World Bank unveils $1.5b Tunisia support programme

(AFP) - The World Bank on Friday announced a US$1.2 billion (S$1.5 billion) programme to support economic and political reform in Tunisia after the adoption last month of a new constitution.

"The financing planned for 2014 would include US$750 million in support of government reforms to level the economic playing field and promote growth and job creation, while increasing accountability in the delivery of services to citizens," the bank said.

Another US$300 million will go towards building up local government capacities to support the decentralisation process envisaged in the new constitution, with US$100 million being allocated to a credit facility for banks that finance small and medium-size businesses.

The level of financial support is designed to match the Tunisian government's progress on reform during what the bank called "this last year of democratic transition." "The consensus built around the new constitution provides a foundation for much needed economic reforms," said the bank's regional vice president Inge Andersen after meeting Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa.

Tunisia's economic recovery since the revolution has been hampered by political instability, social unrest and Islamist violence that culminated last year with the assassination of two secular politicians by suspected jihadists and months of institutional paralysis.

But in a major step towards ending the crisis and restoring stability, parliament finally adopted a consensus constitution in January, three years after the Arab Spring uprising, paving the way for the formation of a technocrat government tasked with steering the country to fresh elections.

The International Monetary Fund released more than US$500 million in support for Tunisia shortly after Jomaa's government was sworn in.

Growth had slowed to 2.6 per cent last year compared with 3.6 per cent in 2012, the central bank announced this week, with social discontent continuing to plague parts of the country.

Unemployment was a driving factor behind the 2011 revolution that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and continues to affect some 15 per cent of the economically active population, with the figure rising to more than 30 per cent among school leavers.

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