Almost 17 dirhams (1.6 euros) per liter of gasoline, more than 14.5 dirhams (1.4 euros) for diesel. In Morocco, fuel prices are skyrocketing in early June. Came to refuel at one of the service stations on the road to El-Jadida, one of the main arteries of Casablanca, Rachid *, taxi driver, does not lose his temper. Prices at the pump have been rising for several months, but never, he says, have they reached such a level. “Since the corona, the full tank has doubled, and my salary has decreased by the same amount, he is indignant. It’s 150 dirhams [14 euros] that I lose every day. And every day I ask myself: where does this money go, in whose pockets? »
At Hamid*, met a few meters further in front of the neighboring station, exasperation gave way to despair. “It’s dramatic, dramatic, repeats this boss of a small metal construction company. I can’t get out of it. The price of fuel has doubled, that of steel too. My workers are asking me for a raise, but I haven’t paid myself a salary for three months!, he laments. I can no longer even afford to accept projects far from Casablanca. I won’t be able to continue like this. »
A country that does not produce oil and is 100% dependent on its imports, Morocco is paying dearly for the surge in the price of black gold in the wake of the war in Ukraine. According to the High Commission for Planning, fuel prices rose 13.2% in April, after an 8% increase in March. The impact of this increase is all the stronger as it affects all the prices of raw materials and basic necessities, further weakening an economy that is barely recovering from the Covid pandemic. -19.
“Blank check to the private sector”
In a country where the minimum wage does not exceed 250 euros net monthly, social tension is palpable. Gas stations considered going on strike in April, and motor carriers made the same threat on May 23. On May 29, in Casablanca, “about 4,000 people” demonstrated in particular against the “high cost of living”, defying the ban decreed by the authorities on the grounds of maintaining public order, according to the Social Front, which brings together unions, left-wing parties and associations.
Three central trade unions have called a general strike in the public sector on June 20 to protest against “soaring prices” and to celebrate the “anniversary of the uprising of June 20, 1981”, also known as the “bread riots”. .
Under pressure, the government announced, on June 2, a third wave of aid to transport professionals which will be released later this month, after a first subsidy in March “in the amount of 344 million dirhams and the second in May estimated at 540 million dirhams”, informed Le Monde, the Ministry of the Economy, which justifies its choice to target the transport sector “because of its direct and transversal impact on the prices of all products of consumption “.
On the other hand, the government excludes any reduction in taxation on petroleum products, as it has ruled out a return to the fuel subsidy as it existed before its abolition in 2015, because of its “inequity” and its “budgetary impact “. “Direct aid” for targeted categories of the population is, however, under consideration, according to the ministry.
While the government attributes full responsibility for this surge in prices to the global economy, several voices in Morocco also question the profits deemed excessive by oil companies since the liberalization of the hydrocarbons sector in 2015. “In the total absence of regulation,” laments Abdeslam Seddiki, member of the political bureau of the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and former minister of employment. “The state signed a blank check to the private sector and today we are paying the consequences. It must imperatively play a regulatory role in a market that has become opaque and oligopolistic, where four companies share 70% of the market and set prices as they see fit. »
Suspicions of unlawful agreement
In Parliament, this thorny question of the profit margins of fuel distributors has been the subject of arms passes in recent weeks, opposition MPs calling on the government to cap them. “Everything that is said on the margins is pure lies”, retorted to them in the Hemicycle in April the head of government, Aziz Akhannouch. But this oil magnate is himself the subject of criticism because of his dual role as political leader and majority shareholder of Afriquia, the leading fuel distributor in the Cherifian kingdom.
“The fact that he is a businessman who built and grew his fortune on hydrocarbons while the people kept getting poorer is something that Moroccans do not admit, underlines Mr. Seddiki. Like it or not, there are suspicions of conflicts of interest being created. »
In 2018, a parliamentary report revealed that distributors had collected 17 billion dirhams (1.6 billion euros) in additional profits compared to what they earned before the state’s withdrawal. “If we continue the calculation until 2021, we can estimate the amount of these illegitimate profits at 45 billion dirhams. It’s colossal! “, denounces Houcine El-Yamani, of the Democratic Confederation of Labor (CDT).
At the heart of the scandal, suspicions of an illicit agreement between oil companies on which the Competition Council had ruled in 2020. It had then recommended sanctions of up to 9% of the annual turnover achieved in Morocco for the three leading distributors – Afriquia, Total and Shell – before accusations of irregularities in the procedure put a stop to the decision. In the process, its president, Driss Guerraoui, was removed from office. Sanctions were not applied, and the case remained pending.
” Lack of will “
Asked about distributors’ margins, the Ministry of the Economy assured Le Monde that they were “at the same level, if not below, those they enjoyed before liberalisation”. He did not wish to comment on the suspicions of an illicit agreement, the file being “being processed” by the Competition Council. Contacted, the three companies Afriquia, Total and Shell did not respond to our requests.
The executive is also criticized for its “lack of will” to restart the kingdom’s only oil refinery, Samir, which opened in 1959 before being privatized in 1997 and then placed in compulsory liquidation in 2016 due to mismanagement. . For the trade unionist Houcine El-Yamani, its restart by the State would allow competition to play and lower prices at the pump. “It would also strengthen storage capacity to cushion too steep price variations,” he says. This refinery has a storage capacity of two months. However, the current diesel reserves only cover twenty-six days! The energy situation of the country is jeopardized. We play with fire. »
“The abandonment of this refinery, which covered 60% of national refined oil needs, was a major mistake”, also believes Mohammed Benmoussa, former member of the special commission in charge of the “New Development Model”, the plan promoted by King Mohammed VI setting the main objectives to be achieved by Morocco by 2035. Denouncing the “inaction” of an executive “entangled in conflicts of interest”, the economist regrets that the government has ” ruled out for the time being a takeover of Samir by the State, just as it has ruled out the idea of regulating the prices of hydrocarbons, of using fiscal leverage or of instituting an exceptional levy on the profits of oil companies, which would have could be redistributed to consumers in the form of fuel checks or price shields. Provisions that many European countries have implemented. »