Algeria Makes 'Surprise' Change at Top of State Energy Company

  • Ould Kaddour is named chief executive officer at Sonatrach
  • Previous CEO Amine Mazouzi was in office for two years

Algeria appointed a new chief executive officer at state-owned energy company Sonatrach Group, dismissing the incumbent after less than two years and bringing in the oil and gas producer’s sixth leader since 2010.

Energy Minister Noureddine Boutarfa gathered the board of Sonatrach on Monday and named Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour as chief executive officer, replacing Amine Mazouzi, the ministry said on its Facebook page. Mazouzi became CEO of Sonatrach in May 2015.

“The change of CEO is surprising,” Valerie Marcel, associate fellow at Chatham House, said in phone interview. “It comes at the wrong time for Sonatrach because it’s another change at the top at a time when the company needs to have more focus on leadership.”

Before today’s announcement, Sonatrach -- whose oil and gas export revenues generate more than half of the government’s budget -- had had five CEOs since 2010.

Although he is qualified, the choice of MIT-trained Ould Kaddour was surprising because he’d been embroiled in scandal more than a decade ago, Marcel said. Ould Kaddour was found guilty of sharing classified information, according to a report by El Watan. Sonatrach didn’t immediately reply when asked to comment on the appointment.

Export Pressure

Although it’s Africa’s biggest natural gas producer, Sonatrach has struggled to increase production as domestic demand rises, putting pressure on exports, according to Ali Aissaoui, a senior visiting research fellow at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.

“Sonatrach could afford to be opaque as long as it delivered high oil and gas revenues,” Thierry Bros, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said. “With those revenues declining, the state is entitled to look a bit more into how it operates.”

Sonatrach Group plans to increase output of natural gas and crude oil by 20 percent in the next four years as projects start up, Salah Mekmouche, the company’s vice president of exploration and production, said in December.

Algeria -- the ninth-biggest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries-- championed a historic deal to curb production when it hosted its fellow OPEC members in September in Algiers. OPEC and non-OPEC allies agreed to cut output by a combined 1.8 million barrels a day for a total of at least six months. Algeria pumped 1.04 million barrels a day in February, according to a Bloomberg survey, in line with its target.

“It would be beneficial for Sonatrach going forward to reach governance stability, since energy is a crucial strategic sector for Algeria,” said Alexandre Kateb, an economist and member of the economic task force setup by the Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal to modernize the Algerian economy.

— With assistance by Salah Slimani, and Salma El Wardany

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