Morocco’s hierarchical political culture has not traditionally encouraged members of parliament (MPs) to engage with citizens about their priorities. Nor do citizens have much experience or confidence in raising concerns with their elected officials. This constituent gap has undermined the development of more representative and responsive government in Morocco.
Amid a wave of citizen protests in 2011, Morocco passed a constitutional amendments that expanded the parliament’s powers and included explicit provisions relating to good governance and to citizens’ inviolable rights and freedoms, with the aim of responding to popular demands for greater governmental accountability. Along with ensuing reforms, the constitutional revision has provided a legal framework for the government’s efforts to mitigate the disconnect between citizens and their elected officials.
Since 2013, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has worked to address this problem by assisting 14 MPs to establish local offices across Morocco to engage directly with their constituents. In March, as part of this ongoing effort, NDI brought together Moroccan elected officials, political party leaders, and members of the international community for the launch of its new constituency outreach manual, Getting Closer to Citizens: A Manual on Outreach for Elected Officials (English, Arabic). The manual captures the lessons learned and best practices for constituency outreach, based on the experience of the 14 MPs and their assistants who were trained by NDI under a two-year program supported by the U.K. Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO), as well as local elected officials with whom NDI collaborates through its ongoing United States Agency of International Development-funded (USAID) program in support of political parties.
|Morocco Constituency Outreach Program Results|
|Number of constituency office visits by citizens||+32,150|
|Citizen casework received||+9,600|
|Citizen cases resolved||+2,800|
|Written and oral questions raised by MPs in parliament||+1,270|
Constituent outreach is a central role of elected officials. Engaging with citizens to learn about their concerns and priorities helps elected leaders represent public interests in decision-making, and develops public trust. NDI assisted the MPs in applying constituent outreach techniques to directly engage with citizens and to advocate on their behalf. Through one-on-one office meetings, public events and door-to-door canvassing, the MPs became more closely tied to to citizens’ needs. Each MP was supported by an NDI-trained constituency office assistant, who was responsible for receiving constituents in the local office, managing casework, and liaising with the MPs.
To assist political parties and local elected officials in improving their responsiveness to citizens, the Institute has convened targeted trainings on outreach and inclusive policy development techniques, such as drafting informational brochures and holding public forums. With NDI’s help, political parties have also leveraged social media platforms and digital technologies to foster their communication with constituents.
At the launch event, NDI presented a short video it produced to highlight the dedication, commitment and effort of the 14 MPs, the MPs’ assistants, and local elected officials to engage with citizens in their community and address their needs and concerns. MPs who participated in the program shared how their experience in conducting citizen outreach helped them to better understand citizen priorities, and to ultimately be better advocates for them in parliament.
Given the novelty of constituent offices in Morocco, it was unclear whether MPs would fully embrace them as effective platforms for outreach, or whether constituents would respond positively to their efforts. Today, there is little doubt: the outreach offices have been very effective. Specific examples of this project’s impact include:
In September 2015, Khadija Boubker, a young widow struggling to support two daughters in the Khenifra region, visited MP Fouad Hajir, a participant in NDI’s constituency outreach program, to inquire about a government policy that offers financial assistance to help widows care for their children. Following an initial discussion about the new policy, which was enacted as part of the 2014 finance law, MP Hajir and his office assistant helped Khadija submit an application to the local government for assistance. Three months later, the government approved Khadija’s application and began sending her monthly payments of 350 dirhams to support care for each of her children. Khadija was extremely appreciative of the assistance she received through the constituency office. “I have to thank MP Hajir and his assistant Naima for the great service they are providing to our community. There are many illiterate widows like me in this region who feel lonely and abandoned in trying to support our children, and the constituency office offers an important outlet for us to share our problems and seek the appropriate assistance. I have told many other women about my experience in the office who have since visited the office to meet their MP. We are so appreciative of the MP and his staff.”
In April 2015, Bouaddi Halima’s son, Moncef, was born with a cleft lip and palate, a common but serious genetic malformation that can cause difficulty for infants in feeding. Feeling panicked, Bouaddi contacted MP Hajir’s office to seek recommendations for medical assistance for Moncef. After doing some research, the MPs’ assistant, Naima, found a vendor in Casablanca who could deliver a special bottle that would allow Moncef to feed correctly and get proper nourishment. Naima also identified an international organization represented in Casablanca, called Operation Smile, which specializes in facial surgery and could treat Moncef’s condition. Since April, Moncef has received ongoing treatment from Operation Smile, and is currently on track for full recovery in early 2016. “No words can explain how grateful my family is to Assistant Naima,” said Bouaddi. “Her assistance enabled my child and entire family to smile.” After discussing with Bouaddi how widespread this issue is in the Khenifra region, Operation Smile organized a medical caravan to the region to serve other infants born with this condition.
In mid-2014, Mohamed Benmouh’s house in Tiznit was destroyed by the local government without any prior notice, because it was identified as a safety hazard to neighbors due to its dilapidated condition. At a loss for how to deal with the situation, Benmouh visited MP Lahsen Bounouari’s constituency office to seek assistance. MP Bounouari and his office assistant, Mohamed Solhi, immediately contacted the Ministry of Justice to seek compensation for Benmouh. Although the process took several months, the government ultimately provided Benmouh with funding to build a new home. “I am so grateful for the assistance that MP Assistant Solhi provided to solve my case. I never thought that my concerns would be heard at the level of the parliament or national government before this experience. This office makes us feel like our MP is so much closer to the community,” said Benmouh.
NDI’s constituent outreach manual, developed in joint support from the FCO and the USAID, contains examples of successful outreach techniques in other countries that can be adapted to the needs of elected representatives in Morocco. It will serve as an ongoing guiding resource to encourage future parliamentarians, newly elected regional, and local councilors improve their citizen engagement efforts.