10 January 2014

Tunisia: New Tunisia Finance Law Angers Citizens

Tunis — Tunisian troops fired shots into the air as demonstrators tried to storm the local treasury, but this was not 2011 and the revolution.

This was Wednesday evening (January 8th) in Kasserine, where citizens sought to draw attention to what they perceived as their marginalisation by central authorities.

"Kasserine produced many martyrs for dignity, freedom and the right to employment and development," said Leila Tlili, who is still seeking employment five years after graduating from a higher institute.

"Yet three years after the fall of the corrupt regime, none of this has materialised," she said.

It's not just Kaseerine where Tunisians are showing their anger.

In Sfax, the state capital of the south, the truckers' union entered into an open-ended strike to protest the Finance Law and the hike in the road tax.

A Shams FM correspondent said the peaceful strike was confrontation-free but "caused paralysis in the entire commercial port, along with the closure of a number of roads and a railway at the in Sfax and Sakiet Ezzit".

In a Wednesday evening statement, the interior ministry confirmed the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully, but stressed the need to avoid "using violence and attacks on public and private properties".

"The attacks launched by some groups on security headquarters can only harm the relationship between citizens and security agents, especially at this time when security forces are working to protect our borders and cities from terrorism and crime," the ministry said.

Ennahda called on the government "to review the road tax included in the Finance Law of 2014 and waive it for the sectors concerned".

It said in a statement issued on Wednesday that it "understands the causes of the protests of the sectors affected by this law, including owners of light trucks and farmers".

Many protesters scoffed at the party's "confusing" position.

Slim Kanzari, a farmer in the north-west said, "I do not understand how members of Ennahda voted on this law in the Constituent Assembly and now are demanding its review."

Mohamed Weslati, a member of the General Union of Tunisian Workers agreed with Kanzari: "We have warned everybody of the risk of passing an unpopular finance law. This law burdens citizens with taxes and destroys the middle class."

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Elyes Fakhfakh held a press conference to clarify the position of his ministry about the increase on road taxes vis-a-vis vehicle owners.

"The increase in medium-sized transport vehicles amounted to 24 dinars while the increase for the year for taxis is 15 dinars. As for trucks whose load is less than or equal to 1 tonne, the tax increase amounted to 16 dinars and 32 dinars for trucks whose load exceeds two tonnes," Fakhfakh said.

He also rejected rumours about an increase in road taxes for farmers who own trucks to 500 dinars and called for the need to "accept the actions taken by the Ministry of Finance".

Fakhfakh noted that not adhering to the new financial law could place Tunisia in a Greece-like scenario should "the wave of protests against the decisions of the Ministry of Finance continue".

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