Tunisia adopts 2012 budget
By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/01/12
Tunisia approved a nearly 23 billion dinar budget last Friday (December 30th), a 7.5% increase over a year ago, with the majority of the expenditures set aside for social development.
Constituent Assembly Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaàfer said the process was dictated by circumstances prevailing in the country and the size of the challenges, pointing out that the major share of the budget was allocated to wages, amounting to 37%.
Finance Minister Houcine Dimassi said that the budget seeks "to respond, to the maximum extent possible, to the aspirations of the people, especially employment and disadvantaged areas and groups, despite the difficulties and challenges that are expected to affect 2012 budget revenues".
Dimassi said the European economic crisis, social unrest and on-going sit-ins will have a negative impact on the nation's budget. Europe is Tunisia's largest trading partner.
"The conditions for successful implementation of this budget are stabilisation of the security situation in the country, achieving social harmony between the political and social sides, and acceptance by different groups of sacrifice to overcome this difficult year," the minister said. He called for avoiding "over-indebtedness so that the state is not financially dependent on the outside".
Regional Development Minister Jameleddine Gharbi stressed the need for concerted efforts by all parties to contribute to the development and success of slated projects, pointing out that the biggest problems in Tunisia are the large disparity between areas, along with unemployment and the efficacy of the economic system.
The social and development sector accounted for the greatest share of expenses in the state's draft budget for the year 2012. Approximately 55 million dinars were earmarked for improving living conditions and creating jobs in inland and disadvantaged areas. On the other hand, the government backed down on an amendment of fuel subsidy expenditures, which will remain in the range of 1.365 billion dinars next year.
The 2012 budget also aims to achieve 4.5% GDP growth and roughly 75,000 new jobs. Forty-per cent of the budget will be dedicated to underdeveloped regions, according to Gharbi.
According to the latest statistics, the unemployment rate is around 18% and the poverty rate is at 24%, while the economic growth rate has not exceeded 0% over the past three years and foreign investment declined by 31.9%.
As a way out of this crisis and to achieve the set of goals put forth in the draft budget for the current year, the government approved austerity measures in public expenditures.
"We will be austere in budget expenditure at all levels, from the presidency to government agencies, ministries, offices and public companies," Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said.
Ennahda member Nabil Banani said that "some of the privileges of statesmen will be curtailed, such as reducing the amount of fuel and tickets for travel, and travelling in the regular classes instead of luxury classes, along with rationalisation of the administrative use of motor vehicles."
Notably, Tunisia's foreign debt amounted to 38.2% in 2011, up from 36.9% in 2010.
On the Tunisian street, many were optimistic that the new finance act could lead to concrete solutions for social problems.
"I hope these goals outlined in the draft budget don't just remain ink on paper," commented Younes Nassra. "We want to implement the budget on the ground and for it to go to its beneficiaries, because we are tired of promises. And we do not want to pump in money and others loot, and to repeat the scenario of the past."
Citizen Fathia Abdallah echoed the desire for results. "This year we want to find salaries countering the high cost of living, jobs filling the hunger of the unemployed for work, grants meeting the needs of the poor, streets not flooded with rainwater and hospitals rising to the needs of patients," Abdallah said.
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