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“The major concern is the wage bill in the public service,” says Fadhel Abdelkefi

In an exclusive interview with African Manager on Wednesday, September 28, Fadhel Abdelkefi, Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation, stressed the need to show solidarity to overcome the economic crisis gripping the country for years.

One solution remains the revision of the payroll in the public sector, which has reached unimaginable levels and the search for other sources of funding so as to achieve an acceptable balance of public finance not only for our security, but also for our partners.

The minister also placed emphasis on the international investment conference to be held in Tunisia in November, noting that over 2,000 persons are expected at this major event that will be the opportunity for Tunisia to be an economic destination for local and international investment.

The minister on the other hand said that the government has no choice but to succeed.

Interview:

What are the most important issues that you found on the table on arrival?

Four major topics were placed on the table. They are the investment law, the development plan, the organization of the international conference on investment and also the preparation of the general meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in October.

What is your is your action plan to address these issues?

First, we started with the investment law that was well advanced at the Finance Committee in the HPR until July, and even during the special session in order to pass this legislation as well as a loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB) already presented by the Minister of Finance.

After two days of discussions in plenary, the law was adopted and subsequently our country has a new law with the main aim of simplifying and accelerating investments. We went from 75 items to a law of 25 articles and from 33 implementing decrees to only 3.

I think with the adoption of this legislation, the Tunisian economy will experience a new stage, that of the return of confidence of economic operators, less administrative paperwork, accelerated public and private investment, improved business climate and security stabilization.

For the second point, namely the 2016-2020 five-year plan, it was necessary to agree and revise it. Because it foresaw growth of 2.5% which will be in the best case at around 1.4% during this year.

So, we are currently updating this plan before going to Parliament.

The third issue relates to the holding of the international investment conference scheduled for November 29 and 30 November in Tunisia. This event, which will be under the patronage of President of the Republic, will aim to give political and economic support for Tunisia, mostly in this difficult situation.

Do you have quantitative estimates with respect to this important event?

First, I think there will be a significant political presence, particularly at the first plenary. Indeed, we expect a massive presence of Heads of State and government of friendly countries, not to mention the representation of major international financial institutions and financial partners, including the World Bank, the IMF and Arab funds, the European Investment Bank…

This conference will also be marked by the presence of international private operators.

On the Tunisian side, there will be the presence of government projects included in the 2016-2020 plan. Moreover, we have strongly sensitized the Tunisian private sector to be present.

Therefore, this is an opportunity to give a new image of economic Tunisia and to say that our country can be an economical destination for local and international investment.

As for the attendance, estimates predict a presence of over 2000 figures, knowing that registrations have started on the website created for this purpose.

It should be noted that two general commissioners were appointed to help us organize this conference and mobilize maximum foreign investors and also to take care of logistics.

Added to this is a consortium composed of the French investment bank ARJIL & Associates, the Tunisian design office COMETE Engineering and media and event group Jeune Afrique, which was picked by the Republic of Tunisia to lead the promotion of the 2016-2020 Development Plan.

And what about the US presence?

We returned from the United States where we had a very warm welcome from the US administration.

It was also an opportunity to meet the Managing Director of the IMF, the President of the World Bank and the Emir of Qatar.

In my view, this visit was very positive for the political image of Tunisia, but also for the economic image, especially as the US administration, by the voice of its secretary of state, John Kerry has invited US investors to support the economic development of Tunisia, considered the sole successful case of political and democratic transition in the region.

Are there any firm promises to achieve this goal and make Tunisia a prime destination for investors?

Firm promises, no. There are no promises with figures.

I take this opportunity to recall that the objective of the international investment conference is to give another image of Tunisia. For an investor can not come without a security and political stabilization.

I think these two aspects have substantially stabilized in Tunisia and we are currently communicating on the two elements, especially with the arrival of the new law of investment and with the establishment of the new government. We are able to move forward.

That’s why we invited these people to outline to them our plans and persuade them.

Do you have any fears as this event comes in a rather delicate situation?

Efforts are multiplied for this event to be successful and to be a success for our country…

The situation is certainly bleak and becomes increasingly difficult financially.

For the salvation of this country, we have to restart the investment machine that could be done through the state and also through local and international investors.

I remain confident and attentive; especially that Tunisia has all the means of escape, if there is mobilization on the main issues and if people are aware of the delicacy of the situation.

Besides the organization of this event, what must be done to ensure the recovery of investment?

The prerequisite is to have an appropriate legislative framework. I think with a new law, even if there are niches for improvement, there is a legislative framework to achieve this. Add to this, the stabilization of the political and security aspect.

Let us talk about the draft law on boosting economic growth. This has sparked some controversy within the HPR and also at the opposition. What do you think?

I do not think this bill has caused controversy. This economic emergency law aims to streamline, simplify and accelerate investment.

We believe that the public or private projects should have a faster route in execution. We imagined that the projects can have job capacity exceeding 500 or an investment cost of over 50 million dinars could have the status of public utility project. So they would subsequently take a faster way in the administrative authorizations of all kinds.

Is it possible today to meet this challenge?

We are working from morning to night, and everything is possible in Tunisia with an exceptional geographical position, an important socio-political situation and extremely competitive human resources, compared to other countries.

The depreciation of the dinar for several years has made Tunisia undoubtedly more attractive for export.

I think there are great hope, great potential in this country in a general political and security context where we have made much progress.

However, Tunisians are called to return to work given the challenges of the moment, namely unemployment which has reached high levels and poverty, while achieving positive discrimination between regions.

Another point, are there any new developments regarding some blocked projects like Sama Dubai?

We have many blocked projects and we are trying to unblock them.

Sama Dubai, it is a much more complex issue that pertains much more to law than economic aspects. Our department is responsible for this issue, starting with dialogue with our partners to find the right solution.

Let us speak of the Finance Act 2017. What are the priorities of your department?

This is a government act, especially as our PM has placed emphasis on the solidarity of the team.

It is a law of all the ministerial team. The direction is clear; the major concern is the wage bill in the public service, which has reached significant levels. According to the figures, it has increased from 6.5 billion TD to 13 billion TD during the past five years, representing 70% of tax revenues of the country.

You should know that on each dinar of the tax revenue dinar, we pay 700 millimes for payroll in the public service. Similarly, the debt has doubled.

We are in a position that requires us to tell our social partners there should be some solidarity to overcome the economic crisis and later the crisis in public finances.

I think one of the solutions is to review the payroll, but also to find other sources of funding in order to reach an acceptable balance of the public finance only for our security but also for our partners.

How do you see the future of the country?

By better knowing our problems, with an important political base marked by a governmental solidarity, Youssef Chahed’s team has no choice but to succeed.

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