Tunisia may impose exceptional taxes on firms to raise coronavirus funds -premier

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, April 2 (Reuters) - Tunisia may impose exceptional taxes on companies if the government does not find the funds needed during the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Thursday, a move that might open a clash with the private sector.

Fakhfakh said Tunisia needs more than one billion dollars in domestic and foreign funds, and will ask major companies in the country to assist the government's efforts.

Tunisia, which has been in economic hardship since the 2011 revolution and has a poor health infrastructure, began collecting donations from companies and individuals to tackle social and economic affects of the coronavirus outbreak.

The amount of donations announced by the companies so far is about $50 million, but the government believes more is needed.

"Some companies have money and have not helped enough to support state efforts ... if we do not reach what we need, we may have to take decisions unilaterally," Fakhfakh said in interview with state TV.

"We could impose exceptional taxes ... We hope that we will not get to that," he added.

Tunisia expects to obtain a loan of more than $400 million from the IMF for the crisis. But the prime minister said that Tunisia should depend on the efforts of its people because Tunisia's international partners have enough problems of their own now.

The UTICA union, a syndicate of firms, said it regretted its scepticism about the role of companies and made an appeal for national unity. "We strongly condemn politicians who are asking for money in illegal ways," it said in a statement.

Tunisia extended a lockdown which started on March 20 by two weeks to April 19, preventing people from leaving their homes except to buy necessities or to work in certain jobs.

Tunisia has confirmed 455 cases of the virus and 14 deaths, hurting its vital tourism sector, which represents nearly 10% of gross domestic product. It cut its growth forecast for this year to 1% from 2.7%.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)


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