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Minister Gounji does a little “PR stunt” and then leaves

The workers of the SNCPA (National Company of Cellulose and Paper) of Kasserine observed, Monday, November 7, 2022, a protest in front of the seat of the company to denounce the deteriorating situation of the company. That situation was not seen by the Minister of Industry on when she visited it on October 15.

This public company was created in 1980 by the merger of the two companies that made up the industrial complex of Kasserine. It was the National Tunisian Cellulose Company (SNTC), which was established in 1956 for the manufacture of cellulose from the esparto plant that covers large areas of the governorate of Kasserine and neighboring governorates. And the Tunisian Company of Paper Alfa (STPA), established in 1968 for the manufacture of printing and writing paper.

A CEO absent

We do not know if the website of the SNCPA was ever updated, but it still indicated that this company, of which we do not know any balance sheet, and whose restructuring had been passed to the study by a ministerial meeting in February 2021, “is considered the most important industrial pole of Central West Tunisia. Its capital is 21.1 million Tunisian Dinars. It currently employs 897 permanent staff and supports about 6,000 families in the governorates of Kasserine, Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid and Kairouan. This is done by organizing collection campaign of esparto plant.

The annual turnover of the SNCPA is 60 million Tunisian Dinars “However, we must note that Moujahid Boughdiri, who has since this ministerial meeting replaced Labid Ghodhbani, does not seem to have succeeded in the recovery plan, and refuses to talk about it.

The SNCP was already at standstill for three years according to the Ministry of Industry, when Minister Neila Gounji went to restart it on October 15, 2022, with media coverage to make a national event, and even indicator of what can be done with the corpse of a public company, by breathing life into  it by a simple ministerial visit in-situ.

The Wataniya report and the photos on the ministry’s FB page showed almost new installations, brand new piping, and a minister surrounded by the region’s governor and CEO, and even representatives of a foreign operator, all happy and smiling as they felt the freshly produced paper from the old decommissioned plant, with a sign indicating the name of a Turkish operator, who could be the one the union accuses Of not having done the job properly for the thermal boiler.

It is like the era of cooperativism cherished by Ahmed Ben Salah, when the inauguration of new agricultural projects required dry wells that were filled with water by tanks, brought to the occasion! Contacted by us, the CEO of the SNCP kept silent.

A strongly loss-making company, fallen back into the same financial difficulties

24 days later, it is the SG of the Basic Union of workers of the same company, which unveiled the media trickery of one of the oldest public companies, put back on its feet and which would turn from now on to full capacity in paper. On a private Tunisian radio, Adel Mughran first said that their salaries have not yet been paid. But especially that “the line Ministry has not provided the funds necessary for the acquisition of short and long fibers, two raw materials essential for the manufacture of paper to ensure the continuity of the company’s activity.

The trade union official even specified that “the remaining quantity is sufficient for only 4 days, after which production stops after the plant has been able to resume work following the maintenance of the thermal boiler”. It is assumed that the production of the SNCP would have stopped, but we could not confirm this, since the management of the company refuses to talk about it.

The protesters demand an urgent meeting with the Minister of Industry, “the supply of spare parts for the maintenance of worn machines and the activation of the strategic study of financial and social rehabilitation.

Are we to understand that Minister Gounji’s visit was nothing but a “show”? One would understand, however, that the ministerial meeting of February 2021 had not produced anything, or that the new DG had not done anything, or had not had the means to implement the prior financial restructuring!

Getting back on its feet, and selling for less than the cost of production

The SNCP was already suffering an operating deficit of 46.4 MDT in 2019, after an operating deficit of 49.8 MDT in 2018 according to data from a government report (Pdf)made in 2022 on the balance sheet of state enterprises in Tunisia in 2019.

That year, it recorded a loss of 55.1 MD and the cumulative loss was expected to be much higher. We do not know if the Ministry of Industry has injected any money, before declaring it fit for production. But this does not seem to have been the case.

According to the same union source, 1100 tons of paper have been produced since the resumption of work of the plant and that this production has been “sold at a price well below its cost”, and therefore asks to sell now at market price “to ensure wages and other expenses. It is thus necessary to note that to the same evils, which had led to the situation of the SNCP, as to the rest of the public companies, the same remedies, without having the financial means!


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