Regionalization in Morocco: Progress to be consolidated

24 February 2017

Sophie Pignon, Stéphane Braconnier

The Kingdom of Morocco can rely on a long decentralizing tradition, which was initiated in the early 1960s by the creation of autonomous municipalities. Recognition of the power to manage local affairs to local elected assemblies was thus recognized in the early years of independence, before being deepened and developed throughout the decades that followed, 1976, 1992, 2002 and 2009. In order to deepen the process of strengthening regional representative democracy and make the regions a powerful instrument for economic development, on 6 November 2008, a vast plan of increased regionalization of the Kingdom was launched. To this end, an advisory commission on regionalization was set up on 3 January 2010 to make innovative proposals in this area.

The new Moroccan Constitution of July 2011 endorsed the process of territorial reform, which led to the adoption by the Parliament in spring 2015 of three organic laws relating to local and regional authorities, in particular Law No. 111-14, which more specifically concerns the regions. These three organic laws are today the basis of regionalization in Morocco. They constitute the founding texts. Despite the undeniable progress they are making, these organic laws still raise a number of questions which, in the present state of positive law seem to call for complementary reforms.

The organic laws of 2015 first combine, at the analysis, all the elements that make it possible to characterize a successful decentralization.

At the institutional level, the regions, created in 1997, have a place in their own right, alongside the communes created in 1960, the prefectures and the provinces, created respectively in 1963 and 2002. A decree of 20 February 2015 has thus made a regional redistricting, more in line with the objectives and missions of the reform. Greater regions have become real functional and economic entities, to which broader means and powers have been allocated.

Beyond that, the process born with the 2015 reform marks a considerable expansion of the competences and conditions for the exercise of local democracy, mainly regional democracy. In terms of competences, the principle of free administration is reflected in the recognition of a set of competences for the benefit of the regions, based mainly on the promotion of integrated and sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental development on their entire territory. The region is thus built into a powerful, dynamic economic community. In this spirit, it exercises a number of competences shared with the State and, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, can be transferred competences from the core of its missions: regional infrastructure, industry, culture, energy, water and environment, etc.

The combination of these new competences and the strengthening of institutional mechanisms bear the mark of a successful decentralized democracy. But beyond these indisputable advances, the organic laws of 2015 leave a certain number of questions, which must be answered rapidly. Let us take two series here.

The first set of questions is linked to the resources available to the regions to exercise all the competences transferred to them. As recently remarked by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council of Morocco, in a recent opinion, it is important that the regions, in addition to the transfer of competences granted to them, have sufficient resources to exercise them. The transfer of competences from the State to the regions must not, in the short or medium term, lead to a massive debt transfer to the regions and, consequently, increase indebtedness of the latter which would eventually prevent them from acting. It is therefore important to develop new and sufficiently dynamic resources. The fiscal autonomy of the regions must, in this perspective, be explored.

Moreover, the transfer of competences raises the question of the adaptation of the legal instruments enabling them to be exercised. It should be noted, for example, that although competence in the field of large regional equipment and infrastructures, as well as competence in the field of energy and water, can, under the 2015 Laws , to be transferred to the regions, the recent Moroccan law on public-private partnerships does not allow the latter to conclude, for example, a partnership contract (“contrat de partenariat”). Yet, this type of contract is often an optimal instrument for the realization of major equipment, a fortiori in a tight budgetary context. It will therefore be necessary in the future to adapt all laws which, relating to legal instruments which are useful for the regions to exercise their powers, could hamper regional dynamism. It is important, in fact, that the strength of the decentralization process is not undermined by an inappropriate legal corpus.

 A posteriori control

Under local democracy, the Laws of 2015 embody the principle of free administration of the regions and the democratic execution of the deliberations of their councils. Public voting is thus established in principle for all decisions taken by local and regional authorities, in particular the regions. The autonomy of the regions is also reflected in the fact that the State no longer exercises any political or administrative tutelage over local and regional authorities. A priori supervision thus replaces a posteriori administrative control, limited in addition to the aspects relating to the legality of decisions and deliberations. Ultimately, the judge alone is called upon to know the legality of the laws adopted by his territorial authorities.

For more information on these developments, please do not hesitate to contact Sophie Pignon.