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IMF official urges 'deep reforms' to Tunisian economy

IMF official urges 'deep reforms' to Tunisian economy

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Tunisia's crisis-stricken economy needs "deep reforms" such as slashing its vast public wage bill, the International Monetary Fund's outgoing country chief has said as the government seeks a new bailout.

Jerome Vacher, speaking in an interview at the end of his three-year term as the global lender's envoy to the North African country, said the coronavirus pandemic had helped create Tunisia's "worst recession since independence" in 1956.

Tunisia's debts have soared to nearly 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

That is "quite weak and far from enough" to create jobs to counteract an unemployment rate of 18 percent, Vacher said.

He said young graduates face particular challenges in finding work, despite the country being able to offer "a qualified workforce and a favourable geographic location".

Since dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled by mass protests in 2011, Tunisia's troubled democratic transition has failed to revive the economy.

All this drains resources that the state could be investing in education, health and infrastructure, French economist Jerome Vacher said.

"There needs to be a big efficiency drive in the public sector (to meet) public expectations in terms of services," he said.

The IMF has long called for a restructuring of Tunisia's system of subsidies on basic goods such as petrol and staple foods, which essentially see more state funds doled out to the biggest consumers -- a system Vacher said was unfair.