Much of the world is suffering from the high cost of fuel. But perhaps only in Morocco is it the case that the head of the government, Aziz Ajanuch, is also the owner of the main fuel distribution chain in the country, the Afriquia company, with 29% of the market. Criticism about an alleged conflict of interest between the office and business has intensified in recent weeks. Opposition deputies accuse the prime minister of inaction to protect the purchasing power of Moroccans against the “exorbitant” profits of the distribution companies.
Ajanuch appeared on Monday, April 18, in Parliament to explain the Government’s measures against rising prices. He alluded to the war in Ukraine as an element that aggravates inflation and recalled that his government has approved aid equivalent to 200 million euros for carriers and another of the same amount for the tourism sector. The Prime Minister also recalled the money that the Government uses to subsidize basic products such as common wheat or sugar. And he pointed out that inflation in Morocco is at 3.6% while in the United States it reaches 8.5%, in the Euro zone at 7.5%, and in Spain it stands at 9.8%.
The head of the Government did not acknowledge receipt of any criticism about conflict of interest between his position and his business. The deputy Ahmed El Abadi, of the opposition Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), asked the Government if “it is not obliged to distance itself from conflicts of interest and to impose a reduction of the exorbitant margins of the oil companies ”, according to the Agence France Presse.
Abdalá Buanú, a deputy from the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), called the rise in fuel prices “unjustifiable” and described the profits in the hydrocarbon sector as one of great “greed.”
The cover of the Moroccan weekly Tel Quel on Friday, April 15, presented two photos of the prime minister under the title “Fuel prices, Ajanuch’s ambiguous game.” In one of the two images, the president appears undaunted and reads: “Head of Government, passive.” And in the other he appears laughing with a cup of coffee, under the title: “Businessman, happy”.
Director of Tel Quel, Réda Dalil, wrote in an editorial that the oil businessmen in Morocco benefit from a “formidable playing field”. “There is no regulatory authority to reduce their margins, there is no price observatory to control their appetites,” she argued. The journalist indicated that since market prices were liberalized in 2016, the owners of the oil companies have created “a kind of state within the state.” And he pointed out that worst of all is “the conflict of interest that everyone avoids looking at, but that looks like the nose in the middle of the face.” Dalil warned that “the inaction of Aziz Ajanuch, head of the Government, benefits the businessman Aziz Ajanuch.” “It is up to him to deny this feeling with his actions,” she concluded.
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The Competition Council issued a report in 2020 in which it stated that the Moroccan Oil Group, which brings together companies in the sector, had engaged in tacit agreements and exchange of information that undermine free competition. The official body considered applying a sanction equivalent to 9% of the annual turnover of each company. Finally, the then president of the Competition Council, Driss Guerraoui, was dismissed by the king in March 2021, through a release of the Royal Palace in which he was accused of having committed “numerous procedural irregularities” during the investigation.
“A big problem”
The economist Fuad Abdelmumni, a member of the NGO Transparency Maroc, considers that in his country there is a “major problem” of marriage between political authority and economic power. “That obviously applies to Ajanuch. And also to all the highest authorities in the country, including the king, princes, generals, ministers, royal advisers, etc.”
Abdelmumi explains that the conviction of the Competition Council was frozen by the king. “And until today we are waiting for its execution,” says the economist. “As a consequence of this situation,” he adds, “Mr. Ajanuch has been able to present himself [a las legislativas de 2019] without suffering the opprobrium and the execution of the fine of the Competition Council, which condemned him for stealing money from the taxpayer’s pocket. And at the same time he used that war treasure [el dinero] to invest gigantic sums in the campaign of the last elections”.
The party led by Ajanuch, the Independent National Rally (RNI), won the legislative elections last year with 102 seats out of a total of 395 deputies. This formation, with a liberal centrist ideology and close to the Royal Palace, governs in coalition with the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) and the conservative nationalist Istiqlal (PI). The Islamist force Justice and Development Party (PJD) suffered an electoral disaster by going from 125 seats to only 13.
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