“Socio-economic vulnerability is always lurking for Moroccan widows and their children – they are precarious and they are vulnerable. We have to support these women,” says Sayeeda Idrissi, Vice-President of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM). Thanks to the work of MPs on Morocco’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), funds are now available to offer assistance.
Until recently the money spent on widows had been subsidising fuel costs – a policy which many in Morocco felt had not helped the most needy. The problem faced by politicians was that slashing the subsidies would result in deep unpopularity. But the subsidies were swallowing up 20% of public spending and contributing to an alarming public spending deficit.
In 2015 the dramatic fall in oil prices offered an opportunity to change the policy, after multiple previous unsuccessful attempts at reform. Even the price fall, though, was not enough to shift the terms of the debate in most MENA countries. Yet Morocco succeeded in removing them altogether. What made it different?
“We largely helped in achieving the change,” says Dr Berroho, a member of the budget committee which Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has worked closely with. “Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion. Citizens understood this would improve their lives and the reform became possible, thanks to the parliamentary debate.”
WFD is delighted to have helped pave the way for Parliament’s growing profile. Supporting, in clearly specified ways, the Speaker in his reform agenda for the House of Representatives, WFD shared British expertise on financial scrutiny and helped win consensus for the introduction of a PAC. Its first report shone a light on the fuel subsidy issue, which led to the successful policy change and opened up public money to be spent elsewhere. Politicians on all sides of the political debate in Morocco agree that vulnerable widows are a priority.
“Sometimes heirs will not share the inheritance, and in the worst cases they lose their jobs and end up living in poverty,” Mrs Idrissi added. “They are not responsible for their state of living but without assistance their children risk becoming delinquent.” Under the Government scheme launched in September 2015, widows with schoolchildren are now eligible to receive monthly payments of up to 1,050 Dirhams (£75.72) – equivalent to nearly 50% of the Moroccan national minimum wage. “The funds providing direct support to women widows in Morocco will certainly have a positive impact on those who did not have any financial support before,” says Khadija Rebbeh, ADFM’s National Coordinator. Implementation remains a challenge, however. “The issue is that as the government implements this law, it should facilitate procedures to get the funds,” she adds. “It’s very complicated to help women benefit from the funds. The government should also provide statistics of the women who have benefited.”
It’s not just widows who will benefit from this change once it is fully implemented. Other new areas of public spending which have resulted from the ending of fuel subsidies include investment, roads, increase monthly students’ scholarships and increase of funds allocated to scientific research . More broadly, the PAC’s work will help improve the quality of public spending across all areas of government. The committee’s second report, for example, investigates spending on tens of thousands of associations which had not previously received any scrutiny.
Support for the Public Accounts Committee forms part of WFD’s wider work with the Moroccan Parliament, including the implementation of the strategic plan, the development of public policy evaluation and the work of the Equality Committee in the House of Representatives. We are also set to assist the House of Councillors’ Research Centre and the House of Councillors’ reform agenda. Doing so will help the Parliament meet citizens’ expectations following the 2011 constitution, which granted it significant new powers of oversight. Our work directly ties in with WFD’s broader goals of improving policy, strengthening accountability, boosting representation of marginalised groups and fostering citizen participation in the countries where we operate
As Dr Berroho adds: “The new constitution calls for good governance and scrutiny of public funds in cooperation with quality auditing. It is all part of the new system we are trying to achieve.”