23 January 2013

Tunisia: New CEO of GCT and CPG Confident Despite Difficulties

Tunis — Mr. Tahar Khouaja, new CEO of the Tunisian Chemical Group (GCT) and the Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG), Wednesday said he was "ready for dialogue to ease tension and stabilise the situation in these two major companies in the country which have underwent several protests and blocking of production site in Gafsa and Gabes."

Mr. Khouaja, who was speaking at a press conference held at the GCT premises in Tunis, admitted that the group is facing now "great difficulties particularly to meet its commitments with foreign customers," referring to the payment of 500 million dollars of late fee due to the recent blocking of six phosphate transport ships dedicated to export in the port of Gabes.

He, however, said he was confident in the capacity of the two companies to meet their commitments in recruitment in their different plants, adding that he "will work to speed up the implementation of decisions already taken on some projects and recruitment planned."

The number of GCT employees reached 6,943 in 2012 against 5,033 persons for the CPG, Khouaja said.

Recruitment operations "in progress," are estimated according to the CEO at 1,453 for the first company and 2,984 for the second.

"Both groups have exceeded by far their employment capacity since the Revolution," said Khouaja, noting that it is first necessary to "create wealth to be able to distribute it and invest in development to create additional job opportunities."

With regard to environment, Khouaja said that the chemical group, which is often accused of being a major polluter, will launch "a massive programme of modernisation in this area to which will be allocated hundreds of millions dinars."

Major projects are planned in this area, he added, without giving details on the nature of these projects and their start date.

The Tunisian-Indian fertiliser plant (TIFERT) based in the town of Skhira, Sfax will go into production next month, he also announced.

According to data provided by Khouaja, revenues of the phosphate sector fell 66% compared to 2010, declining from 2,714 million dollars (1 dollar =1.5 dinars) in 2010 to 901 million dollars in 2012.

"We have lost two thirds of our export potential due to protests," he lamented.

The sector, which contributes 10% to the State budget, has been badly hit by social protest since the Revolution particularly in the mine basin of Gafsa.

Protesters, most of whom residents of the regions of Gafsa (extraction) and Gabes (processing), claim share profits of both companies either under the form of jobs or development projects for their regions. They also claim strategies to fight against the pollution caused by phosphate industries.

In this regard, the CEO of the two companies promised increasing efforts to contribute effectively to development in both governorates.

According to Khouaja, achieving such a goal remains dependent on a very clear commercial policy. "If we cannot compete with the private sector, we should at least change and develop working methods and production mechanisms," he said, adding that it is necessary to work to maintain the position of Tunisia on the world market, break into new markets and preserve the market share at export.

Tunisia is the 5th producer of phosphate in the world.

Mr. Khouaja was appointed as CEO of GCT and CPG last January 15. According to media reports, his appointment is disputed by employees.

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