The digital souk: reforming procurement in Morocco

By on 22/10/2023 | Updated on 19/10/2023
A picture of Noureddine Bensouda, general treasurer of the Kingdom of Morocco, speaking at the Global Government Finance Summit.
A picture of Noureddine Bensouda, general treasurer of the Kingdom of Morocco, speaking at the Global Government Finance Summit.

Determined to increase transparency and competition in public procurement, Morocco’s government is pushing through an ambitious set of reforms. At the 2023 Global Government Finance Summit, the country’s finance chief explained his plans to an audience of his peers from around the world

Finance leaders have a tendency to focus narrowly on economic and financial issues, said Noureddine Bensouda, “but you can’t succeed on the economic and financial side if the political side is not going well”.

Bensouda, general treasurer of the Kingdom of Morocco, was championing the importance of open, honest governance to economic development and wealth creation. “Investors have all the world to choose from, and they choose where there is political stability,” he commented. “So the more we reinforce our democracy, our respect of the rules and so on, the better our economy.”

Speaking in the ‘smart shopper’ session on procurement at the 2023 Government Finance Summit – which attracted finance leaders from 12 countries to Rabat in June – Bensouda argued for rigorous transparency in governments’ purchasing policies and practices. “Giving visibility is fundamental,” he said. “It’s beneficial for private companies, since it makes it possible for them to position themselves and plan investments. But it’s also beneficial for the administration, which can take advantage of competition and buy at the best value for money ratio.”

Digitalising procurement systems can help to provide transparency, said Bensouda, minimising the potential for corruption or delays. And governments can use procurement to achieve other public policy goals, such as bolstering SMEs or particular business sectors: “The smart shopper is the one who maximises the benefits that he gets from his purchases,” he commented.

Transforming tenders

Morocco has also been experimenting with new forms of procurement – including an online “reverse auction” system – and has rolled out a universal regulatory framework for purchases across national and local government. “By introducing sustainable development objectives and energy efficiency among the evaluation criteria for tenders, the government seeks to set an example and create a ripple effect,” Bensouda commented.

Alongside traditional tenders, the framework provides for procurement via competitive dialogue, whereby the contracting authority engages in a dialogue with candidates to identify the solutions likely to meet its needs. The candidates are later invited to submit bids on the basis of the chosen solution, he explained. It even permits “spontaneous offers, which reverse the terms of the relationship between the supplier and the purchaser”. Under this system, companies can propose new services or products to public bodies, “meeting a need that the contracting authority has not previously identified,” said Bensouda.

The general treasurer also highlighted weaknesses in traditional budgeting processes. In most countries, departmental budgets are decided by “renewing the previous year’s appropriations, and granting extra funds in a systematic way,” he said. “At first glance, this seems like a simple, well-tested system that is easy to implement. But it does not promote performance: departments are treated in the same way, whether they’re performing well or not.” Departmental budgets could instead be linked to performance, “both in terms of programming and in terms of implementation,” he suggested. “This would be another way to get the most out of public spending.”

Similarly, Bensouda highlighted the “programme budgeting” practices first developed in the US federal government in the 1940s and ‘50s: these involve detailing the delivery costs of every activity within a given budget, along with the anticipated results and returns. “Programme budgeting is not just another fashionable phenomenon,” he said. “It’s the link that allows public spending and public management to be anchored to a country’s economy.” Done well, Bensouda added, it can provide “enough visibility to align expenditures with revenues, and to correctly anticipate the impact of national and international economic conditions”.

Final thoughts

These ideas interested Nasim Gasimzade, director of Azerbaijan’s State Treasury Agency, who explained that the Ministry of Finance has been piloting performance-based budgeting with three ministries. Each is required to create and defend a “medium-term expenditure framework” including mission statements, goals and KPIs, he explained, and the government is building new streams of data to monitor their success. “It’s not easy, but it’s something we have to keep a keen eye on,” he commented.

Summing up, Bensouda called for public servants and elected leaders to put the interests of the state and the public above party political considerations, and to prioritise long-term challenges and goals over short-term concerns around personal popularity. “The mandate of the government is for five years; but the state view is long term,” he said. “The environment, digitalisation, the climate; all these must be dealt with over the long term.”

Siobhan Benita: “We are facing some huge challenges; the world is moving fast, and crises keep coming at us”

As the Summit came to a close, facilitator Siobhan Benita noted that “we are facing some huge challenges; the world is moving fast, and crises keep coming at us”. Both in procurement, and in other topics addressed during the Summit – the path to net zero, data-based decision-making, and modernising taxation – the assembled civil servants had made clear the need to take full advantage of digital technologies. But ultimately, said Benita, the key to success in public financial management – as in so many fields of human endeavour – is intelligent and visionary leadership. “What really struck me,” she concluded, “is that although we were talking a lot about technology, very often what’s required to facilitate that agility is collaboration, communication, and those very human skills.”

This is the fifth and final report on the Global Government Finance Summit held in Rabat, Morocco in June 2023, covering the discussion on ‘The smart shopper: commissioning and procurement’. The first report covered Irish finance department Chief Economist John McCarthy’s analysis of his country’s economic strengths and weaknesses; the second how finance departments can support the drive for net zero; the third the huge power of data-based decision-making; and the fourth how to develop a modern tax system.

You can read all the reports from previous Summits via our dedicated website, where you can also view the list of 2023 participants. Details of the 2024 Summit will be announced soon.

To ensure that participants feel able to speak freely at the Summit, we give all those quoted the right to anonymise, edit or delete their comments before publication.

About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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