Businessmen and entrepreneurs are committed to giving their full support to the state and are ready to back its efforts to curb the expansion of parallel trade and strengthen the pillars of the national economy, said director of the Arab Institute of Business Managers (French: IACE), Tayeb Bayahi.
In an interview with African Manager, he asserted that Tunisia can reduce the percentage of workers in the informal sector from 50% to between 15% and 20% in the medium term, provided that the necessary measures are taken and properly implemented.
He also stressed the need for the state to be fair and firm with those who break the law, denying that large companies depend on the parallel sector for their activities.
First of all, why did the IACE choose the informal sector as the theme for the 37th session of its Business Days on December 7, 8 and 9?
“Business and Informality: Inequalities and Pending Solutions ” is one of the oldest topics that is still very much on the agenda and is of great importance, especially as the informal sector represents 50% of the Tunisian economy and one third of GDP, posing a threat to the local economy and the survival of businesses.
The meeting was characterized by a high level of interaction and a remarkable turnout of business people and government representatives. It is now necessary to diagnose the Tunisian economic reality in the light of this growing phenomenon and to speed up the search for practical solutions to integrate this unstructured category into the legal system in order to strengthen the pillars of the national economy.
Some people think that the 37th session of the Business Days is different from previous sessions in terms of participation. What is your opinion and what can influence such an important economic event?
Indeed, this annual date is a special mark of the Arab Institute of Business Managers, and despite the economic situation that our country is going through, we were keen to hold the conference on the usual date and maintain its permanence.
This year, we have been able to attract a new category of companies, namely small and medium-sized enterprises, because we are aware of the importance of this type of entrepreneurial fabric in the Tunisian economy.
We can say that this 37th edition is indeed different, but it was a successful session that tackled one of the main scourges eating away at the economy, and those who were not present missed an important opportunity.
First of all, I would like to address an important point related to the discussion about whether companies operating in the organized sector are somehow exploiting the parallel sector, which of course is not the case, although there are some exceptions that represent a small percentage of companies.
The real danger for Tunisia is to continue to operate in the current way and not to overcome the administrative and bureaucratic difficulties and complexities that limit business activity.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that there is a new phenomenon of some companies moving from the formal economy to the informal economy, which can be described as a major disaster.
In general, therefore, the private sector, with all its businesses in different sectors, must continue to operate within an organized legal framework, respecting all the tax and legal procedures in force within the State. It’s true that we don’t have much influence, but we can support the government’s efforts to deal with the informal economy by proposing a series of recommendations and the necessary solutions and means to implement them.
What are these recommendations?
We reiterate our call for a formula to be found to reduce the tax burden and eliminate the administrative complexities that private companies also suffer from, even if they are often able to cope with them, but which the informal sector, as a fragile sector, cannot resist.
We are advocating the introduction of a system based on digitalization, which will allow the inclusion of many new professions, in order to target as many workers as possible in this field in different sectors.
I would like to stress that overcoming these difficulties will help to reduce the informal sector, which is seen as a “poison that eats away at the national economy” and threatens its sustainability.
Can Tunisia really reduce the size of the informal economy?
Of course, Tunisia is capable of doing so if it takes the necessary decisions and presents realistic programs that will enable it to obtain the support of international donors such as the European Union countries and the World Bank.
In practice, in the medium term, within two years, Tunisia could reduce the share of the parallel economy from 50% to 15 or 20%, following the example of Portugal and other countries.
Finally, what was your reaction to the message sent to you by the Minister of Trade, representing the government, at the opening of the 37th session of the Business Days?
It’s only natural that the Minister for Trade should give such a speech at the Business Days, which is an opportunity to bring together a large number of businessmen from different sectors.