By Emily Crane | Jan 8 2014demonstration , El-Kef , louage , protest , tax ,
Protests and demonstrations, including an attack on a police headquarters, broke out across Tunisia on Wednesday in response to tax hikes contained in the government’s 2014 budget.
The budget contains several tax reforms affecting public and agricultural transportation vehicles, leading to protests in Tunisia’s less-developed interior regions.
In Thala, protesters clashed with police forces. They stormed the police headquarters there, burned a police vehicle, and drove the police from the building, according to Majoub Kahri, a physician at the Kasserine Regional Center for Health. State-run news agency TAP reported two police officers were injured in the clashes; Kahri confirmed at least one.
In Kasserine, small pockets of protesters attempted to storm the ruling Ennahda party’s regional headquarters and set fire to it, but they were dispersed by police forces on the site, according to Faycel Ennaceur of the Ennahda media office.
In El Kef, over 100 shared taxi (louage) drivers blocked the main road going through the city in protest against the new budget’s hike in taxes on their vehicles. Adel Hanani, vice president of the Federation of Transportation in the UTICA employers’ union, said the increase in taxes was only one of a long list of financial problems plaguing public transportation drivers.
“Since the devaluation of the dinar after the revolution, cars have gotten impossibly expensive,” Hanani told Tunisia Live. “And the price of gas has gone up, the price of oil has gone up, the price of tires has gone up. All of these things have gone up in price by 28 percent. Plus the cost of insurance is always rising. And now they’re adding more taxes. It’s impossible.”
The UTICA employers union has arranged a meeting with the ministers of finance, transportation, and interior as well as the presidency for Thursday morning to discuss amending the budget law.
“I hope that at the end of this, we’ll have succeeded in agreeing on terms that are agreeable for the drivers in this country,” Hanani said.
Farmers across the country also took part in demonstrations Tuesday and Wednesday protesting Article 66 of the 2014 budget law that would require them to receive a state-issued license in order to qualify for tax breaks on their vehicles, according to Omar El Bahi, vice president of food products for the UTAP agricultural union.
“50 percent of farmers are illiterate, how can the government expect them to get a license?” El Bahi said.
In the past, farmers have benefitted from an 80 percent tax reduction on vehicles used to transport agricultural goods and rely heavily on this reduction to survive, El Bahi said. Obtaining the documents necessary for the license would be both costly and time-consuming, El Bahi said, and the farmers would not be able to get it in time to pay their vehicle taxes. Under the new law, this would then require them to pay the full tax on their vehicles, which outraged the farmers and sent them to the streets.
After negotiations Wednesday between the Ministry of Finance and the UTAP agricultural union, the ministry released a statement announcing that they had agreed to suspend the patent requirement for the time being and the farmers could continue to qualify for the tax reduction under the former system.
In the meantime, the UTAP agricultural union will meet with the Ministry of Finance to discuss making the patent requirement more feasible for farmers.
“We’re not against the license idea but it’s a complicated idea,” El Bahi said. “The law wasn’t written with farmers in mind.”