hich models of development for tomorrow’s Tunisia? AfricanManager asked this question and others to Walid Kalboussi, Secretary-General of the Association of the Tunisian graduates of “”Grandes Ecoles” at the 20th edition of the Association’s Forum.
Which new role is assigned to the ATUGE in this transitional phase experienced by the country?
The ATUGE continues to play the role it has assigned to itself since the beginning of its establishment that is to say an apolitical association that brings together Tunisian skills who have the same academic background and wish to participate actively in a wider public debate.
We maintain this apolitical course and we preserve it strictly in this period
… of excitement. Our fight, if I could put it that way, remains exclusively in the area of civil society.
In this regard, and for example we organized in the aftermath of the Jan. 14, the forum of associations to help newly created associations to be structured and we have offered them a logistics base to launch their activities.
We also focused on a wider geographical coverage of our actions by organizing the caravan of employment and we are now about to hold a major national forum to discuss a crucial topic for our country: “Which Models of Development for Tomorrow’s Tunisia.”
This forum will be held Thursday, September 22 at the Congress Palace and I take this opportunity to invite all your readers to join us and participate in the debates that should be very informative.
Have you designed a model of development for tomorrow’s Tunisia, in the light of the new economic and social data? If so, what are its major axes?
I personally feel that the choice of Tunisia’s development model will define a large part of
the economic and social policy of Tunisia for the next quarter century, since from this will depend Tunisia’s trade position and investment and education policies.
This will also govern the relations between different economic actors, determine the role of the state, distribute powers between bodies and define the regional division…In other words, defining this model is deciding the future policy of our country for an entire generation. It is neither the claim of ATUGE nor even its purpose.
Our goal and our desire is to bring together expertise in the economic and social areas and in governance planning in order to share the diagnosis, on the one hand, and list the
alternatives that are now available for us, on the other one.
Because, some choices have major consequences and raise considerations that I want to describe as ideological: which debt we tolerate for our country? Which role for
the state? Should we position ourselves in highly employable and low-cost areas or those with high coaching rates? How far can the state go to encourage private investment? We hope we have brought together experts in all fields allowing us to cover the issues of employment, the issue of regional development, the role of the State in development and the role of the civil society and discuss the creation of new governance mechanisms capable of providing proximity to the needs and good management of resources.
What are the criteria you have laid down to select companies that will attend this forum?
For a subject of this magnitude, we will benefit of representatives from all active forces
in the country. Representatives of the Interim Government: Mr. Said Aidi, Minister of Employment, Mr. Abderrazzak Zouari, Minister of Regional Development, Mr. Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa, Secretary-General of the Government. We will also have the honor to receive Mr. Yadh Ben Achour, Chairman of the High Authority for Achievement of the Revolution Objectives, Political Reform and Democratic Transition.
We have also invited prominent economists, representatives of development agencies
and representatives of associations operating in the area of social economy.
This forum will also be attended by international experts and particularly Europeans who have to conduct reflections on the integration of regions and their development.
As for the world of businesses I quote three names: Mr. Mohamed Frikha CEO of Telnet, Mr. Anis Kallel Director General of Tunav and Mr. Mourad Khrouf Director General Interchaux who form on their own, a representative panel able to speak about the expectations of businessmen to invest more in Tunisian skills and value creation (Telnet case), understand the expectations of a young contractor in matters of incentives (case of Tunav) and address closely the difficulties faced by Tunisian firms located in disadvantaged regions (case of Interchaux).
It is this coverage that guided our choices … Apart from these three companies which participate in the forum’s discussions; we also note the presence of 35 companies at the forum’s recruitment show.
These companies have expressed wish to meet the visitors of our forum. We hope this forum will be an opportunity for them to meet their recruitment needs and to allow for job seekers to get in contact with potential employers…
What should be the role of government in the new economic configuration of Tunisia as challenges are increasing both nationally and internationally?
We sought to have representatives of the State at this level of responsibility because we believe that only the state can now plan to conduct a major development that can actually meet expectations.
Despite the best efforts of our companies and our businessmen, without sensitive assistance from the state we will not be able to absorb unemployment and make our region attractive to investors. The role of the state is therefore essential but it is the only belief that we can develop in this area.
The way the state plays its role is a highly complex issue: should the state invest in infrastructure, leaving the private sector do the rest? Should the state replace the private sector to boost certain regions and play a role similar to the one it had played immediately after independence? Should the state inject funds at the level of private companies so that they can set up and start their activities and if so with which engagement from them and with which means of control… these questions are guiding and Tunisia is not the first country to ask them, you just need to see diametrically opposed development models adopted by
Spain and Portugal after their accession to the European Union (hence the presence of experts of the European Union at the Forum …)
What recipe do you propose to allow businesses to overcome their structural problems
as well as those induced by the Revolution and do you think that they will be
able to play the game admirably, particularly with regard to creating value and jobs?
As you can imagine, the development plan does not solve the problems of Tunisian companies in the short term since the establishment of such a plan require studies, financing and structures and all this takes time.
What should be made immediately, in my view, is helping Tunisian companies so that they to survive until the establishment of such a development plan, because the situation for several sectors is more than critical.
Tunisian businesses now suffer from various and varied difficulties: difficulties in distribution, increased cost of labor, inflation in raw materials and increasingly significant difficulties in debt collection all this results in outstanding cash.
The solution depends necessarily on finance and banks which must support Tunisian companies and may be accept exceptional ratios; this can be done only with the help of the State which must provide guarantees or special funds to help banks play this role and safeguard the economic fabric of the country.
Local communities and the state as donors must set up a rapid action plan to finance their suppliers who are facing bankruptcy.
The promulgation of the new code of investment incentives which was subject to study from the Interim Government is likely to give a boost to investment and economic activity. The challenges are real but solutions still exist. We just need to know it…