Hamadi Jebali’s cabinet is scheduled to be approved by a vote of confidence on Friday, December 23rd. After announcing the government platform, and its composition, many Constituent Assembly members have conveyed their worries concerning the Tunisian economy.
However, in his recent speech, Prime Minister Jebali proposed an initiative to create approximately 20,000 public jobs and providing 50,000 Tunisians with free health care. In this regard, Mehdi Ben Gharbia – who serves in the Constituent Assembly as the Progressive Democratic Party’s (PDP) representative from the northern governorate of Bizerte – feels that this step will do nothing but add to the already heavy economic burden on the government. “We want to know how the government will fund all these initiatives.”
Two months have passed since Tunisians cast their votes to elect representatives in the Constituent Assembly - the body that will write the country’s new constitution and decide its affairs. However, the new government has not yet begun its work. Moreover, the previous interim government met many stalemates, and did not take any strong measures to halt Tunisia’s economic deterioration. The previous interim government faced a crisis of legitimacy given that they had not been elected.
“Unlike the previous interim government, the new Cabinet is expected to make more vigorous and radical decisions,” added Mehdi Ben Gharbia.
Tunisia is currently on the verge of an economic breakdown. The wave of protests that have swept the country have paralyzed many companies and led a few to delocalize. To counter the crisis and to boost the economy, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali is relying on foreign markets and trade. However, Tunisia’s most important partners, Europe and Libya, are witnessing difficult times, as well.
Maya Jribi, Secretary General of the PDP, does not see Jebali’s plan as a viable option. “Libya is still unstable and insecure, and Europe is facing a severe economic crisis. We cannot really consider [Jebali's plan] as a solution.”
Kalthoum Badreddine, a representative from Ennahdha, commented on Jebali’s proposed initiatives to promote microfinance and to encourage small and medium-sized businesses, asserting that as long as the classic interest system is used, microfinance will be ineffective. “We should opt for a different banking system – like an Islamic banking system – to help alleviate the burden of loans benefits,” stated Ms. Badreddine.
The opposition within the Constituent Assembly has also expressed concerns about the absence of a deadline for the new government, claiming that Jebali’s promises are too ambitious to be fulfilled in less than 18 months – as some members of the Troika (the coalition of Ennahdha, Ettakatol, and the CPR) have previously announced. According to the opposition the only means to assess the government’s performance is through witnessing Jebali’s promises take the form of concrete numbers and statistics. Funding sources for the government’s development plans have also topped the list of the opposition’s fears. After all, Hamadi Jebali’s cabinet is part of Tunisia’s first democratic coalition government, and with this newness comes high expectations and hopes.