Middle East & Africa
President Ben Ali Heads Great Meeting, Makes Speech
We have opted for pluralism, proceeding from our conviction that diversity of opinions is a source of enrichment for public life, and does consolidate the national constants that unite all national forces, particularly political parties, be they in power or in the opposition.We have also adopted dialogue as a fundamental foundation in our democratic process, and invariably endeavoured to expand its scope by organising consultations on the major issues that are part of the national agenda.We have continuously striven to promote public freedoms, particularly freedom of expression. We have taken various initiatives and measures to promote the media landscape and improve its performance, relying, in this endeavour, on the awareness of media professionals and their commitment to freedom of the press and to the ethics of the profession. We, in fact, consider these ethics among the guarantees of freedom and the foundations of democratic behaviour that is sometimes transgressed by some, especially by intruders into this profession and those who are accustomed to disseminating false allegations and trying to undermine the country's higher interests.Disseminating the value of solidarity, and laying the foundations for a mutually supportive society, are indeed among our national gains, proceeding from a vision that considers this noble ethical value as the basis for providing adequate conditions ensuring society's balance, stability and cohesion, and for guaranteeing the right of all to share in the fruits of development and to enjoy a decent life.On the other hand, reliance on women is a strategic choice in which our appreciation of the degree of maturity they have reached and the evolution of their role falls in line with our vision of democracy and human rights, and of development in its comprehensive meanings and various dimensions.
We reaffirm that women are full-fledged partners in achieving democracy and development. We are keen to make sure Tunisian women remain a brilliant illustration of our country's modernity and our people's progress.Fellow citizens,The qualitative change our country has achieved in all fields is the result of a comprehensive and balanced development process that has provided the national economy with the necessary attributes to reach, with eligibility and capability, the level of advanced countries.Today, we are about to enter the last year of our Electoral Programme 2004-2009. We have implemented, before the due dates, almost all the objectives set in most of the 21 points of this Programme. In 2006, on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Independence, we announced a set of ambitious strategic objectives for Tunisia to be achieved by 2016, in the forefront of which decreasing the unemployment rate by 4 points, increasing the per capita income twofold to reach 8,000 dinars, promoting promising sectors with high knowledge-based content, by bringing up their share of GDP from 20% to 35% in 2016, increasing threefold the network of highways, and enhancing the national economic scene so that it becomes an important pole for foreign direct investment.We are moving gradually and with firm steps toward achieving these objectives, thanks to the joined efforts of all parties, and based on the choices and programmes we have adopted in the current Development Plan, and the projects and initiatives we have taken in accordance with national realities and the international situation during the past years. We have thus managed to continuously bring down the unemployment rate, which stands at 14% this year. Unemployment has not, in fact, intensified, except for holders of higher education diplomas, given the continuous increase of the number of university graduates each year.Though it puts pressure on the job market, we are proud of this increase, which we consider a sign of our country's progress and modernity, especially that, this year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tunisian University.As we have always asserted, employment remains our top priority. Having managed to increase job creations to 80,000 each year, and to increase nearly five-fold the number of recruits having a higher education level during the period 1987-2007, we are determined to further promote employment, especially for those graduating from the systems of education and training.We have followed, with great attention, the national consultation on employment which we gave instructions to hold on the 20th anniversary of the Change. We are granting the results of this consultation all due care and attention.Based on the recommendations emanating from this consultation, we give instructions today for undertaking an in-depth reform of the active policy of employment, so as to further direct it toward categories facing special difficulties of integration, and for establishing a programme to enhance the quality of services provided by employment offices and bring them up to international standards, which will consolidate their capacity to facilitate the integration of job-seekers into professional life.We also announce our decision to develop specific programmes aimed at job-seeking university graduates who have been unemployed for a long period of time, in partnership with economic enterprises and the associative fabric, with a view to providing them with the necessary qualifications and training, and facilitating their recruitment or helping them launch projects. Beneficiaries from these programmes will be offered guidance and care till they achieve integration within the job market.Since the Change, the average per capita income has increased to reach, in 2008, nearly 5,000 dinars. The promising sectors' share of GDP reached 23.5%. Foreign direct investments have considerably increased, their volume having exceeded this