COTUSAL has requested revision of salt pans operation agreement but "state has not responded," says company official | Tunisia News Gazette

COTUSAL has requested revision of salt pans operation agreement but “state has not responded,” says company official

COTUSAL’s technical director, Riadh Machta said in a statement to TAP “the Tunisian government did not terminate in 2014 the agreement allowing this company, whose capital is 65% foreign and 35% Tunisian, to exploit the public maritime domain for the extraction of salt, which resulted in the automatic renewal of this agreement dating from 1949, until the year 2029 “.

This agreement organising the activity of the Compagnie Generale des Salines of Tunisia, since the colonial era, caused a great controversy after the revolution, because it allows the COTUSAL to exploit a national wealth (salt) at a symbolic rate fixed, before independence, at one French franc per hectare per year.

Already, the Assabah newspaper had reported, in an article published on December 10, 2015, that “energy and mining experts have estimated that the Company’s annual production amounts to 4 million tonnes of salt, thus monopolising 70% of the annual global domestic production and causing to the State losses exceeding 4 billion dinars.

The controversial agreement has neither been amended nor terminated for 60 years, while allowing the state the freedom to “reclaim its land at any time without paying compensation”, according to the technical director of COTUSAL.

Moreover, civil society organisations and MPs have raised the problem of exploiting national wealth on several occasions, calling for the renegotiation of exploitation contracts in this area, in order to preserve the country’s sovereignty.

Machta said at a seminar on ” salt industry in Tunisia: realities and prospects”, organised, on March 7, by the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies, that “the COTUSAL had asked the revision of this agreement in 2006, in accordance with the Mining Code promulgated in 2003, and reiterated its request in 2015, except that the State did not follow up its requests”.

“The Company has thus, in part, continued to operate in accordance with a law dating from the Beylical era, while it is also subject in part to the Mining Code,” he added, indicating that “the State must enact a new law “.

The agreement between Tunisia and France that dates back to October 3, 1949, date of the creation of the Company, allows the latter to extract sea salt in southern Tunisia for 50 years.

It should have ended in 1989.

The agreement also stipulates the automatic renewal of this agreement, every 15 years, since 1989.

Except that the Tunisian State has not terminated this agreement, while it may be canceled if a request is made, in this sense, by one of the contracting parties, 10 years before the end of the period of its renewal “.

The director at COTUSAL also said “the company has been operating, since 1949, under lease, white lands of the Tunisian state. These are the salt works of Megrine, Sahline, Sfax and Thyna. It extracts salt from the sea, to dry it on these salt works, knowing that one litre of sea water contains 30 grams of salt.

“The state has subsequently recovered the Megrine salt for the implementation of the Sama Dubai which has not yet seen the light of the day, he said.

According to Machta, the “COTUSAL” produces mainly sea salt and does not exploit the waters of sabkhets and salt lakes. He said that “the agreement does not concern the cost of exploiting seawater and that the company takes advantage of the salt marshes that everyone is entitled to exploit.

Article 11 of the 1949 Agreement was revised three times without including the cost of renting and the State’s financial revenue.

The last amendment was signed in 1975 by the former governor of the Central Bank Chedli Ayari, who was then Minister of Economy, according to the site “Nawat”.

The technical director of the company pointed out that the company’s turnover reached 35 million dinars of which the state share varies between 1.6 and 1.7 million dinars, between royalties and taxes.

The company has, however, not honored its tax commitments to the Tunisian state, estimated at 5.7 million dinars, for the period 2007-2012, according to a document sent by the Ministry of Finance to the Coastal Protection and Development Agency (APAL) in May 2013, and cited by the Nawat site.

In Tunisia, the average annual production of salt has reached 1.4 million tonnes, of which 90% is destined for export while the rest of the production is destined for local consumption (industrial and food salt).

Tunisian salt is exported to several countries, including Norway, Italy, Denmark, Greece and Croatia.

Revenue from salt in 2017 reached 39,730,893 dinars against 31,845,365 dinars in 2016.

On the local market, COTUSAL sells the kilogram of salt packaged at 150 and 180 millimes (sold to consumers at 300m/kg) and salt in bulk at 40 millimes.

For the record, former Minister of Industry and Mines, Zakaria Hamad had announced during the parliamentary debates on the budget of his department for the year 2016, the intention to terminate the convention governing the activity of the COTUSAL.

However, this has not materialised to date and a total blackout has surrounded this case until today.

Indeed, the COTUSAL, had acknowledged, in a statement published on its site, in January 2014, in reaction to the controversy on that agreement which governs its activity and dates back to the time of the colonisation that “the 1949 agreement governing the relationship with the state domains is still in force and we apply the law; if tomorrow the law changes, COTUSAL will abide by it.

All extensions of the company were made in accordance with the legislation in force, to the Mining Code of 2003 and not of the 1949 agreement.

According to the site “Nawat”, “the company refers to the date of the signing of the 1949 agreement, but fails to talk about the operation of Tunisian salt pans by France since the nineteenth century”.

The site also indicates that in the version of the agreement which claims to have a copy of which, “there is no signature of Bey; we find only the names of French signatories”.

It is very likely that the COTUSAL case resurfaces following the recent statements of President of the Truth and Dignity Commission (French: IVD) Sihem Ben Sedrine.

Ben Sedrine announced Tuesday that the IVD has managed to access documents concerning agreements concluded since 1955 and allowing France to exploit the natural wealth of Tunisia, including oil, salt, water and phosphates, noting that these agreements are still in force.

She added in a statement to a local radio that “Tunisia still suffers from the colonial legacy”.

COTUSAL is a merger of four companies which exploited the salt works of Khniss, Sidi Salem, Sfax (called then Thyna) and Megrine, approved by the decree published on October 6, 1949, put in execution by French Resident-General in Tunis, Jean Mons and subject to the approval of Bey.

Source: TAP News Agency

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