Abdellatif Guerraoui, wali (governor) of Laayoune

Aniss Maghri

From the Moroccan paper, L'Economiste, 19 December 2001

Abdellatif Guerraoui, wali de Laâyoune, "Je suis ici pour créer des emplois", Propos recueillis par Aniss Maghri, L'Economiste, Maroc, 19.12.01.

" I am here to create jobs".

Appointed four months ago to head the district of Laayoune, Abdellatif Guerraoui has already made a diagnosis of the situation. The problems of the region are principally the level of unemployment of 25% and a shortfall of 10,000 houses. He judges it important to create wealth by encouraging businesses to come and settle and invest in the developing markets. For his first media outing, the wali is optimistic.

- The [Moroccan] Economist : You have just been appointed head of a district which is economically young. What are your priorities for the region?

- Abdellatif Guerraoui: My appointment dates back four months during which we have had a royal visit. The speech of 6 November also fixed the program of development for this region. As it happens the region is still young. It was only recovered in 1975. In 25 years it has benefited from public investment of over 15 billion dirhams. Roads, airports, water and electricity. The level of electrification here is 90% compared with the national average of 50%. As for drinking water, 92% of the population are connected to the ONEP [national water service] network. This is without forgetting the ports of Laayoune, Tarfaya and Dakhla. The region has also benefited rapidly from GSM coverage of both operators.

- However, you notice that the economic structure remains traditional, marked by a dominance of animal rearing and fishing. Also the number of officials is very high, which becomes a heavy burden on the state's coffers...

- You are completely right concerning the officials. The region saw a massive recruitment drive in administration. This could be explained by the fact that they had foreseen a very rapid development of the region and had wanted to put in place all the necessary administrative structures to accompany private investment. Things didn't turn out as foreseen. And therefore we had to create jobs as is the case with national promotion. Today , we find ourselves with 20,000 people (namely 11% of the population) spread between administration, the offices, the external services of national promotion. These latter get a very low salary but it is nevertheless revenue (NDLR: they are 8,000 getting a monthly allowance of between 1,200 and 1350 dirhams). If you exclude the fishing sector where activity is rather seasonal, we find ourselves in an anomalous situation: 20,000 people in the public sector and only 2,620 in the private sector.

- It is an enormous discrepancy. How are you going to remedy this situation?

- Simply by putting the accent on the axes of development and the potential offered by the region. The first sector is fishing. This sector has seen a rapid development in recent years. The boats unloading at ports in the southern provinces only represented 20% of the national production of fish in 1990 rose to 54% in 2000. According to official projections, this level should reach 90% in 2007. We will also make an effort to increase the value of this product. In order to promote this sector, two programs have been started already. They consist in creating on one hand fishing villages equipped with plant for deep freezing and in rescue work, and having a basic infrastructure of housing, a school and a hospital. This program is practically ready. To launch it, we are waiting for the framework-agreement to be signed with the Ministry of Fisheries. For the port of Laayoune in particular, two thirds of the sardine catch unfortunately goes to making oil and fish meal with little value added to the resource since the average sale price of sardines to these industries is 55 centimes a kilo. However, it's an industry which allows us to avoid polluting the sea. For if these catches are not used in this way, they would be thrown back into the sea.
This low added value is due mainly to outdated means used for catching sardines which should be modernised. For a bigger increase in the value of sardines, we hope to encourage deep freezing and the canning industry and the acquisition of specialised boats of the type RSW. You must realise that in terms of employment, a canning factory allows the creation of an average of 100 jobs as opposed to 10 for the fish meal units. Also, don't forget that small scale fishing is a very good generator of work. One fishing boat costing under 10,000 dirhams, allows the creation of four jobs on board and two on land.

- So you're making fishing your main policy?

- It will be a main plank of our policy in the immediate future. The main problem in Laayoune is the level of unemployment which is 25%. The riches of the sea should allow us to treat this problem positively.

- It's astonishing that given the special fiscal regime from which the Sahara benefits, that the region hasn't attracted enough investors. The regime is sometimes indirect. Why is there lack of interest in the region?

- I am asking myself the same question as you. I come from the town of Casablanca where investors are constantly complaining that property is expensive and the burden of taxes. Here, where the price of land is very affordable and the region benefits from tax exemption, one doesn't sense any rush on the part of investors. This is probably due to the lack of skilled workforce. Talking of which, we have joint programs with OFPPT and the departments concerned. We are carrying out a survey to assess the needs of the region. We are going to give, if you like, a second chance to unemployed graduates through reconversion programs which will be initiated to respond to the developing sectors (fishing and tourism). The first programs will be announced next January [2002]. Besides, we have studied the operations which were successful in the north and we are trying to move them here. One example is 'microcredits'. The Fondation Banque Populaire has already introduced its program. The same with Al-Amana and Zakoura. Alongside this we have asked national offices like ONE [electricity], ONEP [water] and others to help us construct for the unemployed graduates the possibility of creating micro-businesses.

- What is the amount of state aid allocated annually to the region?

- I already mentioned the sum of 15 billion dirhams. We are really spoiled as far as public investment goes. The projects launched by His Majesty the King will bring a budget of 2.3 billion dirhams over the coming two or three years: electricity generating station, doubling the desalinisation plant, fish market, extension to the port.

- Apart from fishing, are there other lines of development for the region?

- Of course. For tourism we have a program in three stages. The first is the organisation of present investors with GRIT so that they can face up to their difficulties. Today, air travel is very expensive and the timetables don't suit tourists.
Royal Air Maroc has problems and we can't make plans if we ignore the problems of our partners. We need to find solutions. Perhaps they exist at the level of creation of regional companies which would cover regional lines such as Dakhla-Laayoune-Tan Tan Smara in a single day. The second stage is about enhancing the Foum El Oued coast which is about 11 km long. The road which leads there will be finished in four months. The region is connected to the drinking water network and electricity. The corniche already has a 4 star hotel, several restaurants and a few scattered houses, which unfortunately were permitted because there should not be permission for private houses along that coast. At the right moment, we will call the Moroccan promoters to come and visit the region. I am sure that the price of land, the fiscal regime and the beauty of the area will finish by convincing them. We will also interest the tour-operators so they put on charters to the region.
The third stage will be to safeguard the lagoon reserve of Naila 180 km from Laayoune. The World Bank has just granted Morocco a gift of a million dollars for this purpose. A national park will be set up in this site where we will reintroduce the Sahara gazelle and the ostrich as well as plant species. The development of tourism will have direct consequences on local handicrafts and commerce. Raising animals should also benefit and programs are being studied by the Ministry of Agriculture, in particular for production of white meat. In all these programs, the background is employment. Like all regions we have unemployed and especially unemployed graduates.

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