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Morocco: Masen CEO Mustapha Bakkoury’s fall from grace

By Fahd Iraqi
Posted on Friday, 14 May 2021 00:02

56-year-old Mustapha Bakkoury, president of the Casablanca-Settat region, is forbidden to leave Morocco. Here, in 2017. © . Mohamed Drissi Kamili for JA © Mohamed Drissi Kamili for JA

After 20 years of state service, Mustapha Bakoury now finds himself at the heart of a judicial investigation linked to his management of Masen, a Moroccan solar agency specialised in renewable energy.

On 28 March at Mohammed V airport in Casablanca, Mustapha Bakkoury presented his passport and ticket to Dubai. The agent at the fast-track counter immediately recognised the VIP.

As soon as he scanned the travel document, the border control system announced “SIM: Sortie Interdite du Maroc” (Prohibited from Leaving Morocco). It may have reminded Masen’s CEO of how he had felt when he was sacked from his position as general manager of the Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion (CDG) 12 years earlier. This moment was so much worse than that.

The “Mohammed VI generation”

On 13 June 2009, Bakkoury, who was then the head of CDG, was the guest of honour at a graduation ceremony in Ifrane. He was at the podium when he received a text message: King Mohammed VI had just appointed his successor at the state-run institution. He was dismissed without notice from the institution he had taken control of on 2 August 2001.

Bakkoury was then part of the first group of senior civil servants of the “Mohammed VI generation”. The King was then marking the third year of his reign.

“Bakkoury’s name was mentioned at the time, as the sovereign’s advisers had felt that it would be wise to entrust the CDG to a seasoned banker who would know how to lead its transformation,” said a source at the time. Bakkoury had the added advantage of ticking all the boxes.

Royal adviser Meziane Belfkih had liked that he was not only an engineer but also someone who was reputable and well known in financial circles. “No one has ever come forward to admit that they were responsible for my appointment,” Bakkoury repeated over and over again, probably more out of discretion towards his sponsors than out of genuine conviction.

In any case, the 37-year-old hard worker very quickly introduced his own management style to the “old lady of Rabat”, which was created in 1959. He tidied up the thick portfolio of the kingdom’s financial arm, taking care to preserve the institution’s major political and economic aims.

He also renegotiated contracts with social entities as well as boosted the institution’s results and its contribution to the state budget. But finance was not the only interest of this dashing 37-year-old, who was proud of his public-school education and for having received a scholarship of €100 ($120.8) per month.

A man of many hats

Bakkoury began expressing his political beliefs through his participation in the Association Maroc 2020, which was launched by Ali Belhadj at the beginning of his political career. Belhadj, who was a founding member of the Mouvement pour Tous les Démocrates (MTD), introduced Bakkoury to his platform.

Fouad Ali El Himma, a close friend of King Mohammed VI, was himself inspired by MTD to form the Parti Authenticité et Modernité (PAM).

After his humiliating dismissal from the CDG, Bakkoury suddenly went from being a brilliant manager who had succeeded in modernising the CDG to a leader who made some questionable decisions. Some people criticised him for making random investments during the international financial crisis, while others pointed out his mismanagement of certain subsidiaries. But all were convinced that he would soon bounce back.

Climbing the ranks

On 30 December 2009, the king appointed Bakkoury CEO of the Agence Marocaine de l’Energie Solaire (Masen). This superstructure, which was launched by Mohammed VI, was established to serve as a focal point for the national strategy in solar energy.

Bakkoury was surprised that he had been appointed to his position. “All I know about the sun is that it’s hot,” he said to Chakib Benmoussa, then Morocco’s interior minister, as he left the royal audience.

Bakkoury continued to shine. Two years later, he was appointed secretary-general of the PAM, which had to reposition itself following the 2011 demonstrations that had slowed down its political momentum.

“Bakkoury had the ideal profile for a party that wanted to reinvent itself. He was the embodiment of the successful son of the people, conservative and modern at the same time, respectful and was a nice contrast to these professional politicians,” says a party member. “It was Ilyas El Omari who had the idea of appointing him to this position, as he knew that Bakkoury would be open to the various approaches of this heterogeneous party.”

From then on, Bakkoury’s fame went beyond the economic sphere. He became a public figure at the head of a political force whose ambition was to take the place of the governing Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD). He did not manage to achieve this goal during the 2015 local elections, as the PAM did not win, although they had done well in the polls.

Bakkoury was elected in his home town of Mohammedia and became the first president of the newly reformed Conseil Régional de Casablanca-Settat.

After this win, he decided not to run again as leader of the party during the 2016 congress. This was just as well, since Masen had recently been entrusted with all of Morocco’s sources of renewable energy and had just launched its first solar project.

A damning report

On 4 February 2016, Bakkoury put on his best smile as Mohammed VI came to inaugurate the first Noor power plant in Ouarzazate. The solar project ordered by the King was finally operational, but it had cost more than Dh20bn ($2.3bn) for its first phase. Moreover, the cost per kWh was very high compared to that of the latest technology.

“Bakkoury was aware of this fact even before the launch of the second and third phases, but he did not want to take responsibility for it,” says an expert in renewable energy. “He took the easy way out by sticking with concentrated solar power, which was approved by international – mainly German – donors, even though he could have switched to photovoltaics, which had become more competitive.”

The financial abyss created by Bakkoury’s technological choices only came to light nine months ago. A report by the Conseil Economique, Social et Environnemental estimates that Dh800m of annual subsidies are needed to compensate for the difference between the cost of the Noor Ouarzazate stations’ kWh and the price at which it is sold to the Office National de l’Electricité.

This damning report marked the beginning of Bakkoury’s fall from grace. It was also due to this report that he was accorded a less important position on 22 October during the working session devoted to the renewable energy strategy, which was chaired by Mohammed VI.

In recent months, Bakkoury has been discreet and less involved at Masen. However, believing that the storm had passed, he had just recently resumed his role as curator of the Moroccan pavilion at the Dubai World Expo.

It was for this purpose that he was travelling to the United Arab Emirates before being turned away at the airport. This ban means that he is now involved in legal proceedings. “Masen’s entire executive committee is involved in this current procedure,” says a judicial source who said that the hearings will start soon. In the meantime, Bakkoury is remaining silent while he awaits his fate.

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