Morocco: Construction and urban planning regulations to be simplified
Given the large number of social housing projects under construction in the country, a move by the Moroccan Council of Ministers (Conseil du Gouvernement) in late May to approve a set of texts that will provide the basis for the General Regulations for Construction (Réglement Général de Construction, RGC), the first unified national construction code, could provide a significant boost to the sector. The adopted regulations are expected to simplify administrative processes and increase oversight, which together with legislation targeting illegal construction, could dramatically improve transparency and competition.
In the past, the construction sector has been governed by a number of overlapping decrees and legislation, with rules enforced by several authorities from the local to the national level. The roles of these regulatory bodies have been loosely defined and key functions such as building inspection and worksite authorisation have been shared, creating confusion for market participants. Moreover, while state-funded projects are required to carry out quality control checks, often by hiring a third-party evaluator, the absence of a national code meant that many private sector projects were self-regulated. Some developers adhere to other systems, such as the French building code, but the lack of a coherent national framework did little to discourage informal construction.
One of the most important advances of the RGC is its move to streamline administrative procedures. This has been a priority for the Ministry of Housing, Town Planning and Urban Policy in recent years, and the one-stop shop system, or “guichet unique”, for construction permits has been widely implemented since 2011. According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, obtaining a building permit in Morocco required 15 procedures and an average of 97 days in 2012, down from 19 procedures and 163 days the year before.
The RGC is expected to bring further improvements and expand the one-stop shop system to every city with at least 50,000 inhabitants. For communities of less than 50,000, committees at the provincial level will review applications for construction permits. The window system will provide a single interlocutor at the municipal level and further reduce the number of administrative procedures needed to launch new projects, such as coordinating inspections and obtaining construction permits.
The new regulations also mandate the role of specialists, such as architects, technical studies offices and inspectors. Today, consultation with technical experts is required only for public contracts and private contracts with a public (commercial or industrial) use.
Furthermore, an ancillary piece of legislation, Law No. 66-12, related to the RGC and also adopted May 23rd, increases authorities’ scope of action to monitor and fine illegal building practices. Irregular construction – either without the proper documentation or not in accordance with quality standards – is a chronic issue throughout North Africa and Morocco is no exception, due in part to the complex administrative landscape. In 2004, the damage wrought by an earthquake in Al Hoceima highlighted the impact of sub-standard housing, and the state has led a number of efforts to reduce informal building, including a long-standing initiative “Cities Without Slums” (Villes Sans Bidonvilles), launched in 2004, which aims to eliminate slums in 84 cities and to relocate 340,000 households to new urban areas. Officials estimate that nearly 230,000 households were moved between 2004 and 2012.
In addition, inspectors will be given the status of judicial officials under the new law, which will allow them to halt work and issue fines for sites that fail to comply with national standards. However, Morocco will still need to overcome a shortage of staff to enforce the rules. According to local press reports, there are fewer than 800 inspectors under the Ministry of Housing, with 643 urban agency officers and 146 at the regional level.
The RGC segments adopted in May meet two critical needs of the construction sector by defining the roles and responsibilities of all actors and introducing a framework to censure companies that fail to comply with these standards. Ultimately, the RGC will also establish obligations for the testing, quality control and labelling of construction materials; establish norms relative to building practices; and centralise and enforce workplace safety guidelines. While the code remains to be fleshed out, the components adopted in May will help clarify and harmonise the various codes applied in the past, creating a more efficient, responsive system.