The boomerang effect of the Kas Saed policy

Since his coup on July 25, 2021, the head of state Kaïs Saïed has multiplied the speeches in which he advocates the fight against speculation, corruption and the exploitation of the Tunisian wealth and the people. The President of the Republic wanted to make it the spearhead of his policy and of the process that started since that date. “We will take the necessary measures!”, “Those responsible will be prosecuted”, “We know their identities”, “They are plotting in the shadows”, phrases that have become very familiar among Tunisians over time. After being massively repeated and without these remarks having had any real effect or consequences, these sentences have lost all credibility and indirectly damaged the presidency of the republic and the institutions of the state.

However, to understand the true impact of the speeches of the President of the Republic and his policies, we must take a step back and return to 2021, precisely on August 11, 2021, almost two weeks after the publication of the extraordinary measures. The Presidency of the Republic proudly exhibited a video showing the Head of State accompanied by a worker holding a crowbar storming the refrigeration centers for agricultural products in Tebourba and Jedaïda in the Manouba Governorate.

The sequence shows a citizen knocking on the padlocks and a president each time rushing into one of the cold rooms to hold an apple, pear or potato in his hand. He confidently inspected the vegetables and fruits, trying to show that he stood tall in his boots, that he knew what he was doing. He even used a thermometer to check the condition of the product. He looked like a real agricultural engineer! The head of state also took the opportunity to launch a few anti-corruption slogans, and the video ended with a speech recalling the famous “starvation cycles”. Naturally, there was no follow-up on this case, because it was not about speculation and the concealment of a potato fund. The owners’ papers were in order. Therefore, there was no drop in prices. Worse still, inflation has continued in its mad rush and the price of potatoes and all food has risen significantly since then. Since this first failure in the cold storage centers, transporters and retailers are increasingly suspicious and fear being challenged and arrested for the simple operation of transporting goods. The owners of cold stores avoid having goods on hand!

After this first failure, the President of the Republic had apparently decided to strike “hard” again, but by changing the target sector. Kaïs Saïed’s eyes were glued to the building materials. On August 20, 2021, he visited a construction material sales company in Fouchana (Governorate of Ben Arous) to inspect the distribution channels. A long procession, thousands of camera flashes and a good, well-prepared speech.

All the elements conducive to the success of this communication operation were in place! A firm and determined Kaïs Saïed had even announced the dismissal of the governor of Ben Arous due to the presence of a hidden stock of iron to drive up prices! A crowd present at the venue had expressed their support for the President of the Republic and applauded his presence.

Kaïs Saïed was proud of himself and devoted himself once more to seizing building materials and iron. On August 28, 2022, he had gone to the Bir Mecherga region of Zaghouan governorate after the seizure of almost 30 thousand tons of iron by units of the National Guard and the control team under the Ministry of Commerce. An unprecedented operation that required the visit of the highest official in the state: the president in person! A truly unique unit, and when you say unique unit, you say unique staging. Indeed, Kaïs Saïed did not hesitate to turn this event into a real film production worthy of the greatest Hollywood successes. Aerial drone photo, flying over the presidential motorcade, dark atmosphere and motivational populist speech! ” Here comes corruption! It’s in front of their eyes! he exclaimed.

Unfortunately, these two operations had proved to be a total failure. There was no speculation or concealment of iron stocks. The 30,000 tons of iron that were seized, in addition to being legally registered and reported to the national authorities, were partly owned by the Tunisian state and partly intended for export to Libya. The owner also clarified that the selling prices of the iron were set by the Ministry of Commerce and were not subject to supply and demand. There is therefore no interest in keeping this product, contrary to the claims of the head of state, who will no longer comment on this subject and will not give any explanation about this blunder. It is clear that the storm on this warehouse deterred any manufacturer or importer from continuing to operate in this sector for fear of being mistreated despite their normal situation. A real shortage has arisen and the leaders of the sector have asked to renegotiate the selling prices.

But these failures did not deter Kaïs Saïed, who on 14 March 2022 had paid an unexpected visit due to a lack of semolina and bread to a bakery located on Hedi Avenue Chaker at Bab El Khadhra in downtown Tunis. He met there with the owner to discuss the availability of flour. It was then that a real interrogation was initiated by the head of state. “Bread is available! », « The flour is available! », « Why is there no semolina? », « Isn’t the flour left? “, ” Nothing has changed ? », « The bread is available! “, he had launched to the poor baker, who could only respond with a few “no” and “I don’t know”. Another communication operation that turned into a comic scene instead of bringing the expected effect. This attempt changed nothing! Since then, flour has been a rare product to find, and a lack of bread has definitely entered our daily lives.

Faced with the failure of his “interventions” on the ground, the head of state decided to act differently. With no time to study the case or to analyze the real reasons behind the shortages and price increases, an anti-speculation law is issued a few days after the baker’s hearing. The text quickly became the subject of a controversy because of the similarities with the one announced by our Algerian neighbors a few months earlier, but also because of the ambiguities and the sanctions provided for in this law. The life imprisonment scenario has even been integrated into the text. The law can be applied randomly and to everyone, since the Tunisian state rushed to initiate a process based on criminalizing and sanctioning producers and traders instead of regulating and regulating the system’s failures.

Two raids carried out by the police and the teams from the Ministry of Trade even became famous on social networks and in the media because of the scandal they had caused. They demonstrated the ineffectiveness and failure of the presidential decree. The first incident took place in the warehouses of the Diari and Spiga groups, where quantities of wheat are stored that do not meet international standards and therefore cannot be exported. These products were confiscated under the pretext of being stored for speculative purposes. The group’s trade union has also demanded an official apology from the state. The second incident took place in the warehouse of a vegetable oil factory in Sfax. Its owner was falsely accused of speculation when the stored amounts of oil were to be distributed to customers, the company’s lawyer said.

All these elements, combined with the many charges launched by the President against businessmen and industrialists, have led to a real paralysis of the production and distribution chains. Faced with this overly aggressive approach and putting everyone in the same bag, producers, farmers and intermediaries show more and more reluctance. We avoid storing goods or transporting them. This has been observed in potato production. The owners of cold stores refused to store these goods for fear of being the subject of a presidential election and having their padlocks smashed with a crowbar. The farmers therefore felt compelled to choose traditional storage of their product. This situation led to the loss of 30% of national production.

In a statement given on August 24, 2022 in Assabah, the Secretary General of the National Federation of Lade Potato Producers, Mohamed Berrhouma, indicated that the rest of the national production will only cover our needs until next September. He said Tunisia will face a major shortage of potatoes.

With each of his attempts to intimidate speculators and to fight monopolies, Kaïs Saïed has thus completely missed the mark. He unfairly attacked traders in an ordinary situation. Instead of combating scarcity, it causes abundance. He introduced a rather flawed law copied from our Algerian neighbors and did not care about the consequences of this action.

The country’s economic situation deteriorated during this year in a rather surprising and rapid manner. The manufacturers’ fear induced by the attitude of the authorities did not help matters. In addition, political instability in recent years and the inability of the Bouden government to find common ground with the UGTT have completely blocked production and the creation of wealth. The inability of some ministers to keep up and implement real change has exacerbated the current crisis, and the issue of structural and institutional reforms has become increasingly urgent.

The unfortunate coincidence of international inflation and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict also brings Tunisia closer to the edge of the abyss. Shortages and supply problems will continue due to lack of financial resources. The country is swimming in troubled waters, and uncertainty has become our daily routine. Every time you wake up, every morning, you get up to discover the disappearance of a new product from the supermarket shelves or the rationing of another.

Sophie Ghoubantini

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