year 2,800 million dinars.We have always insisted on achieving a quantum leap in the road network, so that it meets modern international standards, keeps up with the various changes occurring in the country, consolidate the competitive capacity of production sectors, and connect the various regions of the country with the efficiency and rapidity required by modern economies. During the past period, the Msaken-Sfax highway was brought into operation, which has increased the total length of the network to 360 kilometers, compared to 115 kilometers in 2006. To consolidate this effort, and in addition to our decisions for constructing the Oued Zargua-Bousalem section, pursuing the construction of the Sfax-Ras Jedir section over successive phases, and linking the towns of the North-West to the highway through expressways, we announce today the launch of the construction of the Sfax-Gabes section as a first phase toward Ras Jedir. We also give instructions to extend the highway to the Governorates of Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Gafsa. We will thus manage to construct about 1,200 kilometers of highways, which far exceeds the objective set for 2016. This will offer the regions of the west and centre of the country a modern transport infrastructure that increases their investment potential.Thanks to these results, gains and acquisitions, our country has improved the indicator of catching up with OECD economies from 29% in 2006 to 35% in 2008.These results are confirmed by various credible international ratings, the latest of which being the Davos Forum report, issued last October 18, which ranks Tunisia 2nd internationally in terms of sound management of public money.The 21st anniversary of the Change coincides with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Central Bank, the establishment of the Tunisian dinar as the national currency, and the creation of the first nucleus of national banks.Today, we announce the launch of the celebration of this anniversary which materialises the monetary and financial independence of the country.All along this period, the financial sector has contributed to building the national economy, by developing new sectors and activities, creating a new generation of enterprises, ensuring the country's financial balances, enhancing their invulnerability, and protecting them against foreign fluctuations.Since the Change, we have introduced reforms into the banking sector, aimed at modernising its legal framework, consolidating its financial foundations, and developing its working methods. Since we started implementing the Presidential Programme 2004-2009, we have managed to achieve important results. These include, in particular, decreasing the share of classified debts by nearly 10 points during the past 4 years, and progressing in promoting the structure of banking institutions and the services they provide.In line with this approach, we underline the need to step up action in order to further decrease the share of classified debts to less than 10% by the year 2011.We are gradually moving toward the full convertibility of the dinar, our aim being to provide adequate conditions to support Tunisian enterprises in their endeavour to access foreign markets and attract further investments. In this regard, we gave instructions for reviewing the Code of Exchange toward removing the principle of non-conservation of currencies, expanding the scope of bookkeeping of foreign currency accounts, establishing the possibility of bookkeeping of foreign currency accounts abroad as part of transactions in foreign countries, and reviewing penal procedures by adapting them, as much as possible, to common law.As part of our endeavour to promote our country to the level of a regional financial centre, we give instructions for revising the law of 1985 concerning financial institutions which deal essentially with non-residents, toward removing barriers and achieving rapprochement between the two systems, which will make possible the attraction of internationally renowned financial institutions.The current international financial crisis has confirmed the soundness of our choices, as regards the mobilisation of the financial sector to promote development and employment, away from any form of speculation, and the gradual advancement in the programme of foreign financial liberalisation, while giving priority to liberalising the current operations directly linked to economic activity, or the generalisation, since 2001, of the universal bank whose activity is subject to specific criteria, without undermining the objectives of investment and project funding.It is our duty to endeavour to anticipate events in the financial field, which is going through a deep international crisis. We have, therefore, decided to establish a Centre for Financial and Monetary Research and Studies, under the supervision of the Central Bank of Tunisia, to be in charge of following up world developments and conducting the necessary studies and research to prospect these developments, analyse their impact on the national economy, and provide the necessary suggestions in this regard.This global crisis has extended its reach into many countries, with varying degrees of impact. Various initiatives and measures have been taken to alleviate this crisis, to prevent its intensification and propagation, and to address its root causes.Since the appearance of the first signs of this crisis, we have endeavoured to observe its developments, to guard against its repercussions, and to contain its effects on the national development process.It is in this context that lies our decision to establish a committee to follow up the international financial and economic situation, and to suggest, when necessary, the appropriate measures to guarantee the pursuit of the development process in accordance with the set objectives.
