The petition revival

Recently I have been in Morocco on a mission to explore petitions in the context of new constitutional powers with the World Bank.  Specifically, there are new articles on the right to petition and the right for citizens to introduce motions (or peoples’ initiatives).  There are even new laws on consultation and freedom of information – introduced by the (relatively) new king.

I have to say that it’s been difficult to imagine the conditions for such a system, not least because of the immense challenges to the ideology among regular Moroccans but also more practical barriers such as levels of illiteracy.  As a precursor to my visit I put together some slides on the facets of a substantive system based on international benchmarking compared to ‘tokenistic’ systems.

What I did discover is that the Morocco is a smart, kind, intellectual and progressive nation.  There are already Tom Steinberg equivalents who are just waiting to unleash Arabic versions of FixMyStreet and WhatDotTeyKnow? once the organic law has been developed.  In this sense, I see many similarities with the democracy initiatives of the United Kingdom in and around 2006.  However, it is yet unclear as to the true intention of these instruments.  They will also produce a ‘one stop shop’ eParticipation platform which I am eager to inspect.

On my travels I had the pleasure of joining forces with David Lowe (head of the petitions committee secretariat).  The breaking news from the European Parliament is that they will launch a more substantive ePetition facility around 20th December which will allow for the online collection of signatures.   PETI has seen a staggering increase in the number of petitions this year but manages to cope with the usual grace and limited resources that it is allowed.

There was some skepticism about the legitimacy of viewing only ‘summarised’ petitions but they have their work cut out to manage the 22 official languages of the EU.  Apparently a funding request from 2010 has only just been approved for this change – I would like to think it was partly an outcome of a precursor pilot project called ‘EuroPetition’ for which I was part.

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