September 2022. The government disbands the Ministry of Energy Transition and renewable energies (MTEER). The latter was created in June 2020 to be the institutional incarnation of the (new) Algerian policy for developing non-fossil resources, but the department did not last more than two years.
If we count the weeks and months it took to laboriously recruit its personnel and to install everyone in the offices in Val d’Hydra that the Ministry of Energy lent, when the latter was headed by Abdelmadjid Attar – a defender of an accelerated energy transition – (June 2020-February 2021), MTEER’s duration of real activity is limited to a few months.
Its two successive ministers, former oilman and polytechnician Chemseddine Chitour (June 2020-July 2021) and pulmonologist Ziane Benattou (July 2021-September 2022), spent that time doing paperwork and unsuccessfully trying to put together an unprecedented structure without, above all, any real resources.
They would spend that time, Chitour first, “appreciating the conditions”, visiting the small research centers of the field, and receiving for “counsel” an important number of foreign diplomatic and economic representatives looking for an opportunity for a cooperation market.
They would also give quotes with no substance to media outlets on old projects they did not initiate – the LPG fuel project, the generalization of which was rebooted in 2019 by an Energy minister who is forgotten today, Mustapha Guitouni, and which remains to be seriously evaluated, away from official communication – or on ongoing projects that have no strategic value.
Of those, it is worth mentioning the “still ongoing” construction of a pilot “green mosque” project in Sidi Abdellah near Zeralda (part of a program by the ministry of Interior and local collectivities announced in October 2020), as well as the launch in April 2021, in partnership with the department of Industry, of a plan to build 3000 solar water heaters.
This plan’s progress still has no serious estimation to this day, while the creation of a “national institute of transition”, announced by Chemseddine Chitour in May 2021 in Oran, belongs to the realm of presage and ambitions that are for now unrealized by this former minister who is the most chatty when it comes to the promotion strategy of a sobriety energy model that becomes progressively alternative to oil and gas.
New organizational chart
Results of the initiatives taken by the National agency for promoting and rationalizing energy use – APRUE, which was tied up to MTEER in 2021 in order to achieve that goal – are also less than convincing.
By the end of August 2022, the general manager of the agency, Merouane Chabane, eight months after being nominated by Ziane Benattou, promised a “detailed national appraisal” to be published “soon” on the “final energy consumption” and the “energy efficiency indicators” which he deemed to be “encouraging”.
But since the MTEER does not exist anymore, the multiannual program for energy mastery (PNME) which he and his collaborators launched for the needs of a vanished ministry has stopped being on the agenda.
It is not certain now that the document will be published as promised almost a year ago. And if it is published, we undoubtedly will need to wait for the APRUE to stop being tossed around and be officially reattached to its former parent entity, the Ministry of Energy.
The agency’s personnel are not the only ones to be dragged about and to live in waiting. The latter is experienced differently and with a lot more apprehension by the sixty employees, including executives, who were working at the MTEER.
This group is awaiting since September 2022 to return to the Ministry of Environment (MEER) which retook the renewable energies portfolio which it was already taking care of in 2017.
The awaited transfer remains suspended for now to the “new organizational chart” of the aforementioned ministry, to which a decree should be published, according to sources, at the end of May 2023 after “painful negotiations” and a difficult “arbitration” by the Prime minister.
Until then, the group continues to go with no precise tasks to Val d’Hydra to the former offices that the Ministry of Energy has not totally recovered yet.
They get to receive their salaries thanks to legislation that guarantees a year of pay. But some fear to find themselves in departments unrelated to their profiles and former responsibilities, while others – because of the “new organizational chart” – risk becoming unemployed and having to go look for work elsewhere.
The few executives who were contacted for a “collaboration” by the MEER cabinet, during former minister Samia Mouafi’s tenure then kept by her successor and former climate executive Faiza Dahleb since March 2023, are almost sure to keep their jobs and statuses.
Since the fall of 2021, this little world is living a state of remunerated, almost complete idleness and a vacuity relating to questions about the reasons for the country’s authorities to create and then remove, with no prospective, a ministry to expensively transform it, on account of State budget, into an empty shell.
While sifting through possible explanations, it is unavoidable to note that, if it was at a certain moment motivated by the guarantee to be given to the renewable sector to have appropriate institutional devices and an adequate legal and operational framework, the choice to create the MTEER was the result of a corrected political calculation.
Facing journalists who approached him during the first weeks of his brief ministerial tenure, Chemseddine Chitour willingly claimed he belonged to the Hirak, but just to say that its “historical mission” had “ended” in December 2019 with the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president.
It is thus certain that, in addition to his reputation as a media figure that is sensitive to risks of energy and ecological insecurity to the country, it was his support for the political line that led to the election of the head of State that perfected his image of a good minister for “the new Algeria”. For a while, before he confessed to being personally “surprised” to be pushed to an exit which was only a step, a few weeks later, toward a parliamentary compensation – very political as well – as part of the presidential third and the Nation’s Council (Senate).
The short year that the polytechnician – who, fortunately, also returned to the teaching profession – had spent in government will have been at least rich in lessons for him.
It was enough for him to discover that the political calculation that led him into government was of a limited duration and in an extra role next to actors from the field already well established and jealous about their prerogatives: The commissariat for renewable energies (CEREF) and its commissioner, Noureddine Yassaa, with whom he did not get along, even though he was among his former students. But above all, the Sonatrach–Sonelgaz duo which created in April 2021 the Algerian company for renewable energies (Shaems), a project that is also being tossed around following the government’s decision to abandon the initial form of the Solar 1000 MW project (15$ billion and which was planning to open the capital for foreign investment) to generate electricity from photovoltaic solar. It was decided to opt for buying turnkey solar farms.
Chitour’s successor, Ziane Benattou, was not confused by his destitution and the deletion of the MTEER. As a doctor charged of health and social affairs by the national bureau of his party, El Moustakbal front, since its convention in 2018, he knew that his nomination as head of an energy department was a political anomaly made clear by the game of returned services by the prince to every formation that supports him.
Not ignoring any of this, Benattou discreetly regained his office pending the next “shot“ of political renewables by his party, probably during the 2024 presidential election.