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Tunisia: Time for action and for getting back to work – Op-Ed

Tunisia: Time for action and for getting back to work – Op-Ed

This will also require a reform of the administration aimed at simplifying the procedures for entrepreneurs and making it a true ally of development, restructuring and potentially privatizing the  non strategic public companies  to improve their performances.

It will also include reforms of the financial sector to make it the backbone of the economy and the partner of development for the private sector, and also foster financial inclusion (through micro finance) , as it is an indispensable tool for social inclusion.

It is also important to reform Pensions and Provident funds to prepare them to deal with the demographic transition, and reform the Fund for subsidies (meant to maintain the prices of a list of “essential” foods and goods at affordable levels to the population) to ensure it benefits only those who are really in need of subsidized products,  to put an end to money wasting and misappropriation, while preserving the purchasing power of the weak categories and the competitiveness of our economy.

As anticipated above, the role of the private sector should be reinforced  by means of a favorable business environment, promoting transparency, initiative and entrepreneurship, erecting freedom in principle and authorization in exception, replacing the essential ex-ante control rules  by ex-post control principles and setting a clear legal framework that incentivizes the public-private partnerships.

This shall go through large societal reforms that will promote more participatory governance, a further opening of the country to the international environment and the adoption of best practices in terms of education, vocational training, health, culture or sport.

There are multiple sector reforms, be it in terms of tourism, as this sector has been undergoing severe complications even prior to the Revolution and its health has deteriorated  further since, or in terms of environment that has not survived the administrative management that lacked vision and the support of the people concerned.

Territorial policy development will be built on powerful social inclusion and regional and territorial competitiveness tool. It should permanently involve populations in defining their future while retaining the ability to arbitrate and reassert the authority of the state in the devolution and decentralization. It must have a constant concern for interconnecting Tunisia with its immediate vicinity.

The position of Tunisia in its regional and international environment will be reaffirmed by deepening its relations with Europe and the identification of new forms of cooperation based on proximity, complementarity and solidarity.

The Maghreb and African ties of Tunisia should be reinforced with stronger investment, a more decisive presence of its companies in these promising markets and a supportive strategy clearly declined by the authorities. Tunisia will promote reconciliation with the Maghreb region reaffirming the solidarity of peoples and respect for national policies.

This is essentially the great work awaiting the political class and the next government.

After much hesitation, the government of technocrats has eventually initiated a reflection in many of these areas and outlined some of these reforms, although populist and partisan voices urged it to immobility under cover of transitional status. It is important that Tunisia builds on this work, picks up the pace and does not leave any room for corporatism or the ultimate denial that would only delay the recovery, complicate matters and increase the toll on the economy.

The floor of reforms is huge. Its implementation should not suffer further sterile discussions or negotiations. The national salvation of Tunisia depends on it; the recovery is still possible, even if its path will be long and costly. Policy makers need to recognize that and get on with the job without delay. None of them can pretend ignorance. Friends of Tunisia and especially Europe must support this major work of reform. The success of the first outbursts of the Arab spring depends on it, but also the safety and stability of the entire region. 

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Written by Radhi Meddeb

Radhi Meddeb is the founder and the Chief Executive Officer of COMETE Group, a member of the Investment Committee of the private equity fund Altermed Capital, a Board member of BTK bank in Tunisia and a member of its permanent committee, on behalf of BPCE Group (France), a member of the World Bank MENA Advisory Board and member of several financial Institutions in Tunisia. He acted as a board member of the Tunisian National Statistics Council and the Tunisian Central Bank. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Mediterranean Economic Prospective Institute (PEMED, Paris) whose objective is to bring together the two shores of the Mediterranean via economy. He founded in 2011 and chairs, an NGO: “Action et Developpement Solidaire » which aim is to identify and promote an economic and social development plan for Tunisia, based on the values of inclusion, openness, sustainability, solidarity and efficiency. He published a book in October 2011: Ensemble. Construisons la Tunisie de demain: Modernité, Solidarité et Performance”.

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