Reforms to the pension system in Morocco will be introduced starting in 2013 "at any cost".
This was the strong message from Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, speaking to MPs on January 9th in the Chamber of Councillors in Rabat. The deputies quizzed him over the issue of pension funding, which has run into financial difficulties.
Benkirane said that the alarm was first raised in 2000 and reforms were slow to surface.
He made a point that his government will not put this issue on the back burner. "We are going to work with all parties to introduce reforms, even though the measures to be taken will be unpopular," he emphasised.
Benkirane shared alarming prospects with MPs and spoke of a "catastrophe".
If nothing is done the deficit in the CMR will reach 1.8 billion dirhams in 2014, and in ten years that sum will surpass 125 billion dirhams, he said.
A number of possible approaches have been suggested by Benkirane, such as raising the retirement age as adopted by some countries, increasing employers and employees' contributions, or extending the range of benefits to skilled professionals such as doctors and lawyers. An optional complementary system could be put in place.
Added to this would be an improvement to the way funds are invested to increase the financial resources available.
According to Benkirane, Morocco could move towards creating one fund for the public sector and another for the private sector. The single-system scenario, he said, is complicated and difficult to implement on the ground.
According to Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) parliamentarian Hakim Benchemmass, the issue should not be managed in a technical way, but rather in a political way with a daring over-arching vision.
"Everyone agrees on what is happening. But the time has come to act to guarantee retirees' dignity," he said, stressing the need to broaden the base of the pensions beneficiaries.
A similar chord was struck by MP Abdesselam Lebbar, who stressed the urgency of improving daily life for a great many pensioners who find themselves forced to find a new job to meet their needs. He also called for greater accountability, because the current situation facing the Moroccan pension fund "is due to poor management and a lack of good governance".
Benkirane agreed. He committed himself to discussing every point of the new strategy to rescue the pension system is implemented.
Salaried employees have expressed concern. They are apprehensive of the solutions which may be adopted.
"I am worried I will not be able to get my pension upon retirement because of repeated delays to the reforms," teacher Halima Chaouni said.
"Life expectancy in Morocco is not the same as in developed countries. If they increase the retirement age to 65, that will be a catastrophe. Let's hope they go for the 62-year option," she added.
42-year-old secretary Salwa Mbarki opined that increasing people's contributions could have a negative effect on employees' purchasing power. "Salaries are already too low relatively to the cost of living."
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