The problems and limitations of the new Tunisia’s International Technology Card

29 December, 2016

Amazon, eBay, Hostgator, Alibaba and many other websites have become favorite destinations for many internet users who are looking to find goods and/or services at low prices. But unfortunately, if you are a Tunisian citizen you will immediately remember that you cannot benefit from these websites, as you have no international credit card. As people started complaining more about this issue the Tunisia Post launched a new International Technology Card, which is an international payment card that allows people to have a transferable allowance to make currency transactions via the Internet.

An e-card that has very limited services: 

When introducing the new e-card, the Tunisian Post listed the transactions that can be paid through the international technology card, which were very limited and mainly dedicated to web developers. The list indicated that it is possible to pay in currency via the internet for costs related to websites or mobile application hosting, as well as advertising and subscriptions to foreign websites, including freelance platforms and educational websites.

It is also possible to pay expenses related to the collection of information and purchases of online training services, application development tools, and software licenses. With such limited options, it was obvious that this card will be negatively evaluated by users who started complaining about the utility of the international technology card. Some users reported that they could use the card only to pay for a Google Play account while they couldn’t access the rest of the websites they wanted to purchase from.

Statistics about the card use since its launch: 

According to Monétique Tunisie, a Tunisian private company specialized in the design, integration, operation, and outsourcing of electronic payment solutions, the number of cards issued in March 2016 reached 3,941, with a total spending of 682,245 Tunisian dinars (DT) in 2015 and 310,558 DT in 2016. The significant drop in the total spending shows again the dissatisfaction of users, many of whom stopped using the card after a first trial and were surprised again after they found out that they can withdraw the amount in the card only at the end of the calendar year.

A first step in establishing Digital Tunisia 2018:

Digital Tunisia 2018 is a national strategic plan launched in 2014 by the Tunisian government. The program, which extends over five years, aims to “make Tunisia an international digital destination, create jobs and promote socio-economic development,” as described by Mr. Taoufik Jelassi, Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Information and Communication Technology in Mahdi Ben Jomaa’s government.

Considering the international technology card as a first step in establishing this program seems to be a failure. In fact, the chance given to developers to purchase the necessary licenses to develop their applications and open up to the global economy has not reached the desired outcome. Although the use of this card has allowed many companies and individuals to promote their work outside of the country, the number of jobs created is still unsatisfying for a country that aims to double the number of employees in the technology sector by 2018.

The Tunisian dinar is not an international currency: is it still an excuse?

For many decades, the Tunisian dinar has been known to be a nonconvertible currency. The state adopted this strategy in order to protect the dinar from a certain collapse. The revolution made it harder to give up on such an orientation, especially after the economic crisis that made the dinar fall to one of its lowest points. Consequently, it became a must for the central bank to protect its currency reserves, which became the most frequently used excuse for the absence of international credit or bank cards.

The government made the problem look like it has only two possible solutions: either to permit free convertibility and let the economy crash, or to prevent it and save what still could be saved from the currency reserves. Given the difficulties posed by each of these extreme options, the Moroccan government, for example, found a sensible solution that lies somewhere in between. In fact, in both Tunisia and Morocco, people are permitted to convert a certain amount of money into foreign currency when traveling outside of the country.

The difference is that Moroccan citizens are also allowed to get bank cards: prepaid cards with a maximum an amount of 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (MAD), which enables web users to purchase from international websites as part of the allowance (to be converted when people travel). This amount is deducted once you get the card and you cannot, of course, open multiple accounts to exceed 10,000 MAD.

The Tunisian government should work more on giving incentives to people so that they open up to the global economy. The international technology card, despite all its features, remains a limited tool that involves only a specific target group of users and needs to be upgraded in order to follow Morocco’s lead as a country that could join soon the group of “new emerging economies.”

Maryam Khribi