Tunisia - Tunisia had managed to repay 93% of its total external debt service by the end of November 2023, said Finance Minister Sihem Nemsia during a plenary session held at the Bardo Palace on Wednesday afternoon to examine the 2024 budget law.

"Despite the difficult situation of public finances and the external factors that have affected the state's financial balance, Tunisia has managed to honour its commitments to its financial partners and donors," she added.

In response to the MPs' speeches, the Minister also talked about the financing needs set out in the 2024 State Budget, which amount to TND 28,188 million.

She said that TND 11,743 million of these needs will be covered by recourse to the domestic market (i.e. 42% of the debt resources) and TND 1,445 million by recourse to external debt. The resources to be raised through external debt will be divided between direct loans for project financing and TND 14,470 million in budget support.

"Self-reliance is our philosophy in the context of the 2024 State budget. However, Tunisia is also counting on its relations with sisterly and friendly countries to mobilise the external financing provided for in the 2024 budget. And we have begun to activate our diplomatic relations to obtain guarantees and raise the necessary funds," the minister added.

The 2024 budget also upholds the social role of the state, according to the minister. "We have chosen to maintain subsidies and not to revise prices, despite the pressure on public finances. We have also maintained and consolidated social spending because we cannot improve the financial balance at the expense of vulnerable groups," she pointed out.

"We have also maintained and consolidated investment spending, which has increased by 12% to TND 12,300 million, to serve as a driving force for the economy and private investment, and to contribute to wealth creation. We have also contributed to job creation efforts by planning to recruit 13,580 civil servants by 2024, despite all the constraints and pressures."

In response to a question about bottlenecks in the phosphate sector, the Minister stressed that "this is an important sector in terms of resources, but also in terms of national security. This sector is being closely monitored by the President of the Republic. Important measures are being taken. The situation is improving, although we have not yet returned to normal production levels".

"After years of losses, CPG and Groupe Chimique Tunisien (GCT) made significant profits in 2022 and 2023, and the state even received dividends from the two companies. We have everything we need to return to pre-revolutionary production levels. We just need to restore the work culture," she added.

On the subject of investment incentives, the Minister said that the approach adopted was to rationalise these incentives by directing them towards new sectors and investments with high added value (energy conversion, agriculture, technology, etc.).

Asked about the difficult situation of the Bank for the Financing of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (BFPME), the Minister said that "the restructuring plan for this bank was adopted at a ministerial working session and that important measures concerning it are planned for 2024".

She added that "the committee dealing with this issue is still working to bring this bank out of its crisis and restore its financial equilibrium, given its important role in financing a large segment of the economy".

The minister said the government is also focusing on the fight against the shadow economy and tax evasion. "20,110 unpaid taxpayers have been integrated into the organised circuit, generating revenues of around TND 1,253 million, and the daily work in the field by all the departments concerned continues to consolidate these efforts," she pointed out.

Nemsia also addressed the issue of the tobacco sector, which she said was one of the priorities of the Ministry of Finance, given its contribution to public finances. "In recent months there has been a drop in production due to a number of factors (global disruptions, blockages in public tenders, raw materials, etc.). However, the months of October and November saw a recovery and even an increase in production in this sector," said the Minister.

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