Morocco’s CESE Project: Regionalization empowering local populations

This is the second in a series on the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) project to produce a report “assessing effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the southern provinces – laying the groundwork for regionalization in the south and throughout Morocco.

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution called for “regionalization,” or devolving administrative powers including budgets, hiring, taxation, municipal functions, and similar responsibilities to locally elected officials. It turns out that this approach is not a new idea for King Mohammed VI. One of his first actions upon ascending the throne in 1999 was to move forward with the partial devolution of political decision-making from the capital Rabat to the provincial governors, a program that had been announced in 1997. Although this was a partial reform to share decision-making between the government based in Rabat and the provincial governors, it was considered quite innovative, if only marginally successful due to delays in its implementation. It set a clear precedent and showed that the King had every intention to change how Morocco is governed.

A preferred modus operandi for the King is to reach consensus on contentious issues—such as the 2004 reform of the family law—through debate and consultation. In the same way, regionalization was put on the public agenda as early as 2006 with the resurrection of the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), which was charged with coming up with a autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara built around decentralization. That was followed quickly by the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative in 2007, which called for decentralizing authority to the people and institutions of the Western Sahara to manage their own affairs while remaining under Moroccan sovereignty.

The next step was to further elaborate on the principles of decentralization. In a November 2008 speech, the King stated that the aim of decentralization is to “enable good local governance . . . respond more closely to the citizen’s needs, and boost integrated . . . development.” King Mohammed has been especially keen in multiple speeches to emphasize citizen participation in government, which reflects the need to engage communities in ongoing dialogue about managing how government is to serve the people.

In a November 2009 speech and then again in June 2010, the King indicated that the southern provinces will be the first region to experience the benefits of regionalization. In the Advisory Council’s final report in March 2011, decentralization was defined within the context of how institutions and responsibilities could be allocated in a new model of local government. All of this activity was superseded by King Mohammed’s March 9, 2011 speech, in which he announced the forming of a commission to draft a new constitution, and he made specific mention of decentralization as a key means of empowering the people.

As Youssef Ben-Meir, head of the High Atlas Foundation, wrote in 2010, regionalization/decentralization is more than institution-building or shifting responsibilities from one level of bureaucracy to another.  “… A range of important managerial capabilities must be developed among local public and private organizations through training, education, and experience. Successful decentralization programs build administrative capabilities of local government, civil organizations, and community groups, as well as their technical skills and capacities to apply participatory planning, resolve conflicts, and manage resources.”

While the 2011 Constitution may lay the groundwork for regionalization, and the Parliament may pass the enabling legislation taking into consideration the CESE report recommendations, an equally daunting yet more critical task is capacity-building for those who will be tasked on a daily basis with making regionalization work on the ground. That is the core challenge of decentralization and should be its most enduring legacy.