Called “finance bulldozer” by our colleague in Business News, at age 48 and with dozens of companies introduced on the Tunis Stock Exchange by Mac SA, owned up to 80 by the Kuwaiti group Kharafi, Mourad Ben Chaabane has been since last May 19 chairman of the Board of Directors of the Tunis Stock Exchange (TSE).
It is in this respect that AfricanManager spoke with him about the economic situation of the country, the finance law and all the debate it raises, but also of the most important disinvestments on the stock exchange: “Carthage Cement which Mac SA had also floated on the stock market.
True to his image, he does not mince words, but does not only criticize. The president of the TSE also makes proposals.
What do you think of the economic and financial situation of Tunisia?
For this year, the finance law is a fact; we must work better if we do not want next year to be more difficult. The situation, if it continues, will push us to sell the real estate just to pay the wages and the bankruptcy will follow if we continue that way.
We must face the facts, the budget law is there and we have no choice. However, I believe that we must now think of a new Tunisian economic model that would restart the machine.
Admittedly, the implementation of this new model would not be immediate, but at least we will have clear and definite orientations because we must absolutely stop this “on-sight navigation”.
Today, everyone recognizes the difficulty of Youssef Chahed and his ministers who are now playing the role of firefighters, in an increasingly difficult environment and in an alarming situation that is not likely to improve anytime soon.
We, Tunisians, must work. We must take care to apply the law and preserve the sovereignty of the State.
You refused to talk about the finance law
In the situation we are in, it is not only the finance law that is disturbing. Moreover, I personally see some positive steps, implemented late, certainly, but it is better late than never. Indeed, (1) we start talking about the restructuring of social security funds but it is also imperative to set the steps and timing of the implementation of this restructuring to end this bleeding. (2), for the compensation fund, it must be capped at 5 or 6 billion dinars which will be reduced by 10% annually in order to finish gradually.
In fact, a question arises and one has to look at a bit: “Today, in Tunisia, do we need to subsidize sugar? Is there interest in selling the baguette for 190 millimes? “We are spending 5.5 billion TD for the compensation fund and as it is not advisable to suddenly stop a long-standing policy, we need a
clear objective with a clear approach. This goal will be achieved over the long term and will be applied across all governments to reduce this amount by at least 50% over the next five years.
For me, it is necessary that the plan starts quickly because; we need concretizations since we have neither the choice nor the time to discuss, to propose…
I tell you again that the finance law is there, I do not want to criticize it; we must do with it despite its heavy consequences on transparent companies and the business climate; nevertheless, it is not our only downside.
Moreover, we must understand that the government is deadlocked: we talk about the size of the parallel market, but being realistic, we know perfectly well that this market will not disappear overnight. Sooner or later we will pay the bill.
Some suggest that the government should lower taxes and find the resources it needs, through debt collection from companies that do not pay or flee the tax system.
Last year, my institution suffered a tax adjustment. We expect to have the relevant notification at the end of the current year and in the event that this notification is unsatisfactory, we will file a complaint with the court and we are obliged to wait three years.
Starting from this lived example, you see that the recovery of which you speak does not mean an immediate recovery on the part of the State.
Therefore, this solution can not be a quick and immediate solution to run the economical machine.
Beyond this finance law, we must establish a support system based on clear decisions that ensure a real and gradual recovery of our economy.
This brings me back to the economic emergency law and I have the impression that our politicians neglect the importance of this law while it is more than necessary.
Among the misfortunes of the country, at present, there are certain media, which work in a partisan and initiated approach on behalf of politicians and which, without worrying about the consequences, only block the country’s development: we need to a free press and especially Independent.
What should the government do in your opinion?
We need a new, innovative approach. We must launch a wide range of choices and finish with temporary and fast solutions. We need a new vision.
The opening of one or two industrial units in the areas of Thala or Kasserine will not solve the problem. It’s not just about attracting a foreign investor to open a company and recruiting 500 employees. This is not it. The region of Kasserine could for example become a student city in 10 years for some 70 thousand students.
