The celebration last week of World Elderly Day was an opportunity for many voices to be raised in Morocco against a law that set up a new pay scale for state pensioners.
Opponents decried the text as discriminatory, and say it violates one of the major principles of the constitution - equality.
"Most Moroccan pensioners, who spent the prime of their life in the service of the state, live in dismal conditions due to the law," says Ahmed Hadi, a member of the Moroccan Pensioners Association (Rabita), set up a year ago to defend retired people's interests.
The law divides Moroccan pensioners into three categories - those who retired before 1990, those retired between 1990 and 1997, and those who left state service after the law took effect in June of 1997.
A 10th-scale state employee pensioned off before 1990 is paid a monthly pension worth Dh 2,477 (almost $240), while his fellow of the same scale who retired between 1990 and 1997 is paid a little higher: Dh 3,166 (nearly $310). However, a 10th scale civil servant, pensioned off after June 1, 1997, is paid higher than the two previous categories - Dh 4,179 (almost $410).
"The law flagrantly violates Article 5 of the Constitution, which stipulates that all Moroccans are born equal and shall remain equal," says Mohamed El-Hassani, Chairman of the pensioners' Rabita. "This is a case of pure and flagrant injustice that we cannot tolerate.''
The government says the law cannot apply to people who retired before it took effect. The administration argues that "had the law been retroactive, it would have entailed a heavy financial burden on the state treasury." But the pensioners do not want the law to be retroactive, said El-Hassani. "There is no room to speak of the retroactive effect of the law. We only want all state pensioners to benefit from the new provision", he says. "We do not claim any back pays. We only claim that the new law be applicable with immediate effect to all the categories of state pensioners,'' he insists.
According to 1996 official statistics, Morocco had 120,000 civil service pensioners. Their pensions are managed by the Moroccan Retirements Fund, which was set up in 1930, during the French Protectorate. El-Hassani blames the CMR for being unable to devise laws matching the realities of the Moroccan society and for failing to invest the civil servants' contribution to its funds and use the yields in promoting their situation.
"Should the CMR fully played its role, fructified the civil servants' contribution and devised itself the legislative texts, we would not have had laws frustrating to ones and favoring others without any valid reason", he said. The pensioners are hoping the socialist-led government that came to power in Morocco six months ago - after more than 40 years of right-wing rule - will "correct the errors and restore constitutional legality.''
"We pin great expectations on the government to correct the errors, make up for the imperfections and modify the harmful laws in order to restore constitutional legality and establish a social equity that benefit all Moroccans without discrimination", El-Hassani said. The situation of state pensioners is far better than that of most of their private sector peers, most of whom were part-time employees that their bosses never registered with the National Social Security Fund, CMR's counterpart for private sector employees. This layer of the society lives in deplorable conditions and can hardly make ends meet. "I spent more than 50 years of my life working as part-time construction employee in several private firms. Now I only live on my children's help, as
I have no pension", said M'Hammed Laghsir, a 71-year-old whose employers never enrolled with the CNSS.
The Moroccan government, headed by Socialist Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi, pledged recently to "spare no effort to mend the precarious situation of private sector retired people." "One of the major tasks awaiting the new government is to compel the private enterprises to register their workers with the CNSS and ensure their right to live in dignity", said Rafik Mahjoubi, a long-time social welfare activist. "It is a shame to have elderly people, who spent the best years of their lives serving their country, living in such conditions without any pensions. Pending an earnest intervention on the part of the state, Laghsir and thousands like him find in family and social solidarity values the shield against misery and want. "The family should protect and care for the elderly in accordance with the imperative principle of solidarity reached by Islam", says Pr. Ahmed Tamer, a teacher and leading figure of the Moroccan Islamist
Justice and Development Party.
"Islam requires the believers to grant the best possible treatment to parents and calls them to extend material and moral support to family members, cousins and to any person in difficult situation", adds Tamer, whose party holds 9 seats at the House of Representatives (lower house).
However, the dislocation of the family as an institution and the fading of social solidarity coupled with the lack of a genuine welfare state gave way to several social ailments among the vulnerable elderly population. Government figures show 7 percent of Morocco's 29 million people are elderly. – (Albawaba-MEBG)
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )