, not knowledgeable enough. But let’s face it, how can we possibly ask a citizen to be responsible and involved if he is utterly and completely left aside of the decision process, or a political leader to be knowledgeable and effective in tackling the issues of our country if he, himself, has no control over his own decisions and no incentive to make any.

Checks and balances are a self fulfilling prophecy. Accountability will make the decision makers from political parties responsible for their own decisions, eventually some of them will disappear, but all of them will change, for the better. Real democracy will actually allow the citizens to feel involved in decisions that actually will impact their very own lives. It is Democracy itself that will actually make the Moroccan people ready for it. Let Moroccan people solve their own equations!

1 : Khalid Naciri, minister of information and spokesperson for the Moroccan government: “il y a ceux qui pensent mieux pour ce pays.” (“There are those who know better for this country.”) August 2009.
2 : In L’economiste 02/15/2007 « les autorités publiques veillent scrupuleusement à l’équilibre naturel de Saïdia à travers le respect du périmètre du Sibe (Site d’intérêt biologique et écologique) limitrophe à la station.» (“The authorities are working on the strict preservation of the natural balance of the ecosystem in Saïdia through the respect of the natural site located next to the resort.”)
3 : See French magazine Challenge [Fr].
4 : Video realised by the ESCO showing illegal sand plundring.

Read Arabic translation (المتفاوتات المغربية) by Mohamed Al Bakoury.

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Posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2010

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6 comments on “The Moroccan Equations”

  1. Nice and thorough analysis you gave us here Mahdi, I really like it. I agree with most of your points, especially with the conclusion. But I would like to add a comment if you will:

    You judiciously pointed out that the people and the civil society have little or no input in Morocco’s new technocratic decision-making process. That’s a heresy in a country that claims to be a democracy. But if we step back a minute, we realize that by disapproving these technocrat-driven projects, we are disapproving one of the very few things that are working out quite well in Morocco. Sure, the rationale of some projects is not very clear (HVT…), and some others may have been planned improperly (Saidia…). But let’s not forget that, so far, these projects have generally been able to deliver on their promises: Tanger Med I traffic figures are quite impressive, the 10-million-tourist target will probably be met by 2011 or 2012 and the offshoring hubs are reshaping and diversifying Morocco’s economy.
    These projects are changing the face (and the fate) of Morocco, I think, in a positive way. Therefore they need to be supported through constructive criticism that, let’s hope, will find a way to reach decision makers.

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