IMF does not want austerity in Tunisia, says spokesman

A women looks at dates at a market in Tunis amid growing fears of austerity in Tunisia. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 January 2018
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IMF does not want austerity in Tunisia, says spokesman

WASHINGTON: The International Monetary Fund does not want austerity in Tunisia, and in fact proposed programs to protect the poor from the impact of economic reforms, a Fund spokesman said Thursday.
Several hundred people have been arrested in Tunisia since social unrest erupted a week ago, fueled by unemployment, corruption and austerity measures in the 2018 budget.
“The frustration the Tunisian people are feeling is understandable,” said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice, speaking on the anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian uprising that launched the Arab Spring.
However, he defended the institution against the “outdated” view that it is the IMF causing the suffering.
“Speaking for the IMF, we do not want austerity. We do want well-designed, well-implemented, socially-balanced reforms,” he said
He noted that the Fund has supported continuing subsidies for basic foodstuffs, raising taxes on non-essential items, and boosting funds for pensions and health care.
“At the end of the day it’s their program, it’s not something imposed by the IMF.”
Economic reforms, which include reducing the size of the massive public sector and reforming the tax system, is the best way to achieve “growth and fairness,” he said.
However, the program is seeking to address “very deep-seated, longstanding issues, so we can’t expect to see success overnight,” Rice cautioned.
The North African country is seen as having had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
But seven years later, anger has risen over new austerity measures after a year of rising prices, with protesters again chanting the 2011 slogans of “Work, Freedom, Dignity.”
The IMF has supported the country through a four-year, $3 billion loan program. The fund’s board is due to approve the third $320 million installment of the loan sometime in the fourth quarter, which would bring the total to $1 billion paid.
Tunisia faced a series of shocks since 2007 and saw its growth rate plunge in 2011, but has recovered since 2014, with the economy expected to show a 2.3 percent expansion in 2017 and three percent this year.
Rice said that despite the frustration of the Tunisian people, “reversing those reforms would be the wrong option at this stage.”


Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.