3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The national government manages all regulatory processes. Legal and regulatory procedures, as written, are considered consistent with international norms, although the decision-making process is at times opaque.
Algeria implemented the Financial Accounting System (FAS) in 2010. Though legislation does not make explicit references, FAS appears to be based on International Accounting Standards Board and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Operators generally find accounting standards follow international norms, though they note that some particularly complex processes in IFRS have detailed explanations and instructions but are explained relatively briefly in FAS.
There is no mechanism for public comment on draft laws, regulations or regulatory procedures. Copies of draft laws are not made publicly accessible before enactment. Government officials often give testimony to Parliament on draft legislation, and that testimony typically receives press coverage. Occasionally, copies of bills are leaked to the media. All laws and some regulations are published in the Official Gazette (www.joradp.dz ) in Arabic and French, but the database has only limited online search features and no summaries are published. Secondary legislation and/or administrative acts (known as ‘circulaires’ or ‘directives’) often provide important details on how to implement laws and procedures. Administrative acts are generally written at the ministry level and not made public, though may be available if requested in person at a particular agency or ministry. Public tenders are often accompanied by a book of specifications only provided upon payment.
In some cases, authority over a matter may rest among multiple ministries, which may impose additional bureaucratic steps and the likelihood of either inaction or the issuance of conflicting regulations. The development of regulations occurs largely away from public view; internal discussions at or between ministries are not usually made public. In some instances, the only public interaction on regulations development is a press release from the official state press service at the conclusion of the process; in other cases, a press release is issued earlier. Regulatory enforcement mechanisms and agencies exist at some ministries, but they are usually understaffed and enforcement remains weak.
The National Economic and Social Council (CNES) studies the effects of Algerian government policies and regulations in economic and social spheres. The CNES provides feedback on proposed legislation, but neither the feedback nor legislation are necessarily made public.
Information on external debt obligations up to fiscal year 2018 was publicly available via the Central Bank’s quarterly statistical bulletin online . The statistical bulletin describes external debt and not public debt, but the Ministry of Finance’s budget execution summaries reflect amalgamated debt totals. The Ministry of Finance is planning to create an electronic, consolidated database of internal and external debt information, and in 2019 published additional public debt information on its website. A 2017 amendment to the 2003 law on currency and credit covering non-conventional financing authorizes the Central Bank to purchase bonds directly from the Treasury for a period of up to five years. The Ministry of Finance indicated this would include purchasing debt from state enterprises, allowing the Central Bank to transfer money to the treasury, which would then provide the cash to, for example, state owned enterprises in exchange for their debt. In September 2019, the Prime Minister announced Algeria would no longer use non-conventional financing, although the Ministry of Finance stressed the program remains available until 2022.
International Regulatory Considerations
Algeria is not a member of any regional economic bloc or of the WTO. The structure of Algerian regulations largely follows European – specifically French – standards.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Algeria’s legal system is based on the French civil law tradition. The commercial law was established in 1975 and most recently updated in 2007 (www.joradp.dz/TRV/FCom.pdf ). The judiciary is nominally independent from the executive branch, but U.S. companies have reported allegations of political pressure exerted on the courts by the executive. Organizations representing lawyers and judges have protested during the past year against alleged executive branch interference in judicial independence. Regulation enforcement actions are adjudicated in the national courts system and are appealable. Algeria has a system of administrative tribunals for adjudicating disputes with the government, distinct from the courts that handle civil disputes and criminal cases. Decisions made under treaties or conventions to which Algeria is a signatory are binding and enforceable under Algerian law.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The 51/49 investment rule requires a majority Algerian ownership for all investments, though pending guidance from the Algerian government will limit the rule to “strategic sectors” as prescribed in the 2020 Finance Law (see section 2). There are few other laws restricting foreign investment. In practice, the many regulatory and bureaucratic requirements for business operations provide officials avenues to advance informally political or protectionist policies. The investments law enacted in 2016 charged ANDI with creating four new branches to assist with business establishment and the management of investment incentives. ANDI’s website (www.andi.dz/index.php/en/investir-en-algerie ) lists the relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. Much of the information lacks detail – particularly for the new incentives elaborated in the 2016 investments law – and refers prospective investors to ANDI’s physical “one-stop shops” located throughout the country.
There is an ongoing effort by the customs service, under the Ministry of Finance, to establish a new digital platform featuring one-stop shops for importers and exports to streamline bureaucratic processes.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The National Competition Council (www.conseil-concurrence.dz/ ) is responsible for reviewing both domestic and foreign competition-related concerns. Established in late 2013, it is housed under the Ministry of Commerce. Once the economic concentration of an enterprise exceeds 40 percent of a market’s sales or purchases, the Competition Council is authorized to investigate, though a 2008 directive from the Ministry of Commerce exempted economic operators working for national economic progress from this review.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Algerian state can expropriate property under limited circumstances, with the state required to pay “just and equitable” compensation to the property owners. Expropriation of property is extremely rare, with no cases within the last 10 years. In late 2018, however, a government measure required farmers to comply with a new regulation altering the concession contracts of their land in a way that would cede more control to the government. Those who refused to switch contract type by December 31, 2018 lost their right to their land.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Algeria is a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (The New York Convention) and the Convention on the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention). The Algerian code of civil procedure allows both private and public sector companies full recourse to international arbitration. Algeria permits the inclusion of international arbitration clauses in contracts.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Investment disputes sometimes occur, especially on major projects. Investment disputes can be settled informally through negotiations between the parties or via the domestic court system. For disputes with foreign investors, cases can be decided through international arbitration. The most common disputes in the last several years have involved state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach and its foreign partners concerning the retroactive application since 2006 of a windfall profits tax on hydrocarbons production. Sonatrach won a case in October 2016 against a Spanish oil company and two Korean firms. An international firm won one of their cases against Sonatrach in 2016. In 2018, Sonatrach announced it had settled all outstanding international disputes.
The most recent investment dispute involving a U.S. company dates to 2012. The company, which had encountered bureaucratic barriers to the expatriation of dividends from a 2005 investment, did not resort to arbitration. The dispute was resolved in 2017, with the government permitting the company to expatriate the dividends.
There is no U.S.-Algeria Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACI), the nationwide, state-supported chamber of commerce, has the authority to arbitrate investment disputes as an agent of the court. The bureaucratic nature of Algeria’s economic and legal system, as well as its opaque decision-making process, means that disputes can drag on for years before a resolution is reached. Businesses have reported cases in the court system are subject to political influence and generally tend to favor the government’s position.
Local courts recognize and have the authority to enforce foreign arbitral awards. Nearly all contracts between foreign and Algerian partners include clauses for international arbitration. The Ministry of Justice is in charge of enforcing arbitral awards against SOEs.
Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are not widely used.
Algeria’s bankruptcy system is underdeveloped. While bankruptcy per se is not criminalized, management decisions (such as company spending, investment decisions, and even procedural mistakes) are subject to criminal penalties including fines and incarceration, so decisions that lead to bankruptcy could be punishable under Algerian criminal law. However, bankruptcy cases rarely proceed to a full dissolution of assets. The Algerian government generally props up public companies on the verge of bankruptcy via cash infusions from the public banking system. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, debtors and creditors may file for both liquidation and reorganization.
In the past year, the court gave the government authority to put several companies in receivership and appointed temporary heads to direct them following the arrests of their CEOs as part of a broad anti-corruption drive. The status and viability of several of those companies is unclear.