Douja Gharbi, Vice President of the Confederation of Tunisian Citizen Enterprises (CONECT) gave Africanmanager an interview where she described the business climate for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as catastrophic and unfavorable to investment and development.
She spoke, in addition, of the difficulties faced by SMEs in Tunisia, particularly access to bank financing, calling for urgent and immediate government intervention to reform the banking system to meet the new guidance for SMEs.
What do you think of the business climate in Tunisia?
The SME business climate is catastrophic and it is not favorable either to creation or to development. The situation today is very difficult and we must combine efforts and all fight for the business climate.
The only way out of the crisis plaguing the economic machine in Tunisia, is the company. This is the only possible recruiter.
Companies need to be helped to grow to be able to recruit and young entrepreneurs have to be assisted to create their own projects, particularly in innovative sectors with high added value.
The business climate is conducive neither to local or foreign investment, especially with strikes, social problems, people’s unawareness of the value of work and the slowness of the administration.
Do you have any figures on the number of businesses that are in trouble?
No, we do not have figures but I must say that all companies operating in Tunisia are struggling. Tunisian SMEs are undercapitalized in particular because of the difficulty of access to the external market, the depreciation of the dinar and the deterioration in purchasing power.
While they account for nearly 85% of the economic fabric and offer between 10 and 200 job positions each, Tunisian SMEs suffer huge problems and access at only 15% to bank financing, and they are always well-known public companies that benefit of the rest.
What solution do you propose?
We are for the complete overhaul of the banking sector, particularly banks (public and private) so that they adapt to the change, knowing that the majority of investments is now in the service sector.
We must change the financing system to better respond to the services sector which financing is very difficult. The banking system has to meet the needs of the economy and its new guidelines.
There is also need for courage to be able to take very important decisions in banks to move towards what is changing in terms of investment.
Do SMEs easily integrate the Upgrading Program (PMN)?
To access the PMN, SMEs must meet a number of conditions, which is not possible today in light of the disorganization and structural difficulties faced by Tunisian SMEs. They need good governance and organization and a lot of work to restructure.
Banking benefits are only limited to large companies that are well organized. The others are marginalized.
We need the state to intervene and give priority to SMEs facing difficulty and the economic aspect in general as much as the business environment.