Tunisia set to name new central bank governor

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed wants to sack central bank governor Chedli Ayari and replace him with World bank official Marouane El Abassi, a government official said on Wednesday.

The North African country’s economy has been hit hard since the overthrow of former autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and two major militant attacks in 2015, all of which have deterred tourists and investors alike.

Chahed’s move to replace Ayari comes a day after central bank data showed Tunisia’s foreign currency reserves dropped to levels worth just 84 days of imports, their lowest in 15 years.

“Prime Minister Youssef Chahed decided to start the procedures of exempting the Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia from his duties,” the official said.

Parliament and President Beji Caid Essebsi need to approve the plan. Ayari has been in office since 2012.

Abassi is the World Bank representative for Tunisia’s neighbor Libya, according to the lender’s website. He holds a doctorate in economics from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Chahed heads a coalition of Islamists and secularists who have been trying to reduce the country’s budget deficit by imposing austerity measures, including tax hikes on some goods on Jan 1, as part of steps agreed with the country’s foreign lenders.

The measures triggered protests last month as many normal Tunisians say they are materially worse off than before the 2011 revolution.

Annual inflation rose to 6.9 percent in January, the highest level in 20 years, from 6.4 percent in December, the statistics office said on Tuesday.

While tourism revenues climbed somewhat last year as the number of visitors rose by 23 percent, protesters calling for jobs brought Tunisia’s entire phosphate output to a halt last week with sit-ins at installations of the sole local producer.

In another blow to the economy, the European Union in December included Tunisia on a blacklist of 17 jurisdictions it deemed tax havens.

European lawmakers confirmed the decision on Wednesday, according to parliament’s website, saying Tunisia was among the countries deemed a “high risk” for money laundering and “terrorist financing”.

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