Tunisia is facing immense pressure from international donors, including the International Monetary Fund and the EU, to make reforms that could jeopardise social peace, said economist and member of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights Abdeljalil Bedoui.
“The extortion of the Tunisian state has become evident and humiliating to national dignity,” Mr Bedoui told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday.
Talks with Tunisia regarding an IMF bailout stalled months ago after Tunisian President Kais Saied on several occasions refused proposed terms that were key to the deal.
Mr Saied rejected the fund’s conditional financial package which seeks to push his government for more austerity and cut public spending.
However, the key terms that Mr Saied described as “foreign diktats” were initially included in the proposal made by his government in the early stages of talks between Tunisia and the IMF for a $1.9 million bailout loan.
“The President’s rhetoric contradicts the projects his government is proposing … The rejection also comes in the absence of any sort of alternatives, which are needed for such stances to make sense on the ground,” Mr Bedoui said.
However, the IMF’s proposed deal has been criticised by Tunisian experts and citizens, who perceive its terms – such as the gradual removal of the subsidies system and subjecting the public sector namely health and education to growing austerity measures- as a hard blow to their purchasing power and their capacity to survive amid an exacerbated economic crisis.
“The IMF only wants to protect its interests in Tunisia and have guarantees that we will be able to pay our previous debts which have become a burden to the public finances and is ominous of the incapacity of the state to pay it back,” Mr Bedoui added.
Meanwhile, the IMF has long argued that the use of subsidies to provide cheap fuel, electricity and food to citizens is an uncessary drain on public resources, that could otherwise be invested in growth-promoting economic sectors, such as education and building new infrastructure.
“It [subsidies] can distort markets, prevent efficient outcomes, and divert resources to less productive uses … They also create opportunities for rent-seeking behaviour – activities that manipulate the distribution of economic resources to bring positive returns to individuals, not to society – and harm smaller economies that cannot afford to subsidise,” said an IMF report released this month.
This argument, however, has been widely criticised by local experts who believe that even the gradual removal of a subsidies system that has been in place for more than 50 years might generate social unrest and further widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
Tunisia has experienced protests and civil disobedience throughout different periods of its history, triggered by attempts to remove subsidies from certain basic goods. In some cases, people have even lost their lives in the unrest.
“Almost every country that adopted austerity policies in the past showed the failure of such policies, which have led to an increase in poverty and public indebtedness,” Mr Bedoui explained.
According to Mr Bedoui, change in Tunisia’s financial system should not come at the expense of the social and developmental aspects.
Tunisia’s worsening economic situation has pushed it to seek out loans from international lenders to pay other debts.
This has left little room for successive governments to make progress in development projects and public investments.
According to figures from the National Statistics Institute, Tunisia has only had a 0.7 development growth rate over the past decade.
The status quo has caused an ongoing deficit in the state's public funds and constant dependency on international lenders to avoid collapse.