After the shortage of iron, cement, sugar, oil, eggs, rice, milk, mineral water and hundreds of brands of medicine, it is the turn of fuel to disappear from gas stations.
Since the beginning of the week, Tunisians have been queuing for a few liters of petrol or diesel. Rationing obliges, the maximum amount allowed varies between twenty and thirty liters. Sometimes more if the customer gives a small tip to the attendant.
Officially, the shortage is explained by the late arrival of a boat and consumer frenzy. The government takes no responsibility for what happens. As usual. It is a national culture to look for a scapegoat and say it is someone else’s fault.
In truth, what is happening today is the fault of the rulers and their fault alone. Ministers and directors-general can blame suppliers and consumers, but the fault lies first and foremost in poor governance in Tunisia over the past eleven years and in particular since the press release of 25 July 2021.
Several economists and politicians, such as Hakim Ben Hammouda and Fadhel Abdelkéfi, have warned the authorities for months that Tunisia would follow Lebanon’s sad path. Business News has published several alarming articles. In response, Kaïs Saïed aficionados multiplied insults and threats, including death threats, against all those who criticize the President of the Republic.
What is happening now should have happened since the beginning of the year. The 2022 Finance Law, published late and without any public debate, wrote in black and white that the government needed IMF financing to meet its obligations. This funding has not arrived. The Finance Act provided for a number of reforms to create balance in public finances. Reforms that have never been implemented. Theoretically, the government should have laid the groundwork as early as March 2022. How has it managed to survive since then?
In order to pay salaries and honor its credits since the beginning of the year, the government had to adopt the D system. Dozens of suppliers, Tunisian and foreign, have not been paid on time, leading to the bankruptcy of several local companies. As for foreign companies, they have simply blacklisted Tunisia and now require cash payment before delivery. This is the case with pharmaceutical laboratories, and it explains the shortage of hundreds of drugs. The government has also made use of bond issues and taken out loans from national banks. It has had a major impact on economic life and growth, as the banks can no longer finance companies. Still, it is one of their main roles.
A decree authorizing the government to borrow foreign currency from national banks has also been published. As a direct consequence, travel agencies can no longer book hotels abroad due to a lack of sufficient foreign currency.
To make matters worse, the President of the Republic has multiplied public statements accusing hypothetical speculators of being behind inflation, monopoly and shortages. A harshest decree has been issued, punishing any suspected speculator with criminal prosecution and imprisonment of up to life. At the same time, he ordered the police (from the Ministry of the Interior) to raid warehouses to trace speculators where they are. As an immediate result, wholesalers avoid stockpiling goods for fear of being seen as speculators. This seriously disrupted the supply and distribution circuits. This explains in particular the lack of mineral water.
Kaïs Saïed has assumed full powers since his coup. He has all the cards in his hand, and he can’t accuse anyone of putting a spoke in his wheels.
Except here’s this super president without a plan. He doesn’t even distinguish between millions and billions. His diagnosis is wrong and his rescue strategy is unknown. Without any experience whatsoever in administrative management or in the state apparatus, he hid his ignorance with populism. Vague and anachronistic speeches, light accusations based on Facebook posts or police reports, medieval leadership references from the era of the Arab-Islamic epic… Appointments of relatives as inexperienced as him in the management of state affairs, such as the governors of Tunis or Ben Arous .
Worse, Kaïs Saïed loves to dwell on trivialities far removed from the concerns of Tunisians, as was the case this week when he summoned the Minister of Agriculture. While Tunisia is mourning dozens of missing at sea, buried as unknown foreigners, and the country is experiencing shortages of fuel and several foodstuffs, the president’s interest has focused on two officials from the ministry’s use of administrative vehicles to go to a meeting of a political party. He accused the two officials whose functions have been mentioned, facilitating their identification, of corruption! The thing is not even illegal, as it is allowed for senior employees to use their company car for private purposes.
The meeting between the President of the Republic and the Minister of Agriculture alone gives an idea of Kais Saïed’s priorities and the content of the intelligence reports he receives!
Given the country’s economic situation, the fact that the necessary reforms have still not been implemented and that the IMF dossier is far from closed, the issue of shortages and rationing will become more accentuated in the coming weeks and months. We’re only just getting started. And as long as Kaïs Saïed has not admitted his incompetence to lead the state, we are not ready to see the end of the tunnel.
Raouf Ben Hedi
NB: title inspired by Aïda Fehri’s Facebook post