Citizens, politicians, union members, and government officials expecting decisive, well-elaborated plans and concrete initiatives in Jomâa’s press conference on Wednesday must have experienced marked disappointment, exasperation, or resignation to the Prime Minister’s consistently long-winded and half-hearted commitments to spurring reforms. A Kapitalis article characterizes last week’s much-anticipated public address as lacking the fervor, resolve, and daring that present circumstances (as well as analysts and citizens) call for. According to the article, there is more substance worthy of pondering in what Jomâa did not say during his speech:
His press conference, meant to assess the one hundred days of his administration and to announce his program for the rest of the year, was redundant, long, tedious, wearing, and sometimes annoyingly complacent. It showed that Mr. Jomâa, a ‘smiling Ben Ali,’ according to the biting commentary of a colleague, evidently does not have the audacity required of a Head of Government to take draconian measures, harsh and unpopular, and to find the words and tone adequate to pronounce them.
Imed Bahri, What Mehdi Jomâa Cannot Say
La Presse de Tunisie similarly observes:
In close to two hours of an almost scholastic speech, Mehdi Jomâa certainly took stock of his days in government. But he also very subtly sidestepped the requirements of the National Dialogue’s Roadmap to which he is bound. By dwelling on the ‘strategic,’ he seems to have chosen his own roadmap. Was Mehdi Jomâa successful in the first test of communication that was his press conference Wednesday night addressing his one hundred days at the head of government? A. Dermech, Does Jomâa Have What it Takes to Realize His Ambitions?
Jomâa’s promise that «elections will take place before the end of 2014» and President of the Independent Superior Court for Elections (ISIE) Chafik Sarsar’s announcement that voter registration will open on June 23 followed the most recent Sigma Conseil poll in which Jomâa ranked the highest among prospective presidential candidates. As of May 12, Jomâa received the majority of votes (14.7 percent), more than Béji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounes (11.8 percent), Moncef Marzouki (4.6 percent), Hamadi Jebali (2.8 percent), and Kamel Morjani (1.8 percent). In spite of the fact that there are no constitutional provisions in place for the Head of Government’s candicacy in the elections and his assertion in Wednesday’s press conference to that end—«I am here until the end of 2014 and have no intention of remaining at the Kasbah once elections have finished,»— neither citizens nor journalists have apparently ruled out the possibility that Tunisia’s interim Prime Minister might run for president.
(Symbolically) Economizing State Resources
Addressing economic challenges, the Prime Minister expressed that he intends to lay the groundwork for the structural reforms of a new development model– «[Ours] is a model based on consumption; it must be based on investment» that focuses on revaluing labor, enhancing productivity («It is imperative to increase production and improve productivity») and in turn curbing inflation and improving the purchasing power of the dinar. In what has become a predictable lack of detail and the elaboration of clear plans for which civil society and political figures have thirsted, Jomâa evoked the National Economic Dialogue as the mechanism for devising fiscal and bank reforms. Jomâa looks to the administration and citizenry alike to share in a collective commitment to reduce the country’s 3.5 million dinar commercial deficit and 1.5 million dinar budgetary deficit by the end of the year. To this end, he proposed a twenty percent salary reduction and the replacement of government vehicles (objects of public disdain for what is commonly regarded as the excessive or unmerited remuneration for government officials’ work) with travel allowances. Such measures to the end of economizing state resources elicited the Prime Minister’s comment that «all of this is symbolic,» a statement that is apparently true of his speech in general but particularly of his economic plan, one feature of which is the National Loan program that solicits the help of citizens to amass 500 million dinars for State funding.
National Loan Program – State Calls Upon Citizens to Exercise Patriotic Duty
Program Objective: Mobilization of internal resources in order to finance a portion of the State’s budgetary needs for 2014, particularly in terms of financing of development, infrastructure, and investment projects.
For one month, Tunisians may make a financial contribution to the State through the National Loan program, an initiative launched by the Ministry of Economics and Finance that remains open until the thirteenth of next month. According to Minister Hakim Ben Hammouda, the projected 500 million dinars—towards which Tunisians, Tunisian non-residents, and foreigners are encouraged to contribute (and to which all government officials will dedicate ten percent of their salary for the month of May)—«will permit us to avoid imminent foreclosure at a time when the country is experiencing a liquid assets crisis.»
