Interview: Abdelaziz El Mallah
To what extent can integrated engineering solutions be of benefit to Morocco?
ABDELAZIZ EL MALLAH: Thanks to massive government expenditure, private sector and foreign direct investment, Morocco has gone through a spectacular development of infrastructure and industrial base over the past 15 years. For a long time, the country had the practice of reserving a cut in public tenders for Moroccan small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), thus allowing them to operate in the market alongside multinationals. The time has come for these SMEs to go outside and expand regionally and internationally. For this to happen, they need to have the critical mass and fundamentals to compete outside Morocco. This trend will promote consolidation.
The engineering segment is one of the pillars of infrastructure construction: it enables traditional companies to address the full value chain. Integrated engineering solutions firms can be engaged in providing the country with reliable delivery options, including the right processes, systems and facility needs.
The public sector alone cannot provide sufficient and steady financing to build infrastructure in developing countries. Governments must pursue further liberalisation for each sector via deep restructuring of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the creation of structured regulation authorities. Based on similar experiences in other countries, this will draw private sector participation via public-private partnerships (PPPs), which can also foster regional integration
How can PPPs boost infrastructure projects?
EL MALLAH: PPPs can help tackle the lack of financing for African governments by funding their infrastructure and answering the need for high technical skills to pilot huge infrastructure programmes. In the best-performing economies, governments remain the regulator and arbitrator and focus on basic social needs. SOEs are generators of revenue through the implementation of government programmes and policies. Unfortunately, rather than feeding the state treasury, some SOEs act as a loss to the state budget.
Therefore, African countries can benefit from PPPs through the use of private funding and enhanced country risk assessment. The private sector can also improve project management by optimising design and technical performance. Lastly, improving relationships between the private and public sectors will positively impact SOEs.
Where do you see the best opportunities for infrastructure in Morocco and North Africa?
EL MALLAH: Infrastructure in Africa is full of opportunities, and the needs are similar throughout the North African region. Over the continent, $200bn is expected to be invested in the next five years. Currently, in terms of market size, roads, bridges and railways remain one of the main sub-sectors, thanks to very heavy government investment. Demand for renewable and conventional power is also not to be neglected, and investment will be undertaken in Morocco and many other African countries.
In what sectors does Morocco act as an economic hub for African markets?
EL MALLAH: Morocco is a hub for both project services and know-how transfer to sub-Saharan Africa. In the years to come, we believe that the growth witnessed during the 2000s in Moroccan civil engineering and infrastructure construction will spill over to sub-Saharan countries. In addition, Morocco is a renowned destination for sub-Saharan students, especially in technical disciplines. Morocco currently hosts around 16,000 sub-Saharan students, including 8000 scholarship holders and 400 engineering graduates per annum. The demand for engineering and construction services will therefore strengthen the position of Morocco as a focal point for the continent.
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