Bardo — Interim Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said "efforts continue to create more jobs and promote the system of vocational training which has been enriched by a new strategy for a month now," adding that government measures helped reduce the unemployment rate to 15.7% (late 2013) from 18.9% in 2011.
In the government's statement to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), which began on Wednesday the discussion of the State budget for 2014, Larayedh noted that unprecedented investments have been mobilised to fight poverty under social expenditures and transfers. The value of these funds reached 25% of the GDP and will rise to 26% in 2014, he indicated.
He announced the creation of a data bank on needy families with limited income, adding that assistance to poor categories now benefits 235 thousand families, along with the increase in the amount of the monthly premium paid to these families who will also benefit, along with 578 thousand people with limited income, of free medical care and discounted care in public health institutions.
Efforts also focused on improving living conditions, he also said, adding that drinking water supply in rural areas has reached 94.7% in 2013 against 93.8% in 2011.
Likewise, connection to the electricity network in rural areas also reached 99% in 2013, while connection to the sewerage system rose to 86% in the same year, he said.
Regarding the specific programme of social housing which targets social categories with limited income, Larayedh pointed out that efforts continue to implement this programme which provides for removing rudimentary dwellings and replacing them with new houses. It also provides for the construction of social and individual residential units, concurrently to the continued implementation of the programme of rehabilitation and integration of large neighbourhoods spread over 2012-2016.
Speaking of the social security and medicare schemes, the prime minister said studies continue to present appropriate solutions and reforms to resolve the debt problems of these funds.
This necessary and unavoidable reform should be made after consultation with all stakeholders, he indicated.
The prime minister added that efforts continued in 2013 to boost investment in the health sector through strengthening basic infrastructure, equipment and drug manufacturing projects as well as through the promotion of human resources to develop health services and bring them closer to citizens across all regions of the country.
Action will involve in 2014 the development of the health map, the reinforcement of medics and paramedics in all regions, regular drug supply, improvement of health indicators like life expectancy which will increase to 75.2 years, said Larayedh.
He stressed that the draft Finance Law for 2014 contains a set of social measures providing, in particular, for reducing the tax burden for categories with limited income and tax benefits under the specific programme of social housing.
These measures are consistent with the constants of the social policy adopted by the government, he said.
They also provide for controlling food commodity prices by increasing offer and buffer stocks, good management of distribution circuits, fight against parallel trade, strengthening control operations at the border strip and in border crossings and multiplying points of sale "from producer to consumer" given the success of this experience in 2013.
Employment, subsidy, prices, social security, education, vocational training... are all issues about which it is necessary to reach broad national consensus given their importance and their influence on the next generations. This can only be achieved in a climate of social peace and political stability, he stressed.
Though the wage increases and premiums decided under agreements signed in 2011 and thereafter helped protect vulnerable groups, respond to legitimate claims and entrench social justice, they have nonetheless contributed to increasing the expenses of the State which was forced to borrow more, he noted.
To promote economic growth, Larayedh stressed the need to achieve balance between spending and resources, establish social stability and redouble efforts and productivity.
"Thus, we can achieve higher growth rates, be competitive and win the confidence of Tunisian and foreign investors," he added.