Teatime in Casablanca


By Stephan Bachenheimer.

It is teatime in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Casablanca. A dozen women are gathering; somebody has brought cake for everybody. Tea is being poured into the glasses on a silver tray, the only luxury in this sparsely decorated house. Khadijah Hassini, a housewife, tells of her ongoing struggle to get medication for her heart condition at a local clinic. People with better connections and more money are routinely preferred, leaving her without medication for months. “The king sometimes travels around the country and when you get an audience with him, he will fix problems like this right away,” suggests one of Khadija’s neighbors.” “But it shouldn’t be that way,” replies another. “Things should not just work when the King himself orders it—they should always work for everybody.”

Royal intervention, equality and social services for everybody—for the people in this neighborhood, those are nothing but modern fairytales. Income disparity in Morocco is high and large parts of the population are disenfranchised. Two-thirds of all women are illiterate; less than half of all children in the countryside finish primary school.

But change is on the way.

After years of intense preparations, Morocco has introduced a “budget reform.” It has the potential to change the way Khadija receives her medication.

From now on, the national budget will be allocated based on performance. Past budget history, lobbying, or simple claims will not suffice anymore.

Take Khadija’s health center: It will have to get its priorities right. Instead of investing in expensive equipment that only serves a few, it might have to prove how many children its doctors vaccinated. Instead of receiving a fixed budget for pharmaceuticals, it has to prove how many people actually received the medication. Officials and employees who do not deliver will risk their jobs. And oversight will also come from the public. Khadijah will have the chance to petition and launch complaints through an Internet-based platform. Any discrepancy between the results given by officials and results experienced by the public will be exposed quickly: a system of checks and balances designed to curb corruption and inefficiency.

For Moroccans, this is a milestone. In a region where the desire for change has expressed itself through the Arab Spring, the budget reform promises an unknown level of transparency. The teatime group in Casablanca—they will be given a voice. And that is precisely what Morocco’s reforms, supported by a new constitution, had in mind.

After all, the teatime story about royal intervention and the King ordering fixes is not too far off. It was Morocco’s King himself who pushed for reforms in 2011. Only now, the King’s audience has moved online—with ever more people listening.