With regard to the people, I enjoin upon you to administer justice with an even hand. See that all the legitimate requirements of the people are met. Be concerned for their welfare. Ensure the safety of their person and property. In the distribution of booty and other matters be above nepotism. Let no consideration of relationship or selfish interest weigh with you.
Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
Every single day I hear a new story about a British MP being exposed for abusing the parliamentary expenses system in his country. This time around, as announced today by the BBC, the “victim” is a member of the British government; a minister. The other day it was David Cameron who got dragged into the raw, after the Mail on Sunday, the main instigating tabloid, revealed that the leader of the conservative opposition party may have used taxpayer-funded mortgages allocated to his constituency to pay off his own loans.
Britain is a rich country, with admittedly huge resources, that can afford to maintain a descent public service and pay huge sums of money to take care of the deputies of the nation and preserve the prestige of one of the oldest and most vibrant democracies in the world. Yet, justifiably, the British people seem to be appalled and disgusted by the behaviour of their representatives and aren’t likely to allow such delinquent behavior to happen again.
Let’s now turn our eyes toward another kingdom, Morocco. Apart from being a monarchy and one of the oldest political entities -or states if you prefer- on earth (with superseding dynasties, taking over each other during a period that stretches over 12 centuries), the kingdom doesn’t share much of the wealth nor the resources of the British state. One would imagine that given the perpetual economic crisis that the north African kingdom still lingers in, and the compelling needs of its young and large population, public money would be spent in the wisest of ways and that every single penny would be cared for, public housing promoted, health services and education prioritized. This, awkwardly enough, could not be further from reality.
Public spending in my country is, to say the least, opaque. Especially when it deals with the monarch’s wage and the financial burden that is represented by royal activities, and lifestyle and also related to the numerous royal palaces that are maintained and cared for by an army of servants and employees.
I never had exact figures about where the money goes and how it is distributed, to whom and under which circumstances. And although TelQuel [Fr], a Moroccan independent magazine published a ground-breaking, detailed dossier [Fr] about royal finances back in 2004, the whole maze of Moroccan royal finances, a well preserved taboo, has not satisfactorily been exposed, explained in its totality and put into context. Not until Ali Amar, an independent Moroccan journalist, published the book I’ve just finished reading, “Mohamed VI: le grand malentendu” (Mohamed VI: The Big Misunderstanding). A well documented, almost heroic book of one of the co-founders in 1997 (with Aboubakr Jamaï and Fahd Iraqi) of Le Journal [Fr]. One of the first independent publications in the kingdom. A magazine, witten in French, hence targeting the cosmopolitan elite of the country, and which revolutionized the journalistic scene in Morocco by introducing the art of investigative journalism, an unknown entity until then. Its uncompromising tone and resolute work attracted repeated attacks from the government that eventually succeeded in forcing both Jamaï and Amar to quit the adventure all together.
The book aroused controversy, not least from Prince Hicham Ben Abdallah Al Alaoui, cousin of the king, and a man that stood by the journalist in the darkest hours of Le Journal‘s battle against the authorities. The argument seem to be stemming from the fact that the author revealed the content of what were supposed to be private conversations he had with key players, including the prince, and which were not meant to be revealed to the public.
I’m not going to get bogged down into this quarrel, since I consider that whether the journalist respected the wish of his interlocutors or not, this remains of no relevance to the reader whose primary interest is the search for truth. Moreover, whatever the revelations contained in the book, the reader is at the end of the day the ultimate beneficiary. That’s why I, for one, salute the work of Ali Amar.
Let’s go back then to royal finances. We learn that (p. 36):
Although the monarch seems to have sincere empathy for the poorest classes, he often indulges into following his inclinations towards a luxurious lifestyle. After his enthronement, he swiftly got back to his father’s lavish way of living. One single jaunt of he’s, to those heavenly islands, costs him (sic) millions of euros. Official delegations [that accompany him to those trips,] comprise hundreds of personnel, carried by many jumbo jets ready to take them all from capital to capital.
Later in the book, and after a detailed dissection of the different royal assets and the conflict of interest created by the very intervention of the king and his entourage in the Moroccan economy, we learn the figures and the nitty-gritty of royal finances (pp. 50-51):
The budget allocated each year to the monarchy, reaches approximately 300 million euros[…] However, most of the king’s spending is provided for by colossal adjoined budgetary fees meant at maintaining the sovereign’s court and caring for his close collaborators (around a thousand employees that gobble up to 160 million euros a year). Those budgetary addendums are swiftly and discreetly voted for by a complying chamber of representatives of the nation, whose powers are limited anyway. The royal house’s functioning budget is divided into different costs related to staff, food, travel, telephone bills, maintenance of various grand palaces. This amounts to 2 per cent of the total expenditure of the state. It exceeds the budget allocated to justice, and represents nearly twenty five times that of the prime minister and his cabinet, reduced to the bare minimum and to a de facto puppet role[…]
Mohamed VI squanders,for instance, 40 million euros each year in travel expenses, 1 million to feed the palace animals, nearly 2 million in fashionable clothes.
Paradoxically, the country’s minimum wage does not exceed 200 euros.
Under these circumstances, and in a country where the huge social divide is widening and getting every day a little deeper, the urgency of a reform of the state never felt so vital.
If only those in power could be listening, I’d shout (quoting Mahathir Mohamed): “Exploit us, but exploit us fairly”.