In a joint interview with both Myriam Belkadhi for Nessma TV and Walid Ben Abdallah for Wataniya 1, on the evening of March 3, Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa delivered a speech in which he tackled the country’s political, security and economic issues.
Addressing the current priorities of his government and the legacies left by previous cabinets, Jomaa said, “The current economic situation is worse than I imagined. Indeed, in 2010, for example, Tunisia used to invest its own resources, while today we are borrowing resources to cover everyday consumption needs and the debt rate hovers around 50%.” He stressed, however, that 25 billion dinars (around $15.7 billion) were borrowed since the revolution, an amount equivalent to the general state budget. He added that the funds borrowed from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were allocated solely to cover the spending expenses of 2013. On another note, Jomaa asserted that it was decided to freeze civil service hiring since the country is no longer able to take on more civil servants. Moreover, the prime minister confirmed that the state budget was incomplete and that the state will have to borrow 12 billion dinars ($7.5 billion) to cover this deficit. To sum up his discussion on the economic aspect, Jomaa said, “Throughout the past three years, we did not work, we did not respect the rule of law and we had no strategy.”
On the security aspect, Jomaa tried to be more reassuring by saying, “Tunisia is safer today than it was yesterday.” He indicated in this respect that security is an urgent and pressing issue, which is why for a year now security forces have been preparing themselves for a better fight against terrorism. "The first step we took in this regard is improving equipment, but we also are cooperating with neighboring countries,” he said. Jomaa added, “Tunisia is capable, today more than ever, of dealing with terrorist attacks … but we need to remain alert.”
Regarding Tunisian nationals who joined the jihad in Syria, Jomaa admitted to not having exact figures, but said that their return to Tunisia is being arranged in cooperation with countries that had a similar experience, such as Algeria and Morocco. Jomaa tackled the political issue with more caution during this interview, during which he asserted, “We are a government enjoying a double legitimacy … and it is important today to turn the last page of the transitional process, [and overcome] its obstacles and difficulties.”
The head of the government also tackled the organization of the upcoming elections — that he deems a top priority — which will give a better view of the situation in the country at the end of the electoral process. Regarding the revision of partisan appointments, he said that his government was very clear: Appointments will be based on competence, political neutrality and integrity, and each person will be appointed to the position that he/she is right for.
“We started with the appointment of new governors to ensure greater neutrality of the Tunisian administration, in preparation for the upcoming elections," he said. Jomaa also spoke about the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, stating that "the law will be applied without favoring one party over another.”
While stressing the need to be practical, operational, but also vigilant, and to analyze and assess the situation rather than making quick and rash decisions and announcements, Jomaa sought to be pragmatic, as an apolitical technocrat prime minister. He insisted on the fact that the government must pave the way for a better climate allowing for free and transparent elections to be held, but that it must also facilitate long-term decision-making for his successors.