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CEO of Algerian state energy firm appoints new leadership team

Algiers

THE head of Algerian state oil firm Sonatrach has assembled a new leadership team, a senior company source said, aiming to reverse a flow of talent from an unwieldy state enterprise that keeps the country afloat.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika put US-trained Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour in charge of overhauling Sonatrach in March, 2017, after years of short-lived CEOs, fraud scandals and red tape had put foreign investors off the North African Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) producer.

The oil giant is an important source of energy for European states trying to reduce their dependence on Russia, and it funds a major part of the budget in a country where economic security helps prevent social turbulence.

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Jobs at Sonatrach are plentiful and sought-after, but, on a global scale, pay is low and depends on time served.

"We have lost thousands of experienced and talented people mainly because we can't give them a salary they get now in the Gulf and other countries," Mr Kaddour said in an interview in his 10th-floor office in Algiers.

The CEO, who came with his own team to help win back the trust of oil majors, has now chosen eight vice-presidents from within the firm, the Sonatrach source said, declining to be named because the appointments have not been made public.

The source said that they included experienced managers such as Salah Mekmouche for exploration and Arbi bey Slimane for pipe transportation, and what he said were "rising stars" Farid Ghazali, for strategy, and Ahmed Mazighi on commercial affairs.

"The appointments still need to be validated by a presidential decree but the top managers have already started," the source said. Sonatrach and Mr Kaddour were not immediately available to comment on the appointments.

Mr Kaddour aims to make the firm one of the top five state oil companies by 2030.

In 2017, Algeria was ranked 18th in a US Energy Information Administration list by output.

Empowering Mr Kaddour to make far-reaching changes is part of efforts by Mr Bouteflika, an army-backed former independence fighter in office since 1999, to overcome a slump in oil and gas exports by easing the grip of generals on economic matters. Annual energy revenues have halved since 2014.

Mr Bouteflika, who has not spoken in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, dismissed four senior generals in June, including police chief Abdelghani Hamel, a display of power over security services before elections next year.

It is part of a trend some outsiders have noticed. "When you speak to a banker or to an economic operator now, you can be sure that they no longer have someone telling them what to do, as used to be the case when the old guard was in charge," a Western diplomat said. REUTERS