Tunisians protest rising cost of living

Hundreds of Tunisians in the capital and the wilaya of Sfax took to the streets recently to demand that the interim government shoulder its responsibility for the rising price of basic goods.

“I can no longer provide for what my family of eight needs,” Mondher Welhazi, 56, told Magharebia. He added, “All the prices of basic materials in terms of vegetables and meat rose after the revolution in a frightening, alarming way. I am embarrassed before my children as I can no longer bring them what they want.”

Welhazi, who joined protesters in front of the Constituent Assembly on February 18th, said that “the government should hurry up and take the measures needed to curtail this increase, which is hindering the Tunisian budget”.

“Shopping used to be fun for me, especially going to the popular markets and purchasing vegetables, meats and other household items,” Leila Jabr, 44 and the mother of three children, told Magharebia. “But now going to the market has become an unwanted necessity, with rising prices tiring those with limited income.”

According to the National Institute of Statistics, prices in Tunisia rose by 5.1% during the month of January compared to the same period in 2011. Food prices increased at a rate of 6.6%. “The prices of some basic materials are inflated and I wonder about the role of government in controlling them, even stopping this drain on the pockets of Tunisian citizens,” commented 26-year-old Moez Baghdedi.

Asma, 30 and pregnant, did not conceal her puzzlement at the worsening problem, saying that her “expenses will double with the new-born at a time when her monthly salary has not seen an increase”. She added, “Prices have been rising in all sectors and in all services, and this is alarming.”

Meriam Riahi, 40, said, “The worker or simple employee in Tunisia experiences a constant struggle to reach the end of each month without resorting to borrowing or indebtedness.”

The Tunisian trade and industry ministry has responded to situation, issuing a statement that a committee would monitor price hikes and impose limits. The ministry will also develop a programme to curtail the rising cost of basic goods.

This committee, as confirmed by the ministry press attaché, will also be entrusted with the task of setting reference prices for some materials to ensure the regularity of supply, thus helping reduce the high cost of living. This programme will be evaluated periodically and will also work to maintain citizen purchasing power.

“The Minister of Trade and Handicrafts has taken practical measures to put pressure on prices,” the press attaché said.
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The commerce ministry has also taken steps, calling on traders, producers and service providers to contribute to the national effort to combat the high cost of living.

“The rise in prices comes as a natural result of increased demand amid limited supply of the products because of the events experienced by Tunisia after the revolution,” explained Elyes Asmi, head of the Economic Situation Department at the National Institute of Statistics.

He added, “The inability of economic institutions in Tunisia to provide the needs of the Tunisian and Libyan peoples, who are undergoing the same exceptional circumstances, adds to the growing phenomena of protest movements and strikes to disable the wheels of production.”

“The situation has further deteriorated with the new actions of traders, industrialists and individuals, with the growing phenomenon of monopoly, speculation and smuggling,” the official explained. “This is in addition to increased manifestations of coveting and stockpiling of some products by citizens, added to the elements of price liberalisation and the absence of regular economic monitoring.”

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