President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a major cabinet reshuffle on 23 June, the first since he took office six months ago.
We believe that it has more to do with economics than politics, with both the appointment of ministers and the creation of new ministries suggesting that Tebboune is finally trying to get on top of the economic crisis. The reshuffle has not touched the political portfolios: interior, foreign affairs and justice, or defence which is retained by the head of state. The ministries of finance, energy, agriculture, tourism, transport, planning and energy transition are all now in new hands.
Much about the reshuffle is sensible and commendable. The appointment that stands out is the recall to government of 74-year-old Abdelmadjid Attar to take over the Energy Ministry. He was CEO of Sonatrach between 1997 and 1999 after having held several senior positions within the corporat6ion including director of its exploration division. He then became minister of water resources in 2003. He has since built up an international reputation as an energy consultant, experienced enough to know his way around the industry and able, when necessary, to call a spade a spade. This is an ability that will come in very handy in a regime that scarcely knows what is happening three days away, let along three months. He also has a sense of humour, always an asset when disaster is threatening.
According to one official source, the objectives of this appointment, in particular, are to upgrade the country’s hydrocarbon resources, develop the petroleum derivatives sector and to maintain Algeria’s status in the global oil and gas market. It is also hoped, at least by Sonatrach’s partners and clients, that his appointment will see the start of much-needed stabilisation in the sector. For too long, Sonatrach has looked more like a labour exchange than a major corporate, with executives moved on before they have even had time to get their feet under the desk.
The latest question being raised by Attar’s appointment is whether he will follow in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, Chakib Khelil, who took over as CEO of Sonatrach, as well as remaining minister.
Abdelmadjid Attar’s appointment will be welcomed in most quarters. However, his arrival on the scene — one might call it a takeover — will almost certainly have the consequence of limiting the powers of Sonatrach’s already weakened current CEO, Toufik Hattar.
Discerning a lack of competence in the younger generation, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has resorted to bringing back an experienced hand to save the oil sector.
We understand that Attar tried to impose a number of conditions before agreeing to take the job. One is that he must be consulted over the choice of Sonatrach’s next boss. Some believe the writing has been on the wall for Hakkar for some weeks following his recent, reported but still unconfirmed, sacking of several managers deemed to have been undermining him.
Attar’s deep experience of the industry, both domestically and globally, also means that Hakkar is unlikely to have much say over major exploration and production matters. According to our sources, Attar might even try to simultaneously take on both jobs — minister and CEO — a feat accomplished to date only by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s very close friend Chakib Khelil between 2001 and 2003. This, as everyone knows, did not end well.
Meanwhile, two important changes that go alongside Attar’s appointment, are:
- The separation of the mines and energy portfolios to create a new Ministry of Mines with Mohamed Arkab, whom Attar replaces, in charge; and
- The creation of a Ministry of Energy Transition and Renewable Energies. This has been entrusted to Professor Chems Eddine Chitour, previously in charge of the department of higher education. Abdelbaki Benziane replaces him as minister for higher education.