Rabat– Moroccans turned to social media last week to decry the PJD’s decision to keep the “excessive” lifelong pensions and compensation given to MPs and government ministers after their terms in accordance with the Royal Decree (Daheer) of 1975 during King Hassan II’s rule.
PJD announced last Tuesday that the majority of MPs voted in favor of maintaining their lifelong pensions and the compensation given to them and Moroccan government ministers.
The former minister of the budget and head of the parliamentary section of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), Idris El Azami Idrissi, explained why PJD reconsidered its proposal to end the pensions.
El Azami: “We have received the names of former MPs who will become in a difficult [financial] situation if the pensions were to stop.”
El Azami added that the PJD members and those of the House of Representatives, with the exception of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), agreed on an alternative solution to reduce the monthly pensions to MAD 3,500.
The new proposal suggests that MPs and ministers will begin receiving the pensions at the age of 65 instead of immediately after completing their term of service.
For its part, PAM called for the government to establish a fundraising box for MPs, yet another controversial proposal that inspired the mockery of Moroccans on social media.
‘Charity box to aid the impoverished MPs’
Several Moroccan social media users launched a satirical campaign with hashtags reading “Campaign_aid_MPs” (in Arabic) in reaction to their call for a fundraising campaign and El Azami’s decision.
One Facebook user posted a photo of him holding money and smiling in pure sarcasm, saying:
“Since the MPs are perishing in poverty (as El Azami said) here’s a 25 Tunisian Dinar as a donation from me to them so our MPs brother can enroll their children in a private school and spend their vacation abroad!”
Another posted, “I, Mohamed Zekri contribute with one symbolic Dirham to support MPs in a ‘difficult situation.’”
Some even made a box on which they wrote: “Fundraising box for the poor MPs…Help the nation’s sleepers,” referring to pictures that went viral of MPs asleep in the middle of a parliament session.
Is it really ‘a populist debate’?
The government ministers and MP’s monthly retirement income amounts to MAD 20,000 and MAD 35,000, respectively. The ministers were entitled to it even if they had only served for one or two years, whereas civil servants in different government sectors receive wages as low as MAD 2,000 or MAD 3,000.
The issue has caused debate among Moroccans for years, as many argued that the MPs do not deserve to benefit from a retirement pension for the rest of their lives, calling for them to relinquish their pensions.
In favor of the pensions, the secretary of state in charge of water, Charafat Afilal, said in 2015 that some MPs relinquished their pensions responding to the people’s request.
Afilal’s claims did not bear evidence, and her description of the debate on the pensions as a “populist” one enraged many Moroccans who criticized her for belittling the issue.
A professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Boston, Mohamed Brahimi, previously expressed to Morocco World News that the debate is worth more than being deemed “a populist debate in a country where public service is more of a solid financial investment.”
To make matters worse, the conflict between opinions and the ministers’ inability to reach a final and fair decision has added to the anger of Moroccans amid the ongoing boycott crisis.
Ongoing controversies: Pensions and the boycott
If the specter of the pensions has not yet disappeared, the boycott campaign might follow in its steps.
Moroccan citizens have boycotted for four months three leading companies due to their high prices: Sidi Ali (mineral water), Centrale Danone (dairy products), and Afriquia gasoline, owned by Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch.
Just as some ministers defended the pension against the popular demand to reform the law, several ministers and government officials denounced the boycott campaign and called for citizens to suspend it, for fear of dairy farmers’ job loss.
Minister Delegate to the Head of Government for General Affairs and Governance Lahcen Daoudi, Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani, Government Spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi, Minister of Human Rights Mustapha Ramid, and Minister of Employment Mohamed Yatim asserted different views.
What they all had in common is a negative view toward the campaign.
The boycott is a delicate issue for Moroccans as it is not only a protest against market monopolies, but the burdening of the regular consumers’ purchasing power through unjustified high prices.
In fact, both protests signify a rise against social disparities to many Moroccans.
The Moroccan pension system is composed of three principal categories: pensions for civil servants, pensions for employees of state-owned companies, and pensions for private sector employees.
The percentage of civil servants and employees who benefit from retirement is higher than the percentage of Moroccans who contribute to the pension fund.
According to Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, the contributions paid from employee salaries is likely to result in a deficit of 7.4 percent of GDP by 2050.