Though the results achieved show that our country has so far managed to preserve its major balances and to face foreign fluctuations, thanks to its development model that takes into consideration the national specificities and stresses efficiency and correlation between the economic and social dimensions, the fact remains that we will stay vigilant in light of the current developments and the predictions indicating a regression of the world economy. We are also endeavouring to develop all the policies, programmes and mechanisms that can help preserve the integrity of the national economy, consolidate its competitive capacity, and pursue the process of growth, investment and employment.To this end, we gave instructions for increasing the funds allocated to development as part of the draft state budget for the coming year to 3,900 million dinars, compared to 3,200 million dinars in the Finance Law of 2008; the aim being to accelerate the pace of infrastructure development, to consolidate the mechanisms of support for economic enterprises, and to promote export and investment in such a way as to increase competitiveness, stimulate economic growth, and enhance job creation. In light of this approach, we give instructions for restructuring the system of insurance on exports and increasing its financial resources, so as to guarantee a more comprehensive covering of our exports, ensure the necessary commercial credits, and shorten the periods of compensation. In the same context, we give instructions for establishing a new programme to help enterprises adapt their products to the requirements of foreign markets, and to support them so that they can participate in fairs and market their products; thus promoting the Tunisian products' access to the markets of sisterly and friendly countries, and stimulating economic growth. We also give instructions for the formulation of a new plan to further consolidate the various foundations of the national economy's competitiveness, encompassing the legislative, regulatory, institutional and logistical aspects, in addition to promoting product upgrading programmes in all sectors. Given the attention we grant to small-and medium-sized businesses, which constitute the backbone of the national economic fabric, we have adopted various measures to strengthen their potential in terms of production, investment, employment and export. To consolidate the efforts exerted in this regard, we give instructions for doubling the capital of the Bank for the Funding of Small- and Medium-sized Businesses, and for restructuring the credit guarantee system for this type of businesses, which will help promote investment and business creation. We also announce our decision to increase from 10% to 20% the amount of the advance for public transactions granted to small and medium-sized businesses, and to develop the various forms of support to production units, in order to strengthen their capacity to cope with developments and preserve their place on the Tunisian and foreign markets.
We have always endeavoured to make sure the State is in the forefront of the actors supporting the national development process, by allocating the necessary funds to consolidate infrastructure and public facilities, encouraging enterprises creation, and preserving financial balances.
The results achieved have proved the soundness and efficiency of this approach. As the achievement of this objective depends necessarily on increasing our own resources while respecting the principles of justice and equity, we have invariably endeavoured to modernise our tax system, and to continue alleviating tax burdens on enterprises and citizens. Successive initiatives have been taken in this regard, through enacting a tax amnesty, decreasing the direct corporate tax rate, cancelling the higher VAT rate, pursuing the relaxation of procedures, and consolidating the rights of taxpayers vis-à-vis the administration. In line with this orientation, we give instructions for adopting another set of measures, to be included within the draft Finance Law of 2009, aimed at further simplifying the procedure for the transfer of businesses, and thus guaranteeing their durability and making sure they continue to benefit from the incentives offered to businesses, provided that they pursue their activities and preserve jobs. In the same context, and to facilitate sentence enforcement procedures, we give instructions for allowing litigants to register judgments and decisions that do not exceed 3,000 dinars at constant prices, instead of 5% of the amount decided by the court, and for exempting those who will benefit from this measure from any subsequent settlement. To promote reconciliation between citizens and taxation, we give instructions for incorporating new provisions into the Finance Law of next year, leading to the automatic reduction of tax penalties whenever the results of the tax review reveal at the same time amounts due to the State and amounts refundable for citizens and enterprises. Fellow citizens,The social dimension is a basic foundation of our development policy. We have consolidated programmes of care to vulnerable categories and people with special needs. We have also stimulated the sense of solidarity in society, as part of a vision based on preserving individual dignity and enabling all Tunisians to share in the fruits of development.
