Embattled Tunisia Central Banker Quits Before Vote to Oust Him

(Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s central banker resigned hours before parliament was scheduled to remove him in favor of a World Bank official, as the nation struggles to ease hardships that have dashed hopes born in the Arab Spring.

Chadli Ayari’s resignation Thursday, weeks after cost-of-living protests shook the country, cleared the way for the appointment of Marouane El Abassi, an economist chosen as the World Bank’s representative in Libya in 2010. But the change at the central bank’s helm could delay a billion-dollar euro bond sale, squeezing the country’s foreign currency reserves, analysts have said.

Ridha Saidi, the prime minister’s economic adviser, said the government would still go to the market for financing, although he acknowledged that the shake-up at the central bank, which had been sought by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, could postpone the offering.

“I think the dismissal is inappropriate because its damage is greater than the benefit,” Saidi said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Saidi’s comments reflect divided opinions about the move. Many businessmen have criticized Ayari, who had held the job since 2012, as being slow to respond to crisis and using outmoded methods. Still, government economic policy has been hurt by political bickering since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and some analysts have said Ayari was made the scapegoat.

Ayari appeared before parliament’s finance committee on Wednesday, offended that amid protests over rising prices and stubbornly high unemployment, he was being singled out in a nation that’s had eight governments in just over six years.

“Even if parliament renews its confidence in me, I will not stay,” Ayari said. “What happened is a big insult to me.” Hours later, the government announced he had resigned.

The governing coalition faces the difficult balancing act of trying to contain mounting opposition to rising prices while cutting expenses to trim the deficit. The International Monetary Fund, which has approved a $2.9 billion loan for Tunisia, has said such steps are necessary for the continued release of loan installments.

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