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Latifa Belgacem watches over empty premises. At the head of a small industrial maintenance company based in Gafsa, in the south-west of Tunisia, the 38-year-old boss is trying as best she can to keep her business afloat. “I don’t know if we will be able to really restart one day”, she says after two years of health crisis, four layoffs and accumulating debts.
His company, launched in 2019, suffered the full effects of the Covid-19. During the first confinement, from March 22 to May 4, 2020, the business manager had to dip into her personal savings to pay her employees, for lack of real state support. “Two hundred dinars [environ 60 euros] aid was paid per employee, punctually, but it was not enough, she says. People have families to feed, it was really very difficult. » The engineers who worked alongside him have since migrated to Germany in search of better prospects.
Today, Latifa Belgacem wants to recruit again, but she keeps a bitter memory of this period. She had to find alone the 35,000 dinars (10,740 euros) necessary not to sink, having failed to obtain credit from the banks, despite several requests. “It’s as if we have been completely forgotten during the pandemic. And so far, we have no financial support,” she says.
Its setbacks are characteristic of the bad patch that Tunisian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are going through, faced with an endless economic crisis. Two years of pandemic have seriously increased the difficulties of many societies already tested by a decade of political instability. “It’s not 100% disaster, but those who are still doing are not sure to last long”sums up Tarak Cherif, head of the Confederation of Citizen Enterprises of Tunisia (Conect), an SME employers’ union.
Fall in European demand
Although the country has nearly 740,000 companies with less than 1,000 employees, including more than 20,000 SMEs (from 6 to 199 people), no official data makes it possible to measure the exact extent of the crisis. According to a World Bank study, more than 5% of SMEs disappeared in 2020, unable to repay their debts and obtain bank loans. More than half of the others recorded a drop in their turnover. A trend that was confirmed last year: 12.9% of SMEs temporarily or permanently closed in 2021, according to the MIQYES barometer published each year by the consulting firm HLB GSAudit & Advisory.
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