Tunisian PM designate expects government next week: Reuters interview

CARTHAGE, Tunisia (Reuters) – Tunisia’s prime minister-designate Habib Jemli expects to form a government next week with political independents holding most of the important portfolios, he said on Tuesday.

Jemli, who was named to the job by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party which finished first in October’s election, added that he would continue with economic reforms begun under previous governments, but would implement them differently.

“I expect to finish forming the government next week,” he told Reuters in an interview at the government office in Carthage.

October’s parliamentary election resulted in a deeply fractured parliament with no party winning more than a quarter of seats, complicating the process of coalition building.

Jemli said he would give the interior, justice, defense and foreign ministries to political independents who are unaffiliated with the big parties and that Ennahda understood this.

His choice of finance minister is somebody with a high local and international profile able to negotiate with foreign partners, Jemli said, without revealing the person’s name.

“Economic reforms and combating widespread corruption in all parts of the state will be my priority,” he said.

“Reforms are necessary, but with a new methodology. They must be in partnership with the labor union,” he added.

The union has opposed some government efforts to tighten public spending while foreign lenders have urged lower deficits.

The issue of corruption was thrust further into the political spotlight this autumn with the election of President Kais Saied, a political independent, a week after the parliamentary vote.

Saied, who as president has fewer immediate powers than the prime minister, ran an austere campaign that spent very little money and was portrayed by supporters as a figure of rigid personal integrity.

Tunisia’s economy has suffered years of low growth since the 2011 revolution that ended autocracy and introduced democratic rule, with successive governments struggling to create jobs and tame inflation.

Big increases in state jobs and public sector pay after the revolution contributed to large deficits and growing government debt, which the outgoing administration has tried to rein in through reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund.

Jemli said he planned to digitize more government functions, to improve governance of state-run companies, where performance has drastically declined since the revolution, and reduce bureaucracy.

Previous governments had gone wrong in failing to stick to the pledges they had made to international lenders regarding economic growth and the size of the public sector wage bill, he said.

Reporting By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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