Interview: Abdel-Ilah Benkiran

How has Morocco avoided the instability that struck other North African countries?

ABDEL-LLAH BENKIRAN: In light of the broader context of the Arab Spring, our country has proven exceptional in terms of social stability. This is largely thanks to factors specific to Morocco, such as our secular monarchy and the way His Majesty The King addressed popular demands. Another factor is Morocco’s human and cultural diversity, which has helped keep the country balanced. Still, the government is looking to address social inequalities that do exist, such as unemployment and poverty. We are focusing on three specific complementary pillars: 1) encouraging local and international investor activity to create jobs and wealth; 2) improving access to services and ensuring equality of opportunity by correcting problems in the political order and governance; and 3) working to help the poor access rights they have been denied for so long. Through our efforts here we are doing our best to advance democracy and social justice. If we succeed, we will be able to maintain stability. But if we do not, I’m afraid the consequences will be tragic for our country.

What can be done to help alleviate poverty and reduce broader socioeconomic disparities?

BENKIRAN: In Morocco poverty has been part of our reality for so long. The problem is not just economic in nature; it also affects people’s sense of social justice and undermines their ability to contribute to economic development. To address the issue, His Majesty King Mohamed VI in 2006 launched the National Initiative for Human Development, which seeks to help reduce poverty and social exclusion, through targeted spending, improved access to services and infrastructure, and basic assistance for the most vulnerable. The government is also looking to mobilise funds to support families, including divorced women who are owed alimony, and to ensure the smooth implementation of the medical assistance programme. Another priority is to modify the subsidy system, which takes up more than 6% of GDP, in such a way as to better benefit the poorest. Today, we spend some Dh53bn (€4.7bn) on subsidies. The aim is to gradually reduce the subsidy that goes to gas and other products, and support those in need directly, particularly women, who are increasingly taking on the caretaker role for their families.

What further actions can be taken to strengthen Morocco’s judicial framework?

BENKIRAN: Our plans to reinforce social stability rest in part on reform of the justice system. For decades, bad practices have become ingrained in the system, and the need for reform has been recognised by national consensus. King Mohammed VI has instituted a national commission that includes magistrates, lawyers, human rights organisations, business leaders, academics and other eminent personalities to lead a dialogue about the way forward. If we are to encourage local and foreign businesses, established procedures need to be respected, verdicts must be timely, arbitration ought to be accessible and laws should be applied more rigorously. Among the problems that need to be addressed are the lack of judicial independence, corruption and the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

How can the growth of the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises be spurred?

BENKIRAN: We believe it is essential to clean up the business climate. That is to say, we must ensure clarity as to how laws and regulations apply and that rules and standards are simple. We need to assist small businesses as they directly support individuals and make up the bulk of the country’s economy. For instance, we need to help them get set up in industrial zones and acquire land more easily. If I could push legislation through parliament to offer free land to small businessmen, I would. We have also identified around 30 administrative procedures that can be further simplified. Addressing these quickly and efficiently will be a concrete step towards boosting business investments in Morocco.