Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

Afriquia is one of three well-known brands being boycotted following criticisms over links between the country's business and political elite. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

RABAT: More than a month after its launch, an unprecedented boycott campaign in Morocco against three well-known brands has revived criticism against links between the country’s business and political elite.

Spreading like wildfire across social media, the campaign is targeting Afriquia service stations, Sidi Ali water and Danone milk — leaders in their sectors — and calling for a drop in prices.

Despite brand communication efforts to curb the campaign, AFP saw its popularity in cafes, shops and deserted Afriquia petrol stations in several Moroccan cities.

Some 57 percent of Moroccans are actively engaged in the boycott, according to a survey of 3,575 mostly middle class Moroccans published this week in the country’s L’Economiste newspaper.

The Afriquia group belongs to billionaire Aziz Akhannouch, the richest man in Morocco, minister of agriculture since 2007 and head of the National Rally of Independents (NRI) technocrat political party.

The boycott carries “a symbolic message from the middle class” against the marriage between political power and big business, political analyst Aziz Chahir told AFP.

Ahmed Bouz, another political analyst, said the campaign shows “awareness of the need to separate politics from business.”

The Moroccan press frequently covered conflict of interest throughout the 2000s, placing a sharp focus on the royal family and the National Investment Company — since transformed into a holding company and renamed Al Mada.
The enrichment of the country’s ruling elite resurfaced in 2011 as the popular revolts of the Arab Spring swept across the region.

Consitutional reform that year fueled hopes for change, but the current government — formed in 2017 by the Islamist PJD party — brought in more technocrats and businessmen, along with accusations of conflict of interest.

Moroccan media and activists accuse Trade Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy — who heads one of the country’s largest conglomerates — of helping to pass a favorable tax provision for the transfer of his Saham insurance company to South African giant Sanlam.

Elalamy says he has complied with the law and asked for an inquiry into the transaction to prove his innocence.

“Nothing in the law prohibits businessmen from holding government positions,” Abdelali Benamour, head of Morocco’s Competition Council, told AFP.

Fouad Abdelmoumen of Transparency Moroc said: “The state has not put in place mechanisms that define conflicts of interest and that contain excesses.”

Excessive profits in big business — especially fuel distributors like Afriquia — has also stoked anger among Moroccans.

A mid-May parliamentary report on the evolution of fuel prices since their liberalization in 2015 caused an uproar.

The final version of the report — its most glaring figures redacted — put the sector’s profit margins above $1.5 billion ((€1.3 billion).

The alliance between business and politics appeared again in headlines Tuesday, when Salaheddine Mezouar — former finance minister, trade minister and head of the NRI — was elected head of Morocco’s private business sector.


Etihad proposes to invest in Jet Airways at 49% discount

Updated 26 min 8 sec ago
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Etihad proposes to invest in Jet Airways at 49% discount

  • The 25-year-old Indian airline has been roiled by financial difficulties, racking up a pile of dues to pilots, lessors and vendors
  • Jet will not be able to continue funding operations beyond the next week and Etihad is willing to inject $35 million if some conditions are met

Etihad Airways has offered to pick up shares of debt-laden Indian carrier Jet Airways Ltd. at a 49 percent discount and to immediately release $35 million after certain conditions are met, CNBC-TV18 reported on Wednesday.
Shares of Jet Airways, in which Etihad already owns a 24 percent stake, tumbled as much as 7.5 percent to 271.75 rupees ($3.83) in their biggest intraday drop since early December.
The Abu Dhabi carrier has offered 150 rupees for each Jet share, CNBC-TV18 said, citing a letter from Etihad’s CEO.
Tony Douglas has written to the State Bank of India (SBI) , Jet’s biggest lender, on the restructuring plan for the Indian airline, the report added.
The 25-year-old Indian airline has been roiled by financial difficulties, racking up a pile of dues to pilots, lessors and vendors, at a time when intense pricing competition, a weak rupee and rising fuel costs are weighing on the broader airline sector in the country.
Jet will not be able to continue funding operations beyond the next week and Etihad is willing to inject $35 million if some conditions are met, the CNBC-TV18 report cited Douglas as saying in his letter.
Jet and Etihad representatives are due to meet in Mumbai with lenders, led by SBI, on Wednesday to discuss the restructuring proposal that involves Etihad increasing its stake, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Etihad wants Jet’s founder and Chairman, 69-year-old Naresh Goyal to step down from the board and his stake to be slashed to 22 percent from 51 percent, according to CNBC-TV18.
Goyal’s penchant for control, according to people who have worked with him, has emerged as a major obstacle as the airline tries to negotiate a rescue deal, Reuters reported last month.
Etihad is also seeking an exemption from the market regulator on preference pricing and open offer guidelines to invest more for the bailout, the report added.
Under India’s capital markets regulations, Etihad is required to make an open offer to shareholders for a majority of the shares once its stake goes past 25 percent, unless it obtains a rare exemption from the market regulator.
India Ministry of Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey on Wednesday told reporters that the aviation ministry had not yet received an official request from Jet and Etihad for an exemption from an open offer.
Jet and Etihad were not immediately available for comment.