/ 14 April 2011

Morocco pledges economic fair play after protests

Morocco’s anti-trust body will be wholly independent before September to enforce transparency in the award of public procurements and licences to investors and to fight monopolies, its head said.

Since its inception in 2001, the Competitiveness Council has not been able to access government data to assess the scale of under-the-table deals involving licences and contracts handed to individuals or foreign firms without going through tenders.

Such licences have involved mining, fishing and public transport among other sectors as well as contracts worth billions of dollars to supply state-run firms with machinery and equipment.

Nor previously has the council been allowed to look into monopolistic industries, such as the refining of sugar and crude oil, or fight dodgy business practices among quasi-monopolistic entities.

Lack of investor confidence in a country without the resource wealth of other Arab states has also swelled the ranks of hundreds of thousands of jobless youths.

“All of this will change,” the council’s head Abdelali Benamour told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Benamour did not elaborate on which sectors would be prioritised. “We have never been allowed to initiate reports about the situation of monopolies in the country. The real work will start once the council’s new statutes are approved”.

Amid emboldened demands for deep political and economic reforms, King Mohammed pledged in a meeting with Benamour on Monday to review the council’s legal framework to boost its autonomy and resources and expand its prerogatives.

The monarch has promised reforms that would curb his political powers after some of the largest anti-government protests in recent decades in Morocco.

All equal?
The protestors have also demanded the king reduces his business clout. The 47-year old monarch is described as Morocco’s leading businessman, a top shareholder in an holding company worth $13-billion in assets.

Benamour said no one will be spared. “The new statutes should end all situations of economic privileges … The impact will be general. We will have a real economic democracy.

“That’s what we need and that’s what will work for us: To attract more foreign investors and create more jobs,” he said.

“The ultimate purpose is for the council to become like the most efficient anti-trust organisations in the world based on key fundamentals: independence, decision-making, full and complete jurisdiction and investigative powers. Nothing less than that”.

He warned however that Parliament may have only until September, at the latest, to approve the new statutes since a referendum is planned this year for a constitutional reform under study and parliamentary elections are due in 2012.

“We have already started working with the government on the new statutes.

“It will be catastrophic if Parliament does not approve them under the current session which ends in June or September if we get a special extension.

“We have received assurances from the [royal] palace that this will need to be done immediately, before June,” he said.

The head of the council will be appointed by the prime minister but Parliament will be allowed to veto the suggested candidate to avoid conflict of interest, Benamour said. — Reuters