Working-class Moroccans wary of subsidy cuts

Sunday 07/05/2017
Increasing burdens. A Moroccan man shops for vegetables at a market in Asni, a small town in the High Atlas region, near Marrakech. (AP)

Casablanca - Morocco’s Islamist-led government is mull­ing whether to con­tinue reforming the compensation fund by gradually lifting subsidies on flour, sugar and butane gas amid an outcry from working-class Mo­roccans.
“The government has presented in its programme an important orientation aimed at reinforcing social cohesion and fighting pov­erty and precariousness besides supporting the buying power of the targeted social fringes through the management of the various re­sources including those after the reform of the compensation fund,” a government statement said.
“The government has not yet decided on the scenario of this re­form and that it presented the re­alities and the precise data on this subject at the appropriate time.”
However, the government ap­pears likely to make product sub­sidy cuts that were delayed by the previous administration, which held off plans to implement the cuts in 2016 because of legislative elections.
Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani, speaking April 19 to parliament, said the govern­ment would gradually lift subsi­dies on flour, sugar and butane gas but gave no details of the plan.
Rachid Aourraz, a researcher at the Arab Centre for Scientific Re­search and Humane Studies, said the move could have serious reper­cussions on poor and middle-class families in Morocco.
“The short-term economic re­percussions on lifting subsidies on these essential products in Moroc­can households can have a bad im­pact on these social layers because it will affect their buying power,” Aourraz said.
“Moroccans’ trust in the gov­ernment may also hit rock bottom after this decision, especially after no major change in the political scene after the 6-month blockage.”
Civil servant Abdellatif, who de­clined to give his last name, said the move was bad news for hard-working Moroccans who are strug­gling to cope with the rising costs of living in big cities.
“We only have to thank the Is­lamists for making our life worse by raising the retirement age,” said Abdellatif. “Now they want to hit our pockets by lifting subsidies on products we heavily depend on while our salaries are stagnant. Isn’t it unjust?”
Housemaid Farida Belkadi lashed out at the government’s lack of concern for the poor, whom, she said, “are getting punched very hard” every time Is­lamists win the elections.
“They (Islamists) always say they care for the poor but keep do­ing the opposite,” Belkadi said.
Aourraz said the move could have a positive effect on state funds because it would alleviate the burden of subsidies.
“The money saved from the compensation fund can be used for various sectors to improve the country’s infrastructure if it is managed efficiently,” he said.
Aourraz called on the govern­ment to control prices once the lifting comes into effect and fight “the lobbies” that control the mar­ket.
The working class celebrated Labour Day on May 1 by focusing on the poor record of the previous government. They slammed “un­just decisions” that have affected rights and acquisitions, such as the absence of a social dialogue, the levies on strikers’ wages, the freezing of salaries as well as lift­ing of subsidies from the compen­sation fund on basic consumer products.
Secretary-General of the Moroc­can Workers’ Union Miloudi Mouk­harik called on the government to implement a real social policy to improve living and working condi­tions for the working class.