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Tunisia: Hassine Dimassi calls for ”real flattening of public finances, both in revenue and expenditure”

In an interview with AfricanManager, Hassine Dimassi, university professor of economics and advisor to the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), tells about his view on the composition of the Constituent Assembly and the government and their commitment, taking stock of the situation in the wake of these political events.


After the publication of the final results of elections of the Constituent Assembly, several questions arise about the future of a country that now has to build and strengthen its fledgling democracy. How will you see the composition of the future government? On which project should it work first?

The composition of the future government is likely to obey much more to the election results and the severe socio-economic challenges the country is facing. Moreover, the stalled negotiations to form the government inspire neither confidence nor peace.

For this government, the priority is to restore order in the country, because without it, nothing can stand. Second, the government is required to open a real national debate on such tremendously complex and pressing issues as unemployment, education, public finance, the compensation fund, social security, etc…However, I fear that this government has not the courage to begin this discussion, because, for political concerns, it is afraid to challenge enormous interests.

What is the position of the UGTT today on the Constituent Assembly?

During the Constituent Assembly election, the UGTT took a neutral position. And I think that after these elections, the position of the UGTT has not changed. Some accuse the UGTT to foment social unrest in various courses. In reality, these disturbances are mostly from outside the UGTT. In any case, at present, this organization is especially concerned about its next congress to be held in late December 2011.

National sovereignty is at the forefront of issues that are often raised, and some argue that the country has, for many years, put its economy under the umbrella of the European Union. Is it conceivable that a Constituent Assembly that has as a basis to restore the sovereignty of the nation gathers without harming the relationship established with our strategic partner “Europe”?Do you think this issue will be considered by the UGTT in its next orientation relative to the Constituent Assembly?

This is an eminently serious question that you are asking here, for what does that means: “to break the bonds of dependency established with the Association Agreement signed with the European Union”? I believe it will renegotiate the agreement to include elements on the mobility of labor (legal and orderly migration). However, I am totally opposed to the break with this agreement. We must not forget that at present our foreign trade is mainly made with the European Union: 69% of the movement of goods, 74% of the movement of services (including tourism), 70% of the movement of income (capital and labor) and 38% of capital flows. These data show that even in the long term, no other region can substitute to the European Union in our foreign trade.

How do you assess the current situation in Tunisia? Specifically, what is your position on the external debt of Tunisia, knowing that resort to a new debt may compromise the objectives for which the Tunisian Revolution was made and submit, once again, Tunisia to the diktat of the ultra-liberalism of the international financial market?

The stock of external debt could increase from 15,550 million dinars in 2010 to 17,593 million dinars in 2011, i.e. 24.5% and 26.3% of the GDP, respectively. Although it has increased in 2011, the external debt of Tunisia is still not catastrophic, at least in appearance. For, the real external debt of the country is camouflaged by the increasing resort to the dangerous and harmful mechanisms of “concessions,” and this for at least two decades (typical cases being those of Rades II power station and the Enfidha airport). This means that our country needs a real flattening of its public finances, and this both in terms of revenues and spending.

The Islamist party leaders stressed their option for the “free market economy, an economy that would give the state a role in guiding the economy, while allowing passing laws to facilitate the act of investment.”Moreover, Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahdha party chairman, said that his movement will seek to establish, as soon as possible, the convertibility of the dinar. What do you think, especially since the project, considered as a strategic objective by the deposed president, carries many challenges for Tunisia and risks, provided that certain conditions and guarantees are met, to destabilize the country?

The option for the free market is not new. Since the mid-80s, around the world, including Tunisia, we have opted for an ultra-liberal strategy. This strategy was inspired by what was then called “structural adjustment program” (SAP), concocted by a handful of dominant capitalists in the world, the most backward. We now know more. The world is at the end of the abyss because of an economic crisis whose primary cause is the ultra-liberalism, in other words anarchy of the market.

In your opinion, what are the urgent solutions that reduce, significantly, the unemployment of university graduates whose number continues to grow in recent years to reach by the end of 2011 no less than one million unemployed, According to the President of UTICA, because of the decline in economic growth and falling foreign investment, in addition to the crisis in the tourism sector?

In our country, unemployment of university graduates, whose number is currently estimated at about 250,000 (not a million!), is the result much more of disastrous errors committed in the education system than the economic slowdown. The frightful laxity that has characterized our education system for decades has generated enormous masses of graduates of poor quality, disproportionate to the needs of the labor market.

I do not have to provide urgent solutions that reduce, significantly, unemployed university graduates. My job as a researcher is to make the diagnosis. And it is up to those who govern to find solutions.


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