In early May, an official delegation to Washington D.C. met with International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for discussions on a new loan program for Tunisia. According to a leaked, confidential document allegedly produced by the Tunisian government which Bloomberg reported on (but did not publish), the government proposed removing food and energy subsidies as part of these discussions. In May and June, the prices of several consumer goods, including subsidized sugar, were raised or increased. Some have claimed these price increases were meant to “appease” the IMF as part of the ongoing loan discussions.
Between October 3-4, more than 90 public officials and representatives in international trade, cooperation, and governance convened in Tunis for the MENA-OECD Forum and Ministerial Conference. Participating governments signed the Tunis Declaration affirming their continued commitment to policy reform for “inclusive growth” and integration into the global economy.
Even in the discourse of the world’s greatest advocates of free-market economic growth, one is hard pressed to identify substantial economic merit associated with draft law 49/2015. Indeed, the President’s incorrigible faith in reconciliation as key for economic growth appears less founded in a comprehensive economic strategy than a political one.
In Tunisia’s case, there will likely be for many years to come the relentless push, from both without and within, for foreign governments and institutions to supply aid, support, assistance, and know-how to the end/under the pretext of promoting economic growth, social justice, and State accountability. In this context, will Tunisia allow outside interests and impositions to define its foreign relations and, by extension, its own autonomy? or will it remain vigilant, deliberate, and selective in decisions concerning relations with its geographical neighbors, economic ‘partners,’ and strategic ‘friends’?
From a socio-political perspective, an index that measures “economic freedom” is at first glance misleading. Certainly a significant factor in the discrepancy between The Heritage Foundation’s perspective on poverty and prosperity and the economic, social, and political realities that ordinary citizens face are contrasting interpretations and applications of the word “freedom.” Ironically, many Tunisians who experience what they perceive to be a lack of economic freedom recognize institutions that embrace free-market ideals as culpable for or complicit in economic insecurity.
In this newest publication, World Bank economists Antonio Nucifora and Bob Rijkers reiterate this background of corruption, characterized by «limited competition and active state intervention» and of which enduring vestiges are manifest in «three dualisms, namely the onshore-offshore division, the dichotomy between the coast and the interior, and the segmentation of the labor market»– to explain the present economic crisis that is its legacy.