Morocco king sets up commission to probe fuel prices

King Mohammed VI sets up ad hoc commission to investigate situation relating to decision of Competition Council on possible agreements between oil companies and Moroccan Petroleum Group.

RABAT – Morocco’s King Mohammed VI set up Tuesday an ad hoc commission to investigate the situation relating to the decision of the Competition Council on possible agreements between oil companies and the Moroccan Petroleum Group (GPM) on gasoline and fuel prices.

The Moroccan monarch received on July 23 a note from Driss Guerraoui, the President of the Competition Council relating to the "Council's decision" on any agreements between oil companies and the GPM.

In this note, Guerraoui brought to the attention of the Sovereign the content of "the decision adopted by the plenary on July 22 by 12 votes for and 1 vote against" to impose a financial penalty in the amount of "9% of the annual turnover achieved in Morocco" for the three leading distributors and a lower amount for the other companies, according to statement issued by the Royal Cabinet.

“King Mohammed VI received on July 28 a second note from the President of the Competition Council on the same subject and by which the person concerned informs the Sovereign of the "amount of the penalties imposed" on the distributors, during the plenary of July 27. This time around, the amount is set at 8% of annual turnover without distinction between companies and without any indication of the distribution of votes,” said the statement.

In addition, the king also received on July 28 a file from several members of the Council in which they noted that "the management of this file was characterized by procedural transgressions and actions on the part of the president which damage the quality and impartiality of the decision taken by the Council ".

The signatories raised several complaints, including a damaging communication to the examination of the case and to the credibility of the Council; a forced passage to the vote before the debate was closed; and a truncated interpretation and violation of article 39 of the law on freedom of prices and competition.

They also highlighted the opacity of the investigation procedure, which was marked by a selective sharing of documents besides the failure to satisfy members' requests for a balanced review of the arguments put forward by the companies.

The signatories raised suspicions about the Council president’s behaviour which suggested that he was acting on instructions or according to a personal agenda.

The Royal Cabinet said that the monarch decided to set up an ad-hoc committee responsible for carrying out the necessary investigations to clarify the situation and for submitting a detailed report on the subject to his attention as soon as possible following the confusion surrounding this file and the contradictory versions presented to him.

The members of the commission include the two presidents of the Chambers of Parliament; the President of the Constitutional Court; the president of the Court of Auditors; the governor of Bank Al Maghrib and the president of the Authority for probity, prevention and the fight against corruption.

The coordination mission will be carried out by the Secretary General of the Government.

The king’s decision came after thousands of Moroccans had taken to social media to vent their anger on oil companies for keeping fuel prices high since the huge drop in international oil prices.

In late 2015, Morocco lifted costly gasoline, fuel oil subsidies as part of its drive to repair public finances, leaving consumers at the mercy of the oil cartel.

In 2018, a secretly organised online boycott campaign targeted Afriquia fuel stations owned by the Akwa group of Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch, one of Morocco’s richest men.