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Tunisia /expats: the great challenge of sustaining flow of savings

The sustainability of the influx of savings of Tunisian expatriates remains a major concern 
for the Board of Tunisians Abroad (OTE). Frej Souissi, the CEO of OTE unveils the strategy of this Board to achieve this goal. 
Interview:

What is the position of Tunisian expatriates 5 months after the Revolution? 

Accounting for 10% of the Tunisian population, this community contributes substantially to the country’s development effort through remittances worth 3 million dinars in 2010, or 5% of the GDP and 20.5% of national savings. We would like not only to sustain this money flow but also make it reach best proportions like what we see in countries like Morocco for example where the weight of the transfer of funds represents 8% of the Moroccan GDP while the share of Moroccan community abroad is 10%. 

We also seek to improve direct investment, which is a bit shy now and irregular since it has not exceeded the 5,500 projects whose average size is about 44,000 dinars at the level of the investment cost while the average number of jobs per project is three jobs.

However, we have the ambition not only to increase investments but also to improve the quality of these investments. We also intend to see how we can better involve the community in scientific research in the transfer of know-how and technology and 
promotion of tourism, exports etc … 

In this regard, have you thought of such an approach to overcome the existing gaps, namely the inadequacy of information and the problem of procedures? 

We have been listening but maybe insufficiently and we will certainly lend a receptive ear to Tunisian expatriates this summer.
Moreover, we will hold, on July 16, a meeting during which we will initiate a debate on a number of themes. But the most important is that we will decentralize conferences and meetings focusing on the theme of contribution of this community to regions. 
We have organized 24 regional seminars to listen to them especially with regard to 
obstacles faced in terms of investment and perception of the new measures. 
Communication does not concern solely OTE, but involves many actors. 

So why did these actors not think collectively of specific measures or adequate reforms 
to fill the gaps and successfully curb this scourge? 

Before the revolution, we were not able to forward all these complaints and all these ideas to the public authority due to the virtual absence of monitoring and the absence of those with whom we could be able to work together. What is missing now is a framework for consultation, ongoing consultation in which we could listen to the representatives of Tunisians abroad. 

We have, in fact, ideas, and we hope that these ideas be resubmitted to Tunisians to 
enhance what we have already prepared. 

At the recent seminar on “Contribution of Tunisian expatriates to economic and social development of Post-Revolution Tunisia,” emphasis was placed on the importance of developing consultations to find real and fair solutions to migration issues?”
 

Dialogue exists, but I personally think that it must be regular because it suffers from the reluctance of Europeans. We live in a Euro-Mediterranean area. We have a partnership agreement but it is a flawed agreement: it promotes free circulation of goods but excludes free movement of manpower. So there was reluctance on the part of Europe despite the fact that North African immigration in general is a reality. There is a very strong community in
Europe in terms of stock, but in terms of flows, we have an agreement with Italy since 98, we are currently reviewing the contents of this agreement. Unfortunately, since 2003, opportunities for Migration to Italy are virtually absent. 

The agreement with France in 1988 opens up serious opportunities for immigration to some 9,000 Tunisians, but unfortunately, this agreement was at a standstill for other reasons. First, this agreement is not sufficiently known by the French employers and the 
French professional organizations, and then, even the economic crisis that persists
 in the world is a factor limiting the real possibilities of an organized immigration. 

With a 5% contribution to GDP, how Tunisians could contribute optimally to the process 
of reconstruction of their country? 

Five percent is still the 120 of the GDP generated by savings of Tunisian expatriates. Indeed, the 5% represent savings through official channels. But, in fact, the contribution in terms of savings would be higher than the 5%. We did not have very specific studies on the uses of these 5%, but what we know is that 18% of the remittances are invested in productive activities.
This savings is the transfer of revenues that serve for consumption, family solidarity and 
savings. 

Our strategy for the future should seek to sustain this flow, increase the weight of remittances compared to the GDP and maximize the use of this money.

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