France's Macron seeks second wind with cabinet reshuffle

Emmanuel Macron, left, has picked former Socialist MP Christophe Castaner as interior minister, one of the main figures in the French President’s inner circle. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2018
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France's Macron seeks second wind with cabinet reshuffle

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday, appointing new interior, agriculture and culture ministers after a weeks-long search for new talent to try to revive his government’s flagging fortunes.
Two weeks after political veteran Gerard Collomb abruptly resigned as interior minister, Macron appointed the ultra-loyal head of his Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, to replace him.
The centrist president also dismissed his agriculture and culture ministers, seen as weak links in his cabinet, which is a blend of experts in their field and experienced politicians from the left and right.
The prime minister, foreign and economy ministers all kept their jobs, however.
Presenting a “renewed, dynamic team with a second wind,” the presidency said it would continue on the same track of reforms.
“We will not change direction,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe vowed.
But analysts expressed doubt that the reshuffle would significantly change perceptions of the government.
“It’s a very technical reshuffle... which means it is unlikely to stir French passions,” said Chloe Morin, an analyst at Ipsos polling company.
Macron was scheduled to explain the reshuffle in a rare primetime television address later Tuesday evening.
Collomb’s departure on October 2 was a blow to Macron, coinciding with a slump in his popularity after a scandal involving a close aide, several verbal gaffes and a raft of disappointing economic data.
Collomb’s resignation followed that of star environment minister Nicolas Hulot in August, creating a sense of a government in disarray.
Macron’s delay in carrying out the reshuffle, caused partly by his difficulty in convincing people to join his team, was seen as further evidence of his weakened position.
The opposition on Tuesday slammed his hotly anticipated new picks as underwhelming.
The parliamentary leader of the center-right Republicans, Christian Jacob, said it was “more like a balloon bursting than a second wind.”
Christophe Castaner, a gregarious 52-year-old former Socialist from southern France, had been widely tipped to replace Collomb, who is returning to his home town of Lyon to serve as mayor.
A member of the president’s inner circle, Castaner was a rebellious youth who has spoken of how he rubbed shoulders with Marseille gang members at poker games before entering politics, first as a mayor than an MP.
He has little experience of national security issues but on Tuesday vowed to be “at your service, ladies and gentlemen, 24 hours a day.”
He resigned his leadership of the ruling party to take up the job.
The current head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, Laurent Nunez, was named as his deputy at the interior ministry.
Macron’s choices reflected his continuing attempt to appeal to both sides of the political divide, but there were few household names in the new line-up.
Didier Guillaume, a former Socialist, was named agriculture minister, replacing Stephane Travert, while center-right former Republicans lawmaker Franck Riester took over from publisher Francoise Nyssen in culture.
There were also changes in the ministry for relations with local government, with Jacqueline Gourault taking over the tricky portfolio at a time of budget cuts that have caused deep discontent among rural mayors.
Analysts say many ministers and members of Macron’s party have struggled to emerge from his shadow since he won elections in May 2017 at the head of a newly formed pro-EU, pro-business party.
His polling numbers have slumped to their lowest level since his electoral victory in May 2017.
Surveys show that only around 30 percent of French voters have a positive view of his presidency.
He suffered the first major scandal of his presidency in July when footage emerged of one of his most trusted security aides hitting a protester while apparently posing as a policeman at a May Day rally.
Slowing economic growth — expected to fall to 1.6 percent this year from 2.3 percent in 2017 — and a series of public gaffes that fueled a perception of arrogance have also served to undermine Macron’s popularity.


Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

Updated 17 November 2018
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Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

  • Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads
  • Buber will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019

KABUL: Booking a ride that picks you up from your doorstep has been a dream for many Afghans for a long time. The dream is now coming true. After the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads, a private national firm came up with a local solution: Buber.
Currently on its test run, the service will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019.
Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Buber driver, says the initiative in a congested city where violence and criminal activities have been part of daily life for years, is a relief for both clients and drivers.
“It is very convenient for both sides, the customer does not need to walk to a street, wait for taxi in cold or hot weather and bargain with a taxi he or she does not know,” Dawlatzai told Arab News. “We go to their homes and drop them at their favored destination, which saves both sides time and hassle.”
He has been with Buber for two months and has taken around employees of Afghanistan’s Holding Group (AHG) that owns Buber, which in Dari means “Take me”.
AHG’s headquarters near the ancient Darul-Aman palace is tucked away behind blast walls with a sprawling compound that enjoys far better security measures than many state institutions which are the targets of routine attacks by militants in Afghanistan.
The security precautions at AHG include a series of body searches by armed guards as well as scanners and the layers of checks that make it look as if the compound is in top-secret location.
There is a different world and mood inside, and for a moment you may think that this is not Afghanistan, given the pace of its work and manner of efficiency. Groups of young sleek men and women are busy typing away on computers or discussing their regular daily activities.
AHG hopes to gallop and make Afghanistan catch up with the revolution in the field of technology that has spread across the globe in recent years.
Staff at AHG say that since its launch in 2009 the company has provided professional business services to more than 700 organizations across Afghanistan. Its clients range from small companies, non-profits and corporations to development institutions and government customers. It offers a range of services that include legal and human resources support and assistance with licensing, visas, payroll, taxation, audit and procurement.
Now, AHG is working on its new innovation, Afghanistan Technology Services (ATS), which covers Hisab (accounting) and Buber, online taxi ordering similar to Uber.
The Hisab application allows customers to pay online power and water bills and order goods for home delivery, as well as paying for Buber.
The online car ordering has been operating in Afghanistan for several years, but business is tailing off for the other two firms, which according to officials had not managed to develop an advanced application.
“Technology is taking over each and every thing across the world, we do not want to be behind those guys and we would like to reach somewhere and rebuild Afghanistan. This is our mission, to rebuild Afghanistan,” said Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber’s senior manager.
Until its launch in January Buber is on a test run to make sure that the application works smoothly. It has enlisted 500 vehicles, with Kabul being the immediate target, and with the intention to expand to other major cities later.
Not many will be able to afford the Buber service: Smart phone owners and literate people are its target.
Even the drivers will have to be literate.
In a country where there is no fixed rate for taxis and customers usually bargain, Buber will have fixed prices and can come to a customer’s desired address for pick up.
In a country riven by violence and crimes, such as abductions, Buber can offer peace of mind to clients as it has a tracking mechanism which clients can share with anyone they want to for their safety, AHG officials said.
“The problem for now in the market is the security concern. We have this facility for the user as well as the driver that allows them to be able to track users through our GPS,” Naeabkhail said.
Drivers will be registered with full details for security measures and they can help the police with information if anything happens to a client between pickup and drop-off.
The application can be a great help for the customer to avoid congested areas and routes where there is protest or there has been an attack, officials said, adding this will save time for the client and money for the driver, as well as reducing pollution.
“This application is very challenging application, nobody else has it, it is not easy for others to build it easily. Afghans have developed the application themselves,” Naeabkhail said.
Roadblocks created by officials, some embassies, foreign troops and factional leaders are the key challenges and Buber hopes to address that with the help of Google, he said.
“The main challenge that we face is the map, because Afghanistan is not mapped very well. We would like the support of Google if they are willing to help us … it is like general support for the public at large and also for any company that comes later and invests.”