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Tunisia: ”investment in infrastructure, a panacea to curb unemployment”

Sami Awad, Representative of the UGTT whom we met at a conference on regional development, said the revival of economic activity depends on highly developed infrastructure. This approach is strategic to fight poverty, unemployment and regional imbalances. Interview:

Can you evaluate the efforts of Essebsi’s Government in regional development?

We waited until the end of 2011 to discuss the economic budget and we were surprised that this budget was prepared by the former government, because of a lack of time they say. They have no plans to develop an alternative economic budget.

I think in this economic budget there is nothing to provide in terms of regional development. Though, efforts have been made and a few “scoops” have been announced by the Interim Government, there is no proactive and comprehensive overhaul of the approach and design of regional development. We are still waiting for urgent and immediate measures.

So what are the gaps blamed to the Government Caied Essebssi in managing a situation marked by the proliferation of strikes and sit-ins in various regions?

Until then, regions that have a natural potential have been used to offset the purchasing power in coastal regions and major industrial and tourist cities by maintaining low prices. Is it understandable to leave such a region as Gafsa dominated by a single producer economic model?

There is only phosphate in Gafsa. There is no mechanism that encourages the public company to invest a portion of its revenues in the region.

Also a gap: we can see that it is too proletarian. The regional approach through the demagogic presidential projects of Ben Ali is limited to a few agricultural tracks, some minor rearrangements. Nothing was structural and nothing was important. We simply used a system of incentives encouraging the private sector to settle in disadvantaged areas knowing that the transaction cost is very high with a poor infrastructure, so the power of incentives turned ineffective, and private investment has chosen to deploy in urban areas close to modern facilities and near consumer markets.

How to get Tunisia out of its crisis?

Rethink the entire policy calmly and rethink the entire conceptual and referential framework. Also, it’s time to reconsider new mechanisms: development of infrastructure, land use, agricultural tracks and opening up regions.

What do you think of the new approach to development and the fight against poverty and unemployment, as well as ensuring the balance between the areas recommended by Jameleddine Gharbi, the Minister of Regional Development and Planning, in order to achieve the objectives of the Revolution and boost the competitiveness of the national economy?

There are not one thousand solutions. I emphasize the importance of opening up the regions. We must bring railway lines by finding quality roads. In general, efforts should focus on promoting investment in infrastructure and upgrading our infrastructure in the regions.

The point is also to foster an appropriate framework for private investment. This is a prerequisite to boost the private sector’s role in the design of new approaches that take into account the investment potential in each region and its natural resources.

Efforts are certainly made, but most sit-inners, who are generally young job seekers, demand the implementation of urgent measures to remedy their situations?

Investment in infrastructure could absorb the specter of unemployment by creating new direct and indirect job positions and, more importantly, it could send a reassuring message that brings confidence and convince people to just stagger their demands. People need to see things moving. However, this has not happened to date.

As a union, what are the measures to be taken especially since the government has pledged to prepare a draft supplementary budget law by the first quarter of 2012?

We will organize a debate on this issue. Indeed, we had made an economic assessment of the state budget at a Union’s seminar held on December 12 and 13. We found several shortcomings. For this reason we will, at a later stage, prepare our conception of an alternative complementary finance law.

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