Social Attitudes Slowing Growth

Looking at the picture as a whole, it is difficult not to feel that change in the "real economy" of Morocco is not happening on as big a scale as it should. There is no standard explanation for this, generally accepted by foreigners and Moroccans. It would no doubt be possible to find many different contributing factors - economic and political - but as in other Arab countries which are in the same situation, a consensus is beginning to emerge that the problem has something to do with the style of government, and social organisation and attitudes.

First, everyone in the private sector is too much in awe of the government. This attitude comes from years of authoritarian rule and the government’s representing itself as being the benefactor of its people, and as always being right. The result has been that in the legitimate and more sophisticated parts of the economy businessmen usually feel they should be doing what their government wants them to do. Ideally they like the government to give them a lead.

Second, bureaucracy has spread from the government into private business. Companies have evolved extremely slow procedures. Employees have excessive respect for the demarcation of responsibilities between them and their colleagues and are nervous about acting without the precise authority of their superiors. In service industries they are much more concerned to act in accordance with the rules that have been laid down by their superiors than to do what the customer wants.

Third, there is a lack at most levels of business of what might be called "free market motivation". This does not mean that there are not many people who are anxious to make a quick speculative profit. It means that few people, owners of businesses and employees, understand the process of investing for the long term and working to provide the best product or service for the customer. And few understand the idea of their "trying to do better than the next man". The attitude of owners is to invest little, spend the minimum on operations and maintenance, and take as much profit as possible. Employees, nervously, do what they are told, and no more. To a remarkable extent the public accepts this. It is not regarded as reasonable in the Arab world for a consumer to make suggestions or politely criticise what the staff of a company is doing. Anyone who does criticise is likely to be told by his friends that he is being unfair - because the staff is "doing its best", and doing it in a friendly fashion. Second rate service, delivered with a smile by a staff that has no idea of how poor a job it is doing, is the hallmark of much business in the Arab world.

Part of the source of these attitudes lies deep in Arab culture. Arab society places emphasis on consensus and harmony in the community, rather than individual free enterprise, competition and achievement. It is also suffocatingly polite.

Insofar as investors have held back from committing themselves to new businesses because of fears of inability to compete with Europe, it has not been the cost of Moroccan labour that has been worrying them, but its performance. Looking at the future they acknowledge that cultural traits can only be changed slowly, but there are some things that can be altered a bit more quickly by government policy. The government can continue to work to reduce the isolation of the Moroccan economy, which stems in part from the programme of Moroccanisation launched in 1973, when foreign companies were obliged to sell majority holdings in their businesses to Moroccans. It was hoped that this would help the private sector grow and gain experience. The new policy of opening the economy began with the decree of 1990 allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership of an enterprise, and it has continued with the Association treaty with the EU. Related to the policy is the acceptance that Moroccans are going to continue to view increasing numbers of foreign television channels. In 1996 the King insisted that a government proposal for taxing television dishes be dropped. The government is now allowing foreign encrypted channels to sell subscriptions in the country, albeit under the supervision of one of the two Moroccan channels.

All of these initiatives - not just the acceptance of satellite television - have come from the Palace. The King is much more aware of the need for his country to develop its links with Europe and face foreign competition than are some of his ministers, the parliamentary deputies and the senior members of the civil service and the state companies.

The economy should be pushed further in a competitive direction by a free press (which is now allowed to criticise anything but the King and the Western Sahara policy), continuing privatisations and, it is hoped, efforts to improve the very poor level of Moroccan education. Although the state education system consumes 20 per cent of the country’s budget it has produced a population that is still nearly 50 per cent illiterate and has many literate members who are ignorant of the fundamentals of history, geography and science.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | April 1999

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