It is in the same context that lies our determination to improve the conditions of popular neighbourhoods, particularly those surrounding large cities. We already gave instructions for launching a coherent programme of intervention in 26 neighbourhoods inhabited by 166,000 persons, with a view to consolidating infrastructure, providing equipments and collective facilities, and promoting productive activities. As an extension of this programme whose implementation is being pursued at a sustained pace, we give instructions for preparing an additional programme for the development of over 50 neighbourhoods inhabited by nearly 200,000 persons, while granting a particular attention to training and the promotion of productive activities, with costs estimated at 150 million dinars. Our attention has always been focused on increasing wages and improving working conditions, as well as on promoting social dialogue in accordance with a vision based on complementarity between production partners and the interdependence of their interests. We have insisted on introducing the necessary reforms and amendments into social legislations, so that they keep up with national and international changes. We have endeavoured to reform and expand the coverage of social security systems, to promote social housing programmes, to relax conditions for the acquisition of social houses, and to increase social welfare spendings. The achievements and gains accomplished for our country are indeed a source of pride for us. Still, it is our duty, in light of global developments and the resulting crises and difficulties, to step up efforts in order to guard against the repercussions of these crises, to preserve our national gains, and to achieve the objectives set to promote and enrich them. Keen as we are on ensuring regular rounds of social negotiations for reviewing wages and collective agreements, we exhort all the concerned parties to endeavour, based on their sense of patriotism and their awareness of the current huge challenges and stakes, to ensure the success of the 7th round of negotiations, and to bring it into completion as soon as possible; thus ensuring the integrity of the development process and preserving the interests of all parties, while taking into consideration the country's potential and the effects that might result from the critical economic situation the world is currently experiencing. In that way, we materialize and anchor a major social gain, by which Tunisia is exclusively distinguished among the nations of the world, namely, the regular and uninterrupted pay increase since 1988. We strongly believe that development is meaningless if its fruits are not equitably distributed among all social categories.
Fellow citizens, Since the Change of November 7th, we have managed to optimise interaction with, and adaptation to, global developments, and to anticipate their challenges and stakes. Tunisia's position in the various regional and international bodies has been consolidated, along with the capital of confidence and respect it enjoys with its partners and all international institutions. Tunisia will always remain supportive to the causes of justice and peace in our region and in the world, particularly the Palestinian Cause which we consider our prime cause. We have invariably endeavoured to promote cooperation and solidarity-based partnership in all the spaces of our regional belonging at the Maghreb, Arab, Mediterranean or African levels, by actively contributing to all efforts aimed at promoting integration and complementarity within these spaces. I take this occasion to reaffirm the need to step up efforts in order to accelerate the process of establishing the Maghreb free-trade zone and implementing the big Maghreb projects, given their importance in activating the Maghreb Union and achieving economic integration and partnership among the countries of the region. Aware as we are of the importance of the economic and development dimensions in inter-Arab relations of cooperation and integration, we hope the economic, social and development summit that the sisterly State of Kuwait will host early next year will contribute to enhancing the process of economic complementarity among Arab countries, and broadening the scope of their mutual interests. As part of Tunisia's strategic relations with the European space, the free-trade zone agreement with the European Union was brought into effect during the current year. We are keen on further promoting the bonds of cooperation with Europe at bilateral and multilateral levels. On the other hand, Tunisia has supported all initiatives aimed at promoting cooperation in the Mediterranean space, and ensuring security, peace and co-development among all the peoples of the region. We will pursue our endeavour to further enhance the ties of friendship with the countries of the American and Asian continents, and to promote cooperation with them, particularly in the fields of investment, modern technologies and commercial exchange. The huge challenges currently facing the world, intensified by the international financial crisis, the rise of the prices of oil, basic food products, and the disruption of the ecological balance, require joining the efforts of all in order to find efficient solutions to contain the effects of this situation.
