Magharebia (Washington DC)

8 April 2014

Tunisia: U.S. Pledges Help for Tunisia

Tunis — Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Sunday (April 6th) said that his visit to the US had achieved its goals.

"During my visit to the United States, I could feel the major support given to the Tunisian experience," he added in a press conference at Carthage International Airport upon his return home.

He confirmed that he received financial backing and concluded development agreements for internal areas, together with promises of equipment to help with security. The premier added that economic support for Tunisia was conditional on the realisation of security and stability and a commitment not to spend loans on consumption.

Jomaa's US sojourn came on the heels of a Gulf visit where he sought aid for the Tunisian economy and state budget, which faces a steep deficit. The current government intends to resort to domestic borrowing, a review of the subsidy system and fiscal reform as well as loans and foreign aid in order to overcome the economic crisis witnessed by the country three years after the revolution.

"We have put together a roadmap for the future, and we need to think about the economic and social aspects," Jomaa said after his meeting with US President Barack Obama. "We also need to think about teaching and learning, and we are keen to develop our young people and to promote new technologies."

He added, "We completed the new constitution, despite difficulties, and we have acquired new hard-won freedoms. We have overcome the difficult periods and today we need to focus on the future and create new opportunities for our young people."

For his part, Obama pledged $500 million in loan guarantees so Tunisia can obtain advances from financial markets.

"The government of Mehdi Jomaa has major work to do in order to secure the organisation of the upcoming elections, to boost the economy and to continue political reforms initiated by the Tunisian government," Obama said.

Finance Minister Hakim Ben Hammouda, who was part of the delegation accompanying the prime minister, revealed the readiness of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to support Tunisia in the coming years. The finance minister said that the meetings, which took place with IMF chief Christine Lagarde and the World Bank board of directors, touched on the challenges faced by the emerging democracy.

"The meetings were fruitful and positive. The officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank confirmed their support to Tunisia economically and financially in order to help us accomplish the reforms that the government is doing its utmost to implement -- especially the fiscal reforms, banking, and investment," Ben Hammouda said.

Economic expert Moez Ejjoudi called on Jomaa to proceed with fiscal reform and to look for domestic sources to fill the budget deficit through partial privatisation of some public institutions, like electricity, water, and rail transport.

As to the Tunisians facing an economic and security crisis, most of them believe that the solution lies in foreign assistance.

"It's true that we don't know any solution other than this foreign assistance and loans," remarked teacher Abir Khdhir. "However, I hope no conditions will be attached to them by these international fiscal lobbies; we've already seen how they failed in other countries, such as Greece, for example."

Mohamed Ali Ben Moussa, 30, a construction worker, noted that some political parties were criticising the interim government for seeking foreign aid.

"Ok, what should we do now that the economy has collapsed and we don't have oil resources? The most important thing is to find support so economy can be revitalised," Ben Moussa told Magharebia.

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