Morocco hopes to provide every citizens with healthcare and social security in order to protect the country’s most vulnerable people
Rabat – Morocco has far-reaching ambitions to expand its social security system that could fundamentally change the country for the better. The Moroccan government aims to solidify and build upon two decades of falling poverty rates to ensure healthcare and social security protections for all citizens.
In the gleaming streets of Rabat it can often be forgotten that the very poorest in Morocco still live in difficult circumstances and many live precariously with little guarantee if they get sick or cannot work.
While the promenades of Morocco’s largest cities are hard to distinguish from European capitals, it is the plight of the poorest that has remained the main difference between Morocco and its northern neighbors.
The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” comes to mind when thinking of the urgency of expanding social security in morocco. The country does not need more millionaires, it needs less people struggling for survival.
Building on progress
Morocco has set itself up for economic success over the past decades. It has successfully reduced fertility rates, increased the share of female participation in the labor market, and reduced the poverty rate by more than 40%. Meanwhile, successive administrations have been tasked with streamlining Morocco’s social security apparatus.
Since 2000, the country’s National Social Security Fund (CNSS) has received a radical overhaul, transforming the organization from a bureaucratic monstrosity to a more trusted and efficient institution.
At the turn of the millennium, the CNSS was rife with corruption and inefficiencies that led to widespread fraud and less than half of all private sector jobs being covered by CNSS. Within a decade, that number was raised to 72% (2.5 million citizens) in 2011. In 2019, 3.54 million Moroccans were registered at the CNSS.
While an increasing number of formal private sector jobs are now registered with the CNSS, Morocco also has a significant informal sector where citizens work with no social security or medical coverage.
Despite persisting economic difficulties, Morocco is now aiming to take the next step in terms of expanding social security and healthcare as universal programs that cover every Moroccan. The ambitious goal would see a drastic increase in both contributions to, and demands on, the country’s social security apparatus.
Broad political support
Expanding social security would be a contentious issue in most political systems, pitting conservatives against socialists. In Morocco, however, the program appears to transcend traditional left-right political differences. This universal support for the program is based on the merits of its ambitions, as well as the source of those ambitions.
King Mohammed VI tasked the government with the mammoth task of establishing universal health coverage in the coming two years, and universal social security coverage within five. Morocco’s monarch has presented a daunting challenge to the country’s public officials, while simultaneously ensuring that the plan avoids being politicized.
Many countries have used the COVID-19 crisis as a reason to limit social spending in the face of smaller national budgets, yet Morocco has chosen a different approach. The global health crisis has laid bare both Morocco’s resilience and its continued challenge to ensure all Moroccans can depend on a certain standard of social support and medical care.
While implementing Morocco’s ambitions presents a challenge, it also offers an opportunity to finally resolve a lingering economic weakness. Morocco’s giant informal sector continues to be a source of inefficiency, lax labor standards, and tax evasion. Meanwhile, those employed in the sector have little to rely on if they lose their job, or get injured or sick.
By making social security universal, all Moroccans would be integrated into the national system and ensure the most vulnerable workers receive the care and support they deserve because of their hard work.
While Morocco’s government should face little internal resistance from right-wing politicians, the global financial system is set-up to actively discourage perceived “socialist” programs like social security or universal healthcare.
US credit ratings institutes have already started downgrading Morocco’s credit rating over its planned healthcare spending. The purely ideological motivation behind such measures is easy to spot, as Morocco’s record-high spending on US military equipment is not even taken into consideration as a drain on domestic expenses.
Other traditional obstacles to social reforms are the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, two institutions guided by the same neoliberal ideology that eskews any form of social spending. They both traditionally argue in favor of deregulation to attract foreign investment, tax cuts for business and the rich, and fiscal discipline.
Yet, the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have somewhat changed the tune of these institutions.
After two decades of actively discouraging most social spending by governments, the two financial powerhouses appear to somewhat moderate their neoliberal model amid the global health crisis. Still, they will likely return to demanding painful austerity and social spending cuts once the crisis is considered to be over.
But while Morocco is likely to be punished internationally for its citizen-focused push for healthcare and social security, the domestic benefits of such initiatives are not to be underestimated.
Providing healthcare and social security to all Moroccans would help resolve some of Morocco’s most pressing issues, from rural poverty and illiteracy, to preventing tragedies similar to the flooding of an illegal Tangier workshop that killed 28 this February.
Social security and universal healthcare can also help build trust in Morocco’s public institutions that many still see as ineffective and corrupt. By expanding social security and healthcare coverage, all citizens of Morocco should see the practical benefits that such government services provide.
More importantly, Morocco’s social security ambitions mean that crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic will be less severe for regular Moroccans. Those employed in the tourism sector will especially have public services to rely on and a guarantee of quality healthcare even when they lose their job.
Expanding social security to everyone in Morocco is a daunting yet rewarding challenge. Overcoming international demands and pressure to limit public spending will compete with domestic pressures in support of King Mohammed VI’s ambitions and the general public welfare.
If Morocco succeeds in its ambitions it will establish one of the best social programs on the continent, save thousands of lives, and reward hard-working Moroccans from remote mountain villages as well those living near the gleaming promenades of the country’s urban centers.
While the path toward such a universal system is paved with obstacles, the journey’s laudable goals should ensure steady domestic progress.