7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) comprise more than half of the formal Algerian economy. SOEs are amalgamated into a single line of the state budget and are listed in the official business registry. To be defined as an SOE, a company must be at least 51 percent owned by the state.
Algerian SOEs are bureaucratic and may be subject to political influence. There are competing lines of authority at the mid-levels, and contacts report mid- and upper-level managers are reluctant to make decisions because internal accusations of favoritism or corruption are often used to settle political and personal scores. Senior management teams at SOEs report to their relevant ministry; CEOs of the larger companies such as national hydrocarbons company Sonatrach, national electric utility Sonelgaz, and airline Air Algerie report directly to ministers. Boards of directors are appointed by the state, and the allocation of these seats is considered political. SOEs are not known to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance.
Legally, public and private companies compete under the same terms with respect to market share, products and services, and incentives. In reality, private enterprises assert that public companies sometimes receive more favorable treatment. Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, but they work with private banks and they are less bureaucratic than their public counterparts. Public companies generally refrain from doing business with private banks and a 2008 government directive ordered public companies to work only with public banks. The directive was later officially rescinded, but public companies continued the practice. However, the heads of Algeria’s two largest state enterprises, Sonatrach and Sonelgaz, both indicated in 2020 that given current budget pressures they are investigating recourse to foreign financing, including from private banks. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors, but business contacts report that the government favors SOEs over private sector companies in terms of access to land.
SOEs are subject to budget constraints. Audits of public companies can be conducted by the Court of Auditors, a financially autonomous institution. The constitution explicitly charges it with “ex post inspection of the finances of the state, collectivities, public services, and commercial capital of the state,” as well as preparing and submitting an annual report to the President, heads of both chambers of Parliament, and Prime Minister. The Court makes its audits public on its website, for free, but with a time delay, which does not conform to international norms.
The Court conducts audits simultaneously but independently from the Ministry of Finance’s year-end reports. The Court makes its reports available online once finalized and delivered to the Parliament, whereas the Ministry withholds publishing year-end reports until after the Parliament and President have approved them. The Court’s audit reports cover the entire implemented national budget by fiscal year and examine each annual planning budget that is passed by Parliament.
The General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF), the public auditing body under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, can conduct “no-notice” audits of public companies. The results of these audits are sent directly to the Minister of Finance, and the offices of the President and Prime Minister. They are not made available publicly. The Court of Auditors and IGF previously had joint responsibility for auditing certain accounts, but they are in the process of eliminating this redundancy. Further legislation clarifying whether the delineation of responsibility for particular accounts which could rest with the Court of Auditors or the Ministry of Finance’s General Inspection of Finance (IGF) unit has yet to be issued.
There has been limited privatization of certain projects previously managed by SOEs, and so far restricted to the water sector and possibly a few other sectors. However, the privatization of SOEs remains publicly sensitive and has been largely halted.