However, we must, right now, do the necessary work in infrastructure, homes, cultural houses, recreation and other to encourage mobility.
We must, from now on, think about developing other cities, like Enfidha, Kairouan, Sousse, Sfax … Today, we need to review our tourism strategy (Saharan tourism, imagine scenarios …). But the most important, and essential in my opinion, is to solve the problem of the Tunisian administration.
Moreover, and given the decline of the dinar, exporting companies may be a real opportunity for our economy, and here I am not talking about the model of the classic outsourcing that we launched in the 70s (with the law 72), but I am talking about the creation and encouragement of Tunisian exporting companies with a real added value and a real Tunisian know-how.
We must encourage these companies which with their products can invade export markets and especially that their costs become very competitive.
We have to take advantage of the depreciation of our local currency. To these companies, the State should give more facilities and room for maneuver, allowing them to create their own brands and their own distribution channels.
Exporting companies are a boon in the current and even future context. With this, we must not neglect the “historic” sectors such as textiles, we must value them even more (take example on Turkey).
In another context, I propose the diversification of the strategic partners of the country. Why not think to collaborate with China? Bring back Chinese investors to whom we can for example give the port of Zarzis with a free zone behind. This kind of partnership can only help us develop, since we cannot do everything ourselves. This, without forgetting to accelerate the development of the digital component. We have no choice; we must go quickly to digitalization.
A couple of words on the stock market?
The stock market is stable; trade is weak since it relies mainly on small holders. So, there is no volume. This is not very alarming in a context marked by a lack of visibility and orientation. The decline in the stock market is not a real problem, but what really bothers is the lack of liquidity.
Why is there no liquidity?
There is no liquidity, because with rates of return of 8% of the fungible treasury bonds of the State, buying shares in the stock market is not interesting for anyone.
So is the state competing with the stock market?
Yes that is true, in a way, when the key rates or the money rates go down; people are more interested in the stock market, which, despite the risk, can give them better returns.
Currently, with risk-free rates for bonds and bank investments ranging from 7% to 9%, why do you want an investor to risk investing in the stock market?
Moreover, on the stock exchange, we are reviewing the regulations to implement a new model dedicated to supporting SMEs.
The stock market must play a role in the development of these structures, which constitute nearly 95% of the national economic fabric.
What does that mean?
This is the development of the alternative market. It is a relatively risky market for sophisticated investors. For this market, we will no longer talk about an IPO, which could be misleading, but a listing.
The alternative market is a specific market different from the main market. Investing in this market is a risk taking different from that of the main market on which we find the Big Cap such as BIAT, SFBT, Délice Holding, One Tech, SAH … It is essential to distinguish between the two markets in order to allow investors a better estimate of the risk undertaken.
Currently, we bring back SMEs and we apply the same conditions of admission as large groups, which is not normal especially as we know that they will not be able to meet all these requirements, lack of resources, sizes, structures… it is necessary to simplify the procedures of “listing” and there, we can bring 200 or even 300 SMEs to the stock market.
We push to lighten the introductory prospectus, to make targeted communication campaigns and especially to educate stock investors to dispel the confusion.
When will this new model come into operation?
The Financial Market Committee is finalizing its final edits and will propose it to the Minister of Finance and the government before the end of the year. This will allow us to participate in the government’s program for the recovery of the economy.
We must be able to create dedicated vehicles for this market, investment funds and specific mutual funds so that people can invest in the medium term.
We have also asked the state for a number of benefits. Today, for example, we have a Stock Savings Plan (SSP) capped at 50 thousand dinars for individuals.
We propose to increase it to 100 thousand dinars and that the 50 thousand additional dinars are invested in the alternative market. We also want to authorize the creation of an SSP company to invest in the alternative market, which will create the offer, reduce demand and challenge champions