Interview with Mr. Hamali Jebali, Prime Minister of Tunisia, October 2012

Business Focus: The world watched Tunisia with admiration, as the country led the way in the Arab Spring. One year ago the people of Tunisia rose up in the name of freedom. What has been the outcome of this historic change?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: The first thing you have to know is that we are in a post-revolutionary period. Revolution is like an earthquake. After any earthquake, the earth is not going to come together at once. We now look for stability and we are living this period where the Tunisian society has not yet reached stability. But we are very optimistic; we have gained limitless freedom of speech. This freedom of expression is not a present from the government; it is the result of the Revolution. Tunisian people are done with dictatorship and want to speak for themselves, read, write, express themselves freely. But there are some problems. We need employment, economic recovery and development. This is the situation we were in when we arrived. We have to concentrate on the current social and economic situation. The social side has a lot of influence on the political one. We managed a few important steps on a political level. We have to satisfy the huge expectations of Tunisian people.


Revolution is like an earthquake. After any earthquake, the earth is not going to come together at once. We now look for stability and we are living this period where the Tunisian society has not yet reached stability. But we are very optimistic; we have gained limitless freedom of speech

Business Focus: Mr. Alistair Burt declared that the UK was going to support Tunisia in its transition period and also that the UK always supported Tunisian people in their effort to obtain democracy. How can you describe the current relationship between Tunisia and the UK and how do you see it evolve in the future?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: Before the Revolution, the UK supported the activists and those who fought against dictatorship and it positively influenced the Revolution. The support of the UK got stronger during the Revolution. The UK has strongly helped and supported Tunisian people. This position has positively influenced the political relationships between Tunisia and the UK. We have a very good relationship with the UK. I have visited London before being appointed as Prime Minister. We hope that the UK plays a positive role in European countries from that position it holds. And we hope the relationship between Tunisia and the UK get can evolve and get even better.


Business Focus: There are already a lot of investors doing business in Tunisia, like British Gas for example and the UK is very supportive in helping to implement the reforms necessary in order to increase Tunisia’s economic development. For our British readers who are investors, in your opinion what are the sectors that have the potential to attract the most Foreign Direct Investment?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: Fist of all, I would like to congratulate British investors for the efforts they have made in the energy sector and I am hoping that this sector is going to develop, in the oil and gas field but also in the solar energy sector for example. We hope British investors develop the energy sector even more. We hope that British investors also invest in other sectors such as transport, tourism, infrastructure in general and health sector. They represent the expectations of Tunisian people. Investors could be supporters of all those important sectors for Tunisian’s economic recovery.


Business Focus: Tunisian’s economy is recovering. Estimates are positive and show a 3.7 % in 2013 and 4.9 in 2014. What is your personal forecast of this growth and where do you see the country in the next few years?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: No one can deny that in 2011 we had to face a lot of difficulties in the process of the economic recovery. We reached a negative growth rate of -2.2% but today there is an improvement in several sectors: tourism, industry and export. We have come to a growth rate of 3.3%. I predict that by the end of this year we reach a 3.5% growth rate. This is very possible, as forecasted by the IMF. For 2012-2017, we are hoping to reach a growth rate of more than 6 or 7%. Our economy is entering a positive phase, this is our objective. We are also aiming at decreasing our budget deficit. Now the budget deficit is at 6.5% and we would like to reach 4.5% in the coming years. We are hoping to see a return of private investment because now the State encourages private investments. We are interested in rationing the field of investment. Also, we are reforming the banking sector and the administration in the public sector. All of that is going to enable Tunisian economy to get back to normal state. We are relying on the partnership between public and private sectors.


For 2012-2017, we are hoping to reach a growth rate of more than 6 or 7%. Our economy is entering a positive phase, this is our objective.(...)We are hoping to see a return of private investment because now the State encourages private investments.


Business Focus: What other plans do you have to boost the private sector?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: We have several plans. We are reforming the investment code because I think it is very important. We are also reforming the banking system to encourage the SME’s because they have the power to finance the economy. We want to create export incentives because we rely a lot on export for investment and we would like to revise the model of development and recovery which has come to a saturation point. It is thanks to the private sector that we will manage to do that. We are also relying on model based on value-added technology. The main incentive here is the private sector of course.


Business Focus: Is it also the opportunity to reestablish an economy with a futuristic vision?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: Absolutely. We have a futuristic vision. Our internal strategy bases itself on the encouragement of investment, training sessions, because we have a problem concerning the qualification of employees. Our dream is to remove the external obstacles we have with Europe, the USA and our neighbours Libya, Algeria, the Arab Maghreb Union. And also with Africa, we want the Tunisian investor to go out to Africa and create job offers.


Business Focus: Tunisia’s image right now is not at its best and that does not reflect the economic and human potential of the country. What is the importance of reassessing that image and what is the government doing in order to do so?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: We want Tunisia to be a democratic country with institutions, with transparency, a good governance. We would also like our Tunisian society to be an opened society to the other continents. Tunisia has the potential to be a meeting point and platform on a political, economic, financial and cultural level. This is the image that we want Tunisia to have. We are in a transitional period. I am very optimistic because the people of Tunisia lead this Revolution with peace and Tunisia will be an example to be followed. We are in the process of creating this model.


Business Focus: What is your final message to our readers?


Mr. Hamali Jebali: I only have one message. We need support in the democracy. Democracy is a human right, an economical development, it is a moderate society. This democracy is built on a difficult social and political situation. We have to invest in democracy. We need British investors and investors from elsewhere. In each investment there is a risk and you have to choose the right risk for Tunisia. We can’t leave this investment opportunity in Tunisia without the State’s encouragement. It is a political and economical experience and it is for the good of peace. There is no investment without this peace. British investors must support Tunisian’s experience and have faith in this message because it represents the dream and hope of Tunisian people and will enable to support peace in the Arabic world.