The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) is set on cutting public expenditures in a bid to reduce the budget deficit, yet some argue that the budget cuts undertaken thus far have not been done in the most transparent manner.
Last week, three million dinars ($1.9 million) were added to the state budget in the form of pay raises for NCA members – a seemingly unwise move, given the government’s preoccupation with austerity. Hedi Ben Brahem, a NCA member affiliated with Ennahdha, explained to Tunisia Live that the augmentation represented a reallocation of resources within the budget.
“The government stopped paying hotels for the [NCA members'] stays, and is using that money (three million dinars) as housing stipends to be given directly to the members. It is in fact economical,” said Ben Brahem.
It is a “compensation, not a pay raise,” he stressed.
Sami Ramedi, spokesperson of the Tunisian Association of Transparency, expressed concern over the legislative handling of the 3 million dinar addition to the budget.
All lawmaking decisions concerning the budget used to require the approval of an administrative court. However, this is no longer the case as of Friday, December 28.
“The administrative court had ruled to stop the implementation of the pay increase, yet the NCA members met on Friday at 1 a.m., and passed a law allowing the government’s president (Hamadi Jebali) to bypass the court’s decision,” Ramedi explained.
According to Ramedi, the NCA’s move to sidestep the administrative court raises concern over the state of checks and balances in the legislative branch.
The NCA also voted last week to decrease the presidential budget from 79 to 77 million dinars. The decision was reached “as the presidency and the Ministry of Finance gathered their efforts to achieve satisfactory results for both sides,” Ben Brahem stated.
On December 24, the NCA had originally rejected a bill that included a raise in the presidential budget. The spokesperson of the presidency’s office, Adnen Mansar, claimed during a press conference on December 27 that the provisional law of public powers allows President Moncef Marzouki to confirm the budget raise without the consent of the NCA. Yet, Marzouki never exercised such a prerogative, and a decrease in the presidential budget was later implemented.
Ramedi pointed to certain areas of lavish spending by the presidency that could be reduced. “The Tunisair bill shows 2.7 million dinars in the presidency’s transportation costs,” he said.
Slashing the budget deficit has long been a priority of the government. “Tunisia is looking to limit the budget deficit of the state over the next year to 5.9% (of gross domestic product) compared with an expected 6.6% this year,” Finance Minister Slim Besbes told Reuters in October 2012.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the different values given for the budget and other expenses were in billion dinars. The amounts ought to be in million dinars, and the changes have been duly made.