Tunisia PM: Economic woes could become catastrophic

Tunisian Prime Minister, Mehdi Jomaa is seen in Tunis, Tuesday, March 4, 2014.(AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa warned Monday that the country’s economic woes could become “catastrophic,” saying that people will have to make sacrifices.

Tunisia’s economic recovery since its 2011 revolution has been hampered by political instability, social unrest and Islamist violence.

“Frankly, the situation is more difficult than we thought,” Jomaa said on public television a month after becoming prime minister.

“We will have to make sacrifices. ... You can ignore reality, but reality won’t ignore us,” he added.

Jomaa, who formed a consensus government in January after Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that rose to power following the country’s first free elections, stepped down amid an assassination scandal.

Jomaa said that the national budget had a 4 billion dinar ($2.5 billion) hole in it.

He said the country would launch a bond issue, but warned that alone would not give the needed boost.

“I intend to go to the Gulf nations, the United States and France. We will borrow even more.”

Last week, the World Bank announced a $1.2 billion program to support economic and political reform in Tunisia after the adoption in January of a new constitution.

Jomaa promised not to lower salaries but said there would be no new public sector recruitment.

He said another revolution, in the national mentality, was required to pull the economy up, warning that “if we do nothing, there could be a catastrophe.”

Social discontent in Tunisia often leads to violence, especially in the impoverished center of the country, where a street vendor set himself on fire more than three years ago in a desperate act of protest that launched the first Arab Spring uprising.

Jobless protesters have clashed with police recently.

Unemployment was a driving factor behind the revolution that toppled the regime of autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and continues to affect some 15 percent of the economically active population, with the figure rising to more than 30 percent among school-leavers.

Growth last year slowed to 2.6 percent, compared with 3.6 percent in 2012, according to figures given by the central bank Thursday.

It said the decline was explained “by the negative political and security factors that prevailed especially in the second half of the year, which in addition to the economic slowdown, put pressure on the country’s financial stability.”

Since the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has been hit by sporadic violence linked to radical Islamists, who were blamed for the assassinations last year of two secular politicians.

The killings plunged the country into political turmoil and eventually forced the Ennahda-led government to resign.

Jomaa reiterated his promise to hold “transparent elections” by the end of the year.

“It is our belief is that it is in the national interest to turn the final page of the process of political transition,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2014, on page 5.




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