A recent news report by the state news agency TAP that treasury reserves have fallen below the necessary amount to cover operational expenses has sparked a new wave of political discontent, even as government representatives hasten to characterize the report as a misrepresentation of the facts.
TAP reported on Friday, January 4, that the state might not be able to pay public sector employees as the state’s treasury bank account had only 129 million dinars ($83 million) in December while public sector salaries for the month of January will cost significantly more than that.
The report sparked angry reactions from Tunisians on Facebook and Twitter, with many accusing the government of making unnecessary budget cuts, supporting a bloated bureaucracy, and paying the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) members exorbitant salaries.
@M_Ksila: The Tunisian state doesn’t have enough liquidity in order to pay salaries of the next month, are you still talking about a revolution!
Tunisian blogger Tarek Cheniti posted on his Facebook page: “It’s been a year since we’ve been “barking:” cut the expenditures, give up the services of the 80 ministers and deputy ministers, stop the salaries of the members of the constituent assembly, give up the administrative cars and free gas receipts, stop traveling and fun missions from one country to another. You don’t want to listen to us, and you want to enjoy the money of Tunisians, go ahead and be responsible for this right now! Don’t come back complaining about how the state went bankrupt, it’s God’s will. Give back the people’s money!“
But officials contacted by Tunisia Live roundly contested the TAP report.
The treasury account had 1.38 billion dinars on January 3, according to a source from the Ministry of Finance who wished to remain anonymous. The source explained that the report published by TAP was a misunderstanding. The treasury’s bank account, like any other bank account, is constantly in flux and changes according to income and expenses, the source said.
Economics expert and NCA member Moncef Cheikhrouhou said he was surprised by the TAP report, adding that the TAP journalist was wrong in jumping to the conclusion that the State could not afford its expenses, even if done unintentionally.
“I do represent the opposition. But I also represent the people at the NCA, and it is not acceptable to give such an image of our country,” he said.
Cheikhrouhou said that the incorrect information might harm the country’s potential investment opportunities in the Arabian gulf region and elsewhere.
“This new democracy means that we are building our nation’s credibility… It’s a lesson for all of us to be always aware,” he said.
According to Cheikhrouhou, the state of the treasury’s account is subject to constant change, depending on deals, expenses, and salaries. He added that the state has more than just one bank account.
Deputy Minister of Finance Slim Besbes clarified yesterday to TAP that the state will be able to pay public sector employees, adding that the budget has additional resources that do not appear on its treasury’s bank account.
“There is no need to worry,” he told TAP.
The minister of finance will be questioned before the NCA on Tuesday, January 8, in order to clarify the misunderstanding, Cheikhrouhou said.