In Morocco, the head of government struggles to make his promises a reality

Bad news is raining down on the head of the Moroccan government, Aziz Akhannouch, whose country has been facing unprecedented unemployment for almost twenty years

In Morocco, the head of government struggles to make his promises a reality

Bad news is raining down on the head of the Moroccan government, Aziz Akhannouch, whose country has been facing unprecedented unemployment for almost twenty years. Its rate approached 14% in the third quarter and its volume now exceeds 1.6 million people. Enough to strain purchasing power already severely damaged by inflation. The food product price index increased by 11% in 2022 and in October showed an increase of almost 9% over the last twelve months, according to the High Commission for Planning (HCP).

In a country where the median monthly income per household is around 5,000 dirhams (456 euros), more than a third of which is spent on food, the high prices at the stalls are difficult. Faced with domestic discontent that peaked during Ramadan, the government was forced to act at the end of winter 2023 by introducing increased controls on markets.

The stick policy, however, has limited effects. The price of a kilo of potatoes has doubled since 2021, that of tomatoes by three.

Red indicators

Appointed by the king as head of government in September 2021, at the end of legislative elections which saw his party, the National Rally of Independents (RNI), win the vote handily, Aziz Akhannouch had done employment and purchasing power a priority of his government. Placed under the sign of the "social state", its program included around ten "commitments", including the creation of at least one million net jobs, the emergence of an agricultural middle class and the exit from a million families in precariousness.

Alas, the indicators are red. Nearly 300,000 jobs have been destroyed over the past year, mainly in rural areas, and 3.2 million people have fallen into poverty or vulnerability in 2022, according to the HCP, which indicates that Morocco, despite “seven years of progress”, has returned to the “2014 level of poverty and vulnerability”. More than half of this increase is linked to the increase in consumer prices.

Although it recognizes “a difficult internal situation”, the executive pleads the application “of the reforms planned in accordance with the king’s guidelines”. And highlights its action in the generalization of social protection, a project desired by Mohammed VI. The government has announced that it will pay 25 billion dirhams (2.3 billion euros) in direct aid next year – this will benefit some of the approximately 10 million citizens currently registered in the unified social register.

“The first victims are young people and women”

To which is added an envelope of more than 9 billion dirhams, which will be allocated in 2024 for compulsory health insurance. “Without forgetting the efforts made by the State to increase the minimum wage and freeze increases in water and electricity prices,” adds Abdelmajid Fassi-Fahri, deputy for the city of Fez for Istiqlal, the member of the government coalition alongside the RNI and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM).

Beyond the partisan divide, however, the majority and opposition agree on the same observation: the government's efforts are suffering from the international context dominated by the war in Ukraine and the siege of Gaza, which is slowing down a tourism market barely recovered from the earthquake. 'Al-Haouz, which occurred on September 8. The consequences of the drought, which has been raging for two consecutive years, are also being singled out. It weighs on agriculture which employs a third of the active population and generates around 15% of the gross domestic product.

“But the Moroccan economy has changed very little over the last twenty years,” warns economist Mehdi Lahlou. Industry does not provide enough jobs to accommodate new graduates and agriculture, whose productivity is too low, is no longer able to create them. When you have such a tense employment situation, the first victims are young people and women. »

“Lack of political sense”

In cities, almost half of 15-24 year olds are now unemployed. As for women's labor force participation rate, which was below 19% in the third quarter, it is one of the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank. Some note that the agriculture and industry portfolios, two sectors which represent 40% of jobs in Morocco, have been in the hands of the RNI since 2007 and 2013.

As much as its mixed results, it is the government's method that raises questions. “We have a majority who do not know how to communicate and who lack political sense,” underlines Hassan Lachgar, vice-president of the socialist group in the House of Representatives. Just look at how the teachers' strike is being managed. This crisis could have been avoided if the government had listened more. » For more than a month, a standoff between the executive and the education unions has paralyzed the country's public schools.

Until now, the three parties in government have stood together. But the majority are not immune to tensions. Istiqlal member Naam Miyara, who heads the party's union wing, threatened in the spring to no longer "continue to observe silence" if the government failed to lower prices.

“One of Morocco’s greatest fortunes”

The oil tanker affair also revived criticism against a coalition accused of “siphoning” the purchasing power of Moroccans. She also recalled the ambivalent position of the head of government, who is also a businessman, owner of the Akwa energy group. Because they agreed on fuel prices, which reached records last year, nine oil companies, including Afriquia, owned by Aziz Akhannouch, will have to pay a total fine of 1.84 billion dirhams.

Considered one of Morocco's greatest fortunes, Aziz Akhannouch has recently found himself at the center of another issue, also widely commented on in the Moroccan press: the future Casablanca desalination station, the construction and operation of which will be provided by a consortium in which Afriquia Gaz, a subsidiary of the Akwa group, participates.

Within the opposition, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) denounced a "conflict of interest", while the Progress and Socialism Party (PPS) invoked a "moral" problem: the council of administration of the National Office of Electricity and Drinking Water, which launched the call for tenders for the project, is chaired by the head of government. The RNI assured for its part that the call for tenders was carried out in accordance with the laws and that Afriquia Gaz had responded to all its legal obligations.