There is relatively little news about Sonatrach in the domestic media other than official government statements. That is unsurprising given the disturbing state of the corporation’s management.
Since February 2020, when Toufik Hakkar took over as Sonatrach’s CEO, almost 100 senior executives have been relieved of their duties. This huge loss of skills has led to considerable concern amongst many senior employees about its current direction and future wellbeing but they cannot speak out for fear of being dismissed. They have therefore become something of a community of ‘whistle-blowers’ by passing on their concerns to Algerian sources outside the country. Inevitably, their reports are not easily verifiable and may be bias and exaggerated but careful reading does provide an alarming picture of how Sonatrach is being run.
Most of these 100 or so dismissals do not appear to have been necessary redundancies but the result of Toufik Hakkar’s notorious and extremely damaging ‘clannism’ which is draining Sonatrach of highly skilled engineers as well as commercial and marketing specialists from almost all its departments. So far this month, for example, around 20 senior executives have been suspended and relieved of their duties in the Transport par Canalisation (TRC) pipeline division and replaced by others whose background and knowledge are ‘derisory’ according to these ‘whistle-blower’ reports.
These changes, linked solely to Toufik Hakkar’s clannism without any regard to competence or meritocracy, have impacted negatively on the HSE, IT, administration and finance, telecom, operations and new projects departments. It has also affected the operations of the Gazoducs Enrico Mattei (GEM) gas pipeline department at Bir El Ater in Tebessa wilaya, and the Direction Gazoduc Pedro Duran Farell (GPDF) at Beni-Saf in Tlemcen wilaya.
But Hakkar is protected by Prime Minister Djerad and the Mukhabarat
How has this state of affairs — on which Algeria Politics & Security has frequently commented over the past year — been allowed to persist? According to the many whistle-blowers, it is because Hakkar’s decisions and actions are approved daily by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, with whom he shares close clan ties and interests, and, more disturbingly, the Mukhabarat or secret intelligence service.
Apparently, whenever one of Hakkar’s colleagues or vice-presidents point out to him that one of his directives violates a regulatory provision, he threatens them by saying ‘I have the Prime Minister and the Mukhabarat behind me.’ Hakkar’s colleagues accuse him of riding roughshod over the law and regulations.
The former Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS), has always had colonels and other officers within all strategic companies such as Sonatrach. Their official task was to ensure the sound use of public money and the protection of the national economic interest. It was the DRS that exposed the huge Sonatrach corruption scandals during the era of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Energy Minister Chakib Khelil. A DRS general or colonel was never allowed to get involved in the management of Sonatrach.
Today, however, that has all changed and Hakkar is constantly using the Mukhabarat to scare his interlocutors and impose his most controversial decisions, irrespective of their financial merit or legality.