On various occasions, we have called for adopting development approaches that would take into consideration the humanitarian dimensions of solidarity, and confer more justice and more balance on international relations. Today, we renew our call for intensifying efforts in order to activate the World Solidarity Fund adopted by the United Nations since 2002 as a mechanism to tackle poverty and destitution in the world and to reduce disparities among peoples. In confirmation of the special status we accord Tunisians abroad, we have continuously offered them all due care and attention, and followed their concerns, through the measures and decisions we have adopted to protect their rights and preserve their dignity in all countries of residence, as well as to ensure their active contribution to the country's development process. Fellow citizens, The attention we grant to youth stems from the very essence of our vision vis-à-vis the action reform and the building of the country's future. Indeed, preserving the country's gains and prestige, and defending its banner, are a renewed responsibility assumed by successive generations. Providing guidance to youth is nowadays one of the most delicate tasks incumbent on societies and countries, given the evolution our world is witnessing, and the ever-accelerating changes human civilization is experiencing, which offer new prospects and opportunities. This requires that we prepare our youth, as best as possible, to adapt to, keep up with, benefit from, and actively interact with these developments, while protecting them against the dangers of estrangement, imbalance and loss of identity. We have invariably insisted on preserving the foundations of our identity, including our Arabic language. In this regard, we exhort the mass media, particularly the audiovisual media, given their large audience, to be the first to preserve its integrity and reinforce its vitality. The duty to prepare our youth to be in tune with their time and with its developments goes hand in hand with the need to deepen their sense of patriotism, belonging, and responsibility vis-à-vis Tunisia first, while considering their devotion to serving it as a sacred duty and a top priority. Youth are the pillar of the Change; they constitute its renewed ardour and vibrant spirit. For them we work; with them we think; and through them we build the future. Tunisia's Youth, I invited you to dialogue, and you have massively and enthusiastically participated in it. You have drafted a Pact for yourselves, wherein you included the values that unite you and the principles that guide your action. The Pact, which will be signed today by your organizations and by an elite of Tunisian youth, is yours; it is the reference that commits you and the framework that unites you. By raising the motto of "Tunisia First," your Pact honours Tunisia's prestigious history, unifies its energies, and guarantees its future. I take this opportunity to thank you again for your message by which I was deeply moved, as it carries a high sense of faithfulness, sincere patriotism, allegiance to Tunisia, and strong determination to meet the future. I have confidence in Tunisia's youth, from all categories, who are educated, in tune with their time, open-minded, mutually supportive, and committed to serving Tunisia's glory. Our youth are keen on preserving the country's gains and protecting its modernity, and are proud of its specificities. They strive to highlight its shining image and to promote its prestige. They believe in freedom and in the difference of opinions. They contribute to building democracy and pluralism with responsibility and determination. You want dialogue to be a firm choice. Let it be thus, and we will endeavour to reinforce its means and channels, and to make them accessible to all Tunisian youth, at home and abroad. This dialogue is indeed a brilliant illustration of the exercise of citizenship, reflecting society's progress and the country's prestige. In this regard, I call for developing our youth structures, in order to bring them in line with the new specificities of our youth. The learning indicator of our youth is constantly on the rise. Their status in economic life is being reinforced. They are showing a greater dynamism inside Tunisia and abroad. They are increasingly conversant with world events and developments, in light of the evolution of globalisation and the intensive connections via satellite channels, electronic networks and other means. Today's world is different from yesterday's world; and today's youth are different from yesterday's youth. Hence, the need to deepen reflection as to the extent to which our youth organizations are up to the requirements of the current stage. In this context, I give instructions to launch the establishment of a strategy for our youth policy for the period 2009-2014, a strategy that sets the future objectives and ensures a better coordination of sector-based activities targeting youth, through an appropriate allocation of funding that takes into consideration future priorities; a strategy that adopts the suggestions made by young people during the Dialogue, and offers opportunities for a larger youth participation in associative and political life. Fellow citizens, We have based our policy on the indissociability between development, democracy and human rights, on a prospective vision of the future, and on adaptation between the current situation and the available means. We have insisted on involving all political parties, organisations, and civil society components in all issues of concern to our society and our country. We will persevere to consolidate this orientation and expand its fields, while respecting our national references and placing our people's interest above all considerations. The modernist approach underlying our civilisational project is a firm choice that draws its roots from the enlightened reformist thinking, and is based on our people's choices and historical gains. This orientation stems from our keen determination to make sure Tunisia remains a sign of progress and development, building on a deep-rooted civilisational heritage. Our choice to embrace modernity goes hand in hand with our commitment to our national identity and civilisational specificities, which allows our people to be invariably in tune with their time, to catch up with the movement of progress, away from any form of uprootedness or absorption, and to be deeply anchored in their identity, away from any form of seclusion or fanaticism. We are always committed to Tunisia. We are working and sacrificing for the sake of its glory and for its people's dignity.
Tunisia is always above all considerations; and our allegiance is to it alone. We are faithful to the memory of its martyrs. Our ultimate objective is to promote Tunisia to the highest levels. Difficulties will not prevent us from pursuing the process of reform and construction, driven by a high sense of challenge and a strong resolve to win stakes. Having devoted our life to serving our country and promoting its status, we renew our commitment vis-à-vis our people to continue assuming this sacred mission, embracing the principles of the Change and its undying spirit, and drawing support from our people's attachment to us and confidence in our choices. "Long live Tunisia, glorious and invulnerable forever!"
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