Tunisian Government to Follow Old-Regime Development Plan

Article Summary
The Tunisian central government is following the same tired, flawed development plan of the former regime, laments Hedi Sraieb. Privatization of “strategic sectors” is being emphasized over agriculture or industry. Meanwhile, two key issues that helped spark the revolution, unemployment among graduates and neglected areas, are still ignored.

I have repeatedly stated in various articles that Tunisia’s development model is moribund. Of course, not everything should be thrown out. As the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It is nonetheless true that the lessons learned from past decisions remain vivid in our minds and clear in present choices.

The finance law and government agenda are proof of this. Even worse, the so-called informed circles, think tanks and expert committees are drawing up prescriptions characterized by the same old strategies of “escaping to the future.” These strategies are at once expensive, mercantile and quite possibly devastating.

A sort of selective memory has led to the idea that corruption and nepotism were the only factors at the heart of this political and social crisis. As a result, a modus vivendi seems to have been reached once again on an economic model deemed sound, efficient, sustainable and equitable when cleared of its mafioso remnants.

Its liberal essence, however outrageously visible, is quite suitable for some businesses, paid experts and a provisional government in search of legitimacy. This is not to mention the senior public servants.

Our senior civil servants, trained at the Washington Consensus School, were anxious about their outlook, but only temporarily because they know how to “go with the flow.” Once again, they are spreading their wings. Their empowerment is causing them to reintroduce projects that we had hoped were finally buried.

Liberalism is gaining day by day within the central government, which has long been shaped by a sense of certainty when it comes to orthodox doctrines. Accordingly, a central governmental structure populated by technocrats has adhered to the proposals put forth by the troika [Ennahda, Congress for the Republic, Ettakatol], displaying complacency in the face of their demands.

It is important to take some time to read the document, which was published by the Ministry of Regional Development and Planning, titled, "Major projects in Tunisia, May 2012." It displays both a level of indigence, but also, and more seriously, a flagrant disregard for the necessity to break from the major pernicious tendencies of the past.

Beyond the aggressive manner in which the document projects its own self-worth, it would not take the reader long to discover that these large projects could easily be mistaken for those already available within the shared folders of the "competent" service members of the deposed regime and international donors. All of these projects are characterized by the same old illusions, fallacies and false hopes.

The projects include the privatization of strategic sectors; continuing to concrete the beach front, increasing hotel capacity, as well as multiplying the number of marinas, golf courses and spa centers. Their plan does not represent even a slight change of course.

Still, the document recognizes that the tourism industry is literally in danger, and that this could easily lead us into previously unknown abysses.

Better yet, I dare say that the tourism sector is an eminent factor of a "systemic risk," just like the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US and the Spanish real estate crisis.

The few thousand hotels in the country account alone for 75 percent of the banking sector’s outstanding and quasi-unrecoverable debt, which is on the verge of implosion. Dubious debts represent over 30 percent of banks’ outstanding credit — a number large enough to make this key sector of our economy collapse into itself. How can we keep ignoring this risk?

In our country, concrete and corruption go hand in hand. Despite this fact, our central administration, with the complicity of the circles mentioned above, is making  great strides to extend the very model that has already done great harm to the country. The model of rampant privatization reaffirms the priority of immediate profitability, reliance on foreign capital and the pursuit of competitiveness solely based on cutting labor costs. What about the unemployed graduates or the neglected sectors? Nothing!

Do you want large logistics hubs? Here they are, inspired by the same logic of our nine techno-poles, which are still desperately empty! But for which industrial purposes are such storing and stockpiling capacities being developed? There is no sign of an answer, except for this fallacious idea that we can continue to develop the service sector without any industrial or agricultural base!

I have repeatedly said that Tunisia neither has the history nor the future of Singapore. This 96-page document gives off a dizzying sensation of déjà vu. However, it will certainly be profitable for some.

To be fair, I should mention that the document includes several infrastructure projects: power plants, solar and wind power, and sea water desalination centers. It is high time for such projects! No, do not be mistaken, two out of three projects are again and again reserved for private capital, and the desalination project will be undertaken by Sakhr el-Materi [Ben Ali’s son-in-law] in Djerba.

If one is adamant about stifling the best public services, then this is exactly the thing to do. This criticism is not ideological, it is common sense. The state should consolidate its role as a provider of public goods, just like the private sector should aim to move up the value chain and provide products and services with higher added value. But there is no such thing in view! The Holy Alliance of "geographically localized" greed is back!

There is not a single project in the food industry, bio-industry or information technology. Frankly, the document is appalling. All in all, there is nothing to expect of our senior civil servants, who are all too happy to dig up these projects. Decode this document and you will find bids galore. Priority will go to the holders of local and foreign private capital and then... business will pick up again! At the risk of falling in disgust, the words of Ruy Blas come to mind: Bon Appetit, gentlemen! O upright ministers! O virtuous advisers! This is your way... of serving, o servants who pillage the house!

Found in: unemployment, tunisian development, troika, public sector, private sector, development model, corruption, concrete industry

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