Critics call into question the relevance and relative efficacy of the National Loan initiative, arguing that it is not in fact conducive to the investment economy that the Prime Minister invoked, and that, more importantly, the current economic and political atmosphere in Tunisia is too much in a state of flux for people to feel secure enough to invest while La Presse de Tunisie asks, «When we know and when the Head of Government also recalled in his press conference on Wednesday that fifty percent of the economy is wrapped up in parallel commerce, why have we not implemented a tax amnesty in order to harness the liquid assets that circulate the informal economy?» Commentaries to online articles reflect that some regard the initiative as a warranted call for citizens to excercise their responsibility to the country and others express indignation that the government would solicit the citizenry to provide funds to the State when so many Tunisians’ primary concerns and insecurities stem from the very palpable and quotidian economic struggles they face; still others doubt the authenticity of the intended use of the requested funds.
“I will participate, excellent initiative !”
The Tunisian citizen must learn to be patriotic and responsable with respect to the State in difficult and critical times, and to separate himself from his legendary egotism. The Tunisian citizen doesn’t know anything but to aggressively demand, at the expense of State funds, a raised salary and benefits in spite of zero productivity.
This loan enables us to help the State; we must be responsible, decrease our external debt through internal economic agents which will furthermore reduce inflation as the monetary mass in circulation will diminish.
Put your legendary egotism aside and help your country.
I call upon all Tunisians living abroad to give as much as they can.
Reader commentaries in response to The National Loan Has Its Official Website
Amamy and Law 52 – An Affair of Various Interpretations, Debated Significance
Whether or not many consider it among the most pressing issues facing the country and whether or not it will be formally adopted into the National Dialogue, Law 52 by way of the Azyz Amamy affair has inarguably made its way into national dialogue. Through the outpouring of articles, gatherings, demonstrations, social network campaigns, online debates and commentaries, and political parties and ANC deputies announcing (divergent) views on the issue, Law 52 is suddenly as omnipresent as questions pertaining to economy and security. If some have decried its triviality in the context of a pivotal transition period, their voices have only added to the street and media clamor in response to Amamy’s and Mlouka’s arrest this week to the extent that it has become an invariable distraction from the long-standing issues that constitute the bulk of Jomâa’s discourse.
A Nawaat article points out the nuance which has pulled the controversy, of which Amamy has become the most recent symbolic figure, into the political arena, and specifically into the Prime Minister’s speech which was, of course, to discuss his one hundred days in office and not the past week in politics.
…those who focus on the charges against Azyz Amamy miss the significance of this affair : the behavior of the police vis-à-vis its citizens, whatever the charges against them may be. It is imperative to stress that the police do not exact justice; they intervene and it is up to the courts to judge and to enforce the law. And when the police intervene, they must do so in strict compliance with the law, never overstepping the prerogatives conferred to them. Riadh Guerfali, Azyz Amamy and the Public Hearing of the Approach of Tunisian Police
Others consider the affair in relation to another issue of national interest, the smuggling of contraband. Quoted in La Presse de Tunisie, Yassine Brahim of the political party Afek Tounes explains that «It is important to understand that Tunisia has almost become a platform for cannabis owing to the porosity of our borders» and that confronting the issue means waging «war against drug traffickers as opposed to going after consumers.» Whether its perceived significance is drug use, police action, political repression of dissidence, traffiking, or even if its importance is estimated to be secondary to more pressing economic and security issues, Law 52–which is, in the words of the Prime Minister, «no longer in line with our time»–has been pulled onto the table for discussion and imminent reform…that is, of course, in measure with the Jomâa rate and output of productivity.
…is this subject a national priority? Is it urgent to discuss the legislation of this issue during this transitional period, with an assembly that was elected to draft the constitution? Must we politicize everything?…It is unfortunate that the dictatorship used this question to settle scores with certain opponents, but this should not push us to banalize cannabis use.
Other Priorities for the Country
This is an interesting debate…but here in Tunisia we have a multitude of security, economic, and social problems that render this issue superfluous and unessential.
Reader commentaries in response to Karima Souid – I Call For a National Dialogue on Cannabis