Tunisia must revive its ailing economy

Living conditions in the country are similar to what were seen in 2011.

By Christiane Waked

Published: Tue 18 Dec 2018, 7:40 PM

Last updated: Tue 18 Dec 2018, 9:58 PM

Tunisia needs to find quick solutions to its economic problems before anger spills on the streets of the country.
Living conditions in the country are similar to what were seen in 2011 -  when people came out on the streets and sparked the Jasmine Revolution to protest against poor living standards and lack of opportunities. Despite having succeeded in ensuring a democratic transition, the country has been unable to offer an economic revival plan to its citizens and is at a crossroads again.
Inflation is high, poverty is pervasive, unemployment is rising, and rampant corruption is eating into the country's vitals.
The institutions of the Second Republic lack good governance standards and anti-corruption policies, which are major stumbling blocks to ensuring a stronger economy. Tunisia has been borrowing heavily to boost the economy and consequently external debt has reached a record 78 per cent of the GDP in the first half of 2018. The International Monetary Fund has warned that at this pace, debt levels could cross the 100 per cent mark in the coming years.
In a recent attempt to rein in the budget deficit and introduce reforms, the Tunisian government increased the price of fuel by about four per cent. Such a measure might help the country in the long run, but its immediate impact is pinching the residents rather hard. People are upset and have launched protests again. Headed by Riyad Jarad, Tunisia has its own campaign called Red Vests - inspired by the Yellow Vests in France. The protest group vows to fight for the country's 'poor and marginalised'.
Jarad, however, insists that the planned social protests will be civil and peaceful. 
Since the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisians have enjoyed greater political freedom but a series of post-revolutionary governments have not been able to revive the economy and create jobs. The country today needs a national strategic plan and practical solutions to fix its economy.
The government would do well to prop up the tourism sector, which is one of the key sources for revenue for the economy. It should also look at privatisation and encourage more small and medium enterprises that could create jobs that Tunisians so desperately need. Priority should be given to the sustainable restructuring of the economy. Agriculture, tourism and the energy sector should be the special focus of these efforts..
Tunisian leaders must listen to the needs of its citizens and come up with practical solutions while lowering taxes. Smart payment systems must be introduced. This will ensure corruption is contained in the country.
Political reforms have made Tunisia a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It must not squander the gains with economic sloppiness. -  Christiane Waked is an analyst based in Beirut

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