Fathi Chamkhi (Tunisia): “Cancel all debts proven to be illegitimate by audit”

24 October 2016 by Fathi Chamkhi , Dominique Lerouge , Bertold du Ryon , Freddy Mathieu

Fathi is a member of the leadership of the Tunisian Popular Front, who has also been a militant in the Assembly for International Alternative Development (RAID Attac/Cadtm in Tunisia) since it was founded. He played a leading role in the introduction of the Audit of Public Debt bill on June 14.

What are the objectives of the Audit of Public Debt bill?

This initiative is part of a larger program which also includes of the moratorium on debt servicing as well as the sovereign cancellation of all illegitimate debts that will be brought to light by the audit.

How is the illegitimacy of a debt proven?

We have several points of reference and some experience of this issue at an international level. Notably, we have a host of legal arguments. For example, we check whether current regulations have been met, whether the money has been assigned in accordance with the stipulations of a given contract, etc.

Here is a concrete example which was discussed by the Assembly’s Finance Committee:

A few days ago, draft legislation was tabled concerning a loan from the African Development Bank (AFDB). The title stated that it was a loan of 268 million euros destined for a program to strengthen the financial market Financial market The market for long-term capital. It comprises a primary market, where new issues are sold, and a secondary market, where existing securities are traded. Aside from the regulated markets, there are over-the-counter markets which are not required to meet minimum conditions. in Tunisia. I intervened saying: “First of all, the Commission is not aware of this program. Secondly, in the explanatory statement, you say that it will be used to pay down the budget deficit. You’re lying, it’s complete nonsense.”

Then the minister stated, “We are a government that tells the truth, and yes, the money will be used to pay down the budget deficit.”.

I replied, “It’s a sham. What is the AFDB going to say?”

He answered, “The AFDB knows about it!”

This is the kind of loan that we consider illegal. Imagine a loan for the construction of a hospital, a dam or a school being used to buy weapons!

What are the differences between the practises of the current government and those of the Ben Ali regime?

Everything that was bad about the time of Ben Ali is now two, five or ten times worse. It is a paradox and painful to say, but it’s the truth.
- When Ben Ali fell in January 2011, the debt ratio was 40% of GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
. It is now over 62%.
- Prior to 2011, Tunisia had sunk into debt and it was illegitimate debt, but what we have now is worse. The debt balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. has more than doubled, from 25 billion dinars in 2010 to 56.6 billion.

And it is the same everywhere. If we take the example of corruption, it existed under Ben Ali. However, it was limited to a few families in his entourage. Today, there is corruption everywhere, with the development of real ’warlords’ leading gang networks, smuggling and corrupting customs officials. Some have entire regions in their grip. They have their own government members whom they pay.

The Tunisian State is now divided into small pieces which are shared between certain political parties, including the Islamists or Nidaa, and criminal networks.

Under Ben Ali the State was united under the single political leadership of the dictator.

Since February 2015, Ennahdha has participated in the government alongside Nidaa, and there is no longer a single centre of the State.

Part of the State is with the Islamists, and through them, more or less accommodating the Salafists and even the Jihadists; when an operation is organized against a jihadist cell, we’ve seen it happen that they receive information from the same State apparatus telling them to get out of there.

Why is the debt getting worse?

Tunisia, like many countries, actually uses two currencies: the local currency which is used to trade on the internal market, and currency which is used to trade with the rest of the world.

In the past thirty years, there has been exponential growth of the neocolonial economy.

This economy relies on the latter currency since the dinar is considered a “transitional currency.” Most of the retail industry, for example, is in the hands of foreign companies like Carrefour, Géant, Bricorama, soon Ikea, and more. These companies sell in dinars and need to use foreign currency constantly in order to convert their dinars. For this reason the neocolonial economy has a constant need for foreign currency.

Prior to 2011, this stock of foreign currency was supplied by exports of phosphate and olive oil, tourism, and money sent home by Tunisians working abroad.

Today, these resources have declined considerably, and they have been replaced by the debt. Its maintenance is essential to the continuation of the current system.

However, in order to allow Tunisia to significantly increase its debt level, the new loans have all had relatively long terms of payment: “We’re giving you the money today, and you will pay back in five, seven or even ten years.”

Now the moment of truth has arrived. In recent years, we’ve been paying debts left by Ben Ali. From 2017, we will start on the long road to repaying debts incurred after 2011.

Things are going to get tough. In 2017 Tunisia will default for the first time on a loan from Qatar. The Tunisian government has communicated its inability to repay this one billion dollar loan. As a result, the deadline has been pushed back a few years. We don’t know the terms of the agreement, but it is certain that in return, the Qataris have received some political favors.

What is the future for this legislation?

Objectively, conditions are in its favour: a third of all members have signed the bill. They come from all political groups except Ennahdha.

The Islamists are stuck between a rock and a hard place:

- On the one hand, they seek to establish themselves in a society that rejects them. In November 2011, a number of Tunisians voted for them, largely because they had been persecuted under Ben Ali. But over time, they realized that the Islamists are a foreign element in Tunisian society, professing a dangerous ideology, which could also be corrupt. In addition, the repression suffered in Egypt at the hands of the Islamists since July 2013 has really scared Ennahdha, which now fears its own rejection or even a policy of extermination.

- On the other hand, the Islamists know that Western countries don’t trust them very much. For this reason, Ennahdha wants to offer firm, concrete guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). to Western countries, saying, “You can trust us, we’re all for neo-liberal restructuring, we will do nothing to obstruct it, you can trust us”. It’s one of Ennahdha’s central political positions. If they had a choice, a number of Ennahdha members would sign the bill. But the party has real leadership, unlike Nidaa where each member does whatever they want.

Interview and transcription by Berthold du Ryon, Freddy Mathieu and Dominique Lerouge.
Article published in l’Anticapitaliste hebdo.

Translated by Trommons

Dominique Lerouge

Dominique Lerouge est militant du Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA, France) et de la IVe Internationale.




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