Minister of Public Function, Governance and Anti-Corruption, Obaid al-Buraiki, criticized dropping a procedure that would lift bank secrecy from next year’s draft financial law by ruling coalition parties, hinting that this might deliver a negative message to investors.

Mr. al-Buraiki, after your syndicate tenure, you are now a minister in charge of fighting corruption. Do you see yourself in a suitable position?

Minister of Public Function, Governance and Anti-Corruption, Obaid al-Buraiki, criticized dropping a procedure that would lift bank secrecy from next year’s draft financial law by ruling coalition parties, hinting that this might deliver a negative message to investors.

Mr. al-Buraiki, after your syndicate tenure, you are now a minister in charge of fighting corruption. Do you see yourself in a suitable position?

Self-evaluation is very difficult. That is why I will leave this to observers of public affairs. However, I do not think that being in this position contradicts my convictions. Participating in the government was based on the roadmap of the Carthage Declaration, which was supported by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT). Thus, occupying this position does not contradict my previous syndicate affiliation, and I am satisfied with the role I am playing in this government.

You are a leftist; does your presence in the government represent the left-wing?

The left has multiple points of view. Some consider it necessary for leftists to assume decision-making positions within the government; others think they should stay in the opposition due to the lack of suitable circumstances. I believe that leftists should have assumed political decision-making positions a long time ago, but the assassination of Chokri Belaid and Mohammed al-Brahmin, the leaders in the leftist Popular Front, has negatively affected the leftists’ interest in such positions.

Nevertheless, we, the leftists, are not renters in this homeland but rather property owners. Thus, when there is an opportunity to participate in the government in a climate of national unity, I do not mind taking part. This does not mean I will change my previous affiliations or convictions. Generally, I belong to those who cling to fixed principles but deal positively with variables.

The government draft budget submitted to the Parliament is severely criticized even by the ruling parties, as if they were opposition parties. Why?

I am just as confused as you are. I believe that all the parties are organically associated with the UGTT position. If the latter did not object to the draft finance law, the parties’ attitudes would be completely different. The UGTT boasts a strong electoral base, namely workers, and all the parties take the coming elections into account, especially the municipal elections. Thus, through their explicit positions, rejecting some procedures of the draft finance law of 2017, these parties are trying to appeal to the working class. However, when we act this way, Tunisia’s interest will be lost amid such calculations.

Then how do you explain the political schism between the government and its constituting parties?

In fact, I do not have a convincing explanation. However, the government has done what it should and had the will in word and action. The proof is its proposal of chapter 37, related to lifting bank secrecy in the draft finance law. We have seen in the media how some ruling parties in the Parliament refused to pass this law, which allows for knowing the funds’ sources and legitimacy.

Talking about that, are not you afraid that the government would fail to establish transparency in the financial sector and to fight corruption now that some of the ruling coalition parties have dropped the lifting of bank secrecy?

The bank secrecy lifting proposal has been discussed in-depth by the cabinet. We have tried, through the lifting bank secrecy in the draft finance law of 2017, to establish transparency and fight corruption. However, we were surprised when the Call for Tunisia and Ennadha Movement (the biggest two parties in the government) rejected Chapter 37 related to the bank secrecy lifting.

I do not want to discuss the parties’ choices, but I am also concerned about the draft law related to integrity and conflict of interests being rejected after rejecting the bank secrecy lifting. This draft law requires numerous officials to disclose their gains. I am not partisan and I think the parties had to support the government to embody the anti-corruption slogans on the ground but they did not.

In the coming days, Tunisia is organizing an international conference on investment attraction amid calls by international donors to fight corruption and establish integrity in financial transactions. Are not you worried about that?

Yes. Dropping Chapter 37 has become a worrying matter. We, as a government, have started combating corruption. We formed a rapid intervention team to fight smuggling and started realizing positive results. We have also managed to provide financial resources amounting to billions of dinars after raiding warehouses of smuggled commodities throughout the country. We wish the current government were supported by the political parties in fighting corruption, so that we can all be as one, proving to the world that fighting corruption is not merely a political slogan.

How do you evaluate the corruption index in Tunisia today? Have we reached the stage of epidemic corruption?

Corruption today is prevalent in almost all sectors including business and management. Municipal tax evasion is also a type of corruption. Half of Tunisians do not pay municipal fees. The government alone cannot find adequate solutions to this crisis that is hitting the country. Therefore, a wide national front of the parties and the civil society, which have contributed to transition building, should support the government. In other words, we need a front that prioritizes public interest over sector and partisan interests.

What do you expect from the International Investment Conference, which will be held this month?

The date was not a government choice; it was predefined. I wish the date was a little later because we are witnessing a period of internal tension. Nevertheless, our bets remain big in relation to this conference to attract investments. I hope investors will come to Tunisia after approving the bank secrecy lifting. This would establish the transparency required by foreign investors. Today, there is tension in the social and political climate regarding the draft finance law, which has approved several procedures to improve the national revenues. However, no one, including the ruling coalition parties, has helped the government pass it.

Do not you think that the UGTT has also put a spoke in the government wheel by refusing to postpone a raise in civil salaries?

It hurts me so much when I propose the matter of postponing the salary increase because I am fully aware of the status of workers and employees who represent the middle class, which has plunged into poverty in the last five years. I am also certain that the UGTT leadership feels the same when taking this rejecting position because it knows that the country needs a rescue, which in turn needs painful sacrifices.

However, I think that this common pain will set the ground for consensus solutions. I also think that the UGTT stance has begun to soften, and that the latest proposal by the government to postpone increasing the salaries for only one year has begun to be positively received by the syndicate leadership. In my opinion, it will not be difficult for UGTT, whose leaders have always taken brave attitudes in critical times sparing the country many problems, to find an economic exit for the demand of postponing the salary increase. This will not mean that the current government has backtracked on the commitments of the previous government. It is just a process of rescheduling debts until a specified date. All these factors make me optimistic that we will soon reach an agreement.

After Trump’s win in the US elections you said, “May God protect us from this choice” and called upon Tunisians to count on themselves. What do you mean by that?

Even though I respect the peoples’ will in self-determination and in choosing their politicians, electing a president to the United States of America is an international affair not just a US internal affair. The impact of electing Trump will not be limited to the USA but will expand to other regions.

This choice embodies a desire by the American people to adopt a self-enclosed political practice based on the slogan “Americans first and last.” This contradicts the democratic path of the Arab World since the Arab Spring, which has witnessed setbacks in most Arab countries where revolutions erupted in Libya, Yemen and Syria. I expressed my attitude towards Trump’s win because I am afraid of the consequences of such a possible enclosure on the Tunisian democratic transition, which is still in need of help.

What do you mean by calling upon Tunisians to count on themselves?

Sacrifices should only be internal because betting on others, whoever they are, cannot ensure a world position that allows our homeland to maintain sovereignty. Such a position allows the country, for example, to negotiate with international financial institutions and with major world powers about regional and international matters. “Fortified castles can only be built from the inside,” said Arabs in the past. Therefore, we have to count on ourselves even if this required some painful concessions, to avoid risks and overcome critical phases.