Interview: Jamel Ksibi

What is being done to modernise the framework governing the construction sector?

JAMEL KSIBI: We are currently witnessing a decrease in terms of public investment, as there is a significant lack of cash flow within the sector. This lack of liquidity is also affecting ongoing projects as it becomes challenging to finance activity, resulting in major delays in delivery.

There is also much to be done in terms of increasing the efficiency of the institutional framework for public procurement. Although we have made good progress on matters of transparency, the public procurement code has not yet been applied in its entirety. Public procurement is part of the negotiations around the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreement, so we need to bring it up to speed.

There are also several bureaucratic obstacles to investment in the country’s quarries, including those containing marble. Current administrative regulations prevent almost any kind of investment in this segment, despite its high potential, so we must prioritise this point. We need to set clear goals to install at least 100 quarries by 2022 – 30 for marble and 70 for gravel.

Also, we must modernise the specifications to be able to use the best materials available. Tunisia has one of the world’s largest reserves of gypsum; however, there is no legislation mandating the use of this material even though it is a non-energy consuming product and could boost the local economy. Lastly, the current tender regulations have hindered the development of the construction sector, and improving related attribution processes in public projects is essential.

How can the shortage of human resources in the construction industry be addressed?

KSIBI: There is a lack of trained people who know how to use cranes and hydraulic machinery, for example. Our training centres are not adequate; the buildings exist but the programmes are not consistent with our equipment and we do not have the necessary teachers because of low salaries. For the less attractive jobs, such as masonry, reinforcing iron and so on, we must change the structure of the training and move part of it on-site, alternating it with in-centre training. The second component is the general lack of workers overall because young people are no longer attracted to these manual jobs as they are taught that it is better to work in an office. Therefore, it is mandatory to change the mindset of the youth and show them the benefits of working in the construction industry.

Which areas are best prepared for development?

KSIBI: Tunisia’s construction sector currently accounts for 7% of GDP, compared to 14% on a global scale and 30% in the best-performing countries. In order to revitalise the industry, the focus must be on developing social housing. It is necessary to strike the right balance between supply and demand by taking into account financing means and the availability of land.

We also need to liberalise the real estate sector at a certain level so that foreigners can buy land without authorisation. There is untapped demand from neighbouring and Western countries. Tunisia can attract a new range of residents, such as retired people who are looking for a place to settle, and consequent purchasing power comparable to Europe.

Public-private partnerships are also a great opportunity for Tunisia. There are significant traffic delays at many points throughout the country, starting at car parks; parking projects could be an interesting public-private partnership. We could also allocate the state-owned land in the city centres to be developed by big real estate projects. And lastly, we need to modernise the transportation sector, from ports and logistics zones to roads and public transport. It is necessary to create new transversal axes, mainly east-west to connect the cities in the interior of the country, and now that the north-south highway will soon be completed, we need to connect it to Algeria.