Tunisian PM defends government record after 100 days in office

Experts warn that the country is in a more precarious economic situation than a year ago when GNP growth was at about 1%.
Thursday 25/06/2020
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. (AFP)
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. (AFP)

TUNIS - Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh presented to parliament a report of his first 100 days as head of government and an assessment of the country’s strategy to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“No more mending solutions, today we should talk about saving the Tunisian state,” Fakhfakh told deputies on Thursday, noting that he remains confident that Tunisians can meet the challenge.

He insisted that a rescue plan is essential, saying that the government and parliament “have to admit that mending solutions proved to be unsuccessful.”

“We will take the necessary measures while taking into account the vulnerable categories,” he argued.

On May 8, the Council of Ministers agreed on the need for a comprehensive rescue strategy focusing on reviving the economy, supporting the administration’s digitalisation efforts and social empowerment, particularly for Tunisian youth.

The Tunisian prime minister regretted that nearly 1 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are out of work and said that about 250,000 of them will soon be integrated into the job market as part of a youth empowerment programme.

Fakhfakh also said the state should not simply provide social assistance but also help offer equal opportunities in education, housing, transport and health.

The rescue strategy, aimed at restoring people’s confidence in the state and its institutions, “will draw on the fundamentals of Tunisia, strong by its achievements, and the skills and intelligence of its citizens,” Fakhfakh said.

"These are many attributes that will allow us to get out of the crisis if we change direction,” he said.

The Tunisian prime minister enumerated the main economic problems facing the country: administrative complications, the Port of Rades which has been operating only at 20% or 30% capacity and the Foreign Exchange and Trade Code.

In a review of his government’s first 100 days in office, Fakhfakh said that his cabinet has worked to "revolutionise" the administration by simplifying administrative procedures and establishing a unique identifier that facilitates exchange between different administrations.

Fakhfakh also highlighted his government’s success in fighting against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed thousands of deaths in European countries across the Mediterranean.

“Tunisia is among the first 10 countries to have successfully met the challenge,” Fakhfakh said.

"Our health system has remained operational," he added, noting that the country has recorded one of the lowest mortality rates of 4 deaths per 1 million inhabitants.

Fakhfakh also said that during the quarantine period, more than 200 flights were made available for the repatriation of some 25,000 Tunisians, in addition to repatriations by land.

But Tunisia now faces a number of post-COVID-19 challenges, with experts warning that the country is in a more precarious economic situation than a year ago when GNP growth was at about 1%.

It is clearly in worse shape than a decade ago, when high unemployment triggered the 2011 uprising. The conflict in next-door Libya will also continue to deprive Tunisians of trade and employment opportunities.

Tunisian unemployed graduates protest against Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh's announcement that public service recruitments will be stopped and that wages for public service employees could be cut.
Tunisian unemployed graduates protest against Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh's announcement that public service recruitments will be stopped and that wages for public service employees could be cut.

The country’s precarious economic situation is increasing pressure on the government and the prime minister, who has recently faced accusations of exploiting his position to achieve personal gains.

A scandal dubbed “Fakhfakh Gate” references a conflict of interest issue involving a private company owned by the prime minister to which he allegedly awarded two public tenders.

Fakhfakh, who has relinquished his shares in all companies dealing with the state, is still facing calls to be held to account.

These calls are suspected of being part of a pressure campaign by the Islamist Ennahda party and its political allies to maintain a destabilising leverage over Fakhfakh’s government.

The prime minister has previously said that he would not concede to Ennahda’s demands to reshape the governing coalition so as to include in it the Qalb Tounes party and exclude the pan-Arabist People’s Movement, which has often refused to cooperate with Ennahda on parliamentary initiatives.

Ghannouchi previously told Fakhfakh that if the conditions were not met, Ennahda could withdraw confidence from the government.

Qalb Tounes, led by Tunisian businessman Nabil Karoui, holds the second largest bloc in parliament. Previously a rival to Ennahda, Qalb Tounes has nudged closer to the Islamist party, especially in its voting of draft resolutions in parliament.