Chapter 4. Conclusion and next steps

First and foremost, it should be noted that an opportune moment exists for Tunisia’s municipalities to implement open government practices. Indeed, they can draw on a new legal framework and the commitment of associations and the municipalities themselves. Secondly, the current context – the legal framework and regional disparities – leaves them no choice other than to try fresh approaches to governance that place citizens at the heart of the process and promote the development of public policies closer to their needs.

To establish open government at the local level, the national government is called upon to set in place an enabling environment, through a clear and stable legal and institutional framework and suitable human and financial resources. The national government could also support the development of open government practices at the local level, drawing inspiration from its experiences in this area and offering guides, training and technical support. However, close coordination with organisations representing the municipalities remains a prerequisite, so as to take into account their needs and specific features and to create synergies between efforts at the national and local levels.

For their part, the municipalities could draw lessons from their current experiences and, based on the new legal framework, develop open government visions and strategies that include a roadmap, priority activities and performance indicators. These strategies would enable to reach a consensus with the citizens and civil society, and to define a vision that goes beyond electoral mandates.

Box ‎4.1. Summary of recommendations

Recommendations for central government

  • The implementation and concretisation of the decentralisation process remains the key element for open government at the local level. Implementing the Code for Local Authorities and the accompanying laws would help to clearly define the decentralisation model chosen and the competences attributed at the subnational level. Increased legitimacy, competences and resources would enable local administrations to develop long-term approaches, thereby regaining the trust of citizens. This requires inter-ministerial coordination between the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment, the Ministry of Finance and the Presidency of the Government, particularly the department responsible for open government, so as to ensure harmonisation between public policies for local development and decentralisation, and human and financial resources. These ministries could propose an institutional organisation that creates an appropriate institutional framework at the local level for open government, in which different departments and their officials responsible for respectively access to information, complaints, and the citizens’ affairs office work in partnership and share information. Such a proposition for organising the institutional framework concerning open government tasks would help to ensure consistency. These structures should nevertheless be adapted to the municipalities’ size and context.

  • With the aim of better targeting Tunisia’s national open government programme and making it an engine for the country’s development, it would be useful to design structures to involve local government in national projects, such as the Steering Committee for Open Government or in the open data initiatives.

  • Similarly, in order to strengthen and improve national programmes, such as the PDUGL, which aims to establish open government at the local level, it could prove valuable to involve local administrations to a greater extent, and to draw inspiration from processes and mechanisms developed at the local level. A closer involvement of local administrations, particularly through representative institutions (the future High Council of Local Authorities and the National Federation of Tunisian Cities), would enable programmes to be better adapted to local needs and conditions, and would encourage political commitment on the part of local actors.

  • Taking into account the current situation and the recruitment freeze, the national government, in partnership with civil society and organisations representing the municipalities, could propose training in open government and access to information, in order to support municipalities in accomplishing their objectives. This process will require the involvement of various actors, such as the National School of Administration, or the International Academy for Good Governance.

Recommendations for the municipalities

  • The municipalities could develop their own open government strategy at the local level. The mayors and elected representatives could, in consultation with the citizens, reach a consensus on the key priorities in the areas of transparency, stakeholder participation, integrity and accountability, drawing inspiration from the new prerogatives in the Code for Local Authorities. Such a strategy would include the vision, objectives and activities to be undertaken, as well as a calendar and indicators for an impact assessment. An open government strategy would enable a long-term approach to be taken, beyond the elections, and ensure consistency over the entire range of activities, while grouping together all the stakeholders around the same vision. It would also help to align the activities more closely with the human and financial resources available, and to draw up a roadmap to develop these resources. Strategies could be developed for each municipality, and exchanges could be useful for their harmonisation, so that the municipalities could learn from each other and adopt a joint approach towards central government.

  • Similarly, in a spirit of openness and responsiveness to citizens’ needs and expectations, the municipalities could consider engaging in dialogue with civil society to establish a common charter/vision, based on the charter adopted for the participatory budget. They could draft a roadmap to apply the clauses on open government included in the Code for Local Authorities. They could also consider other initiatives in the area of citizen participation, which go beyond participatory budgeting.

  • It would be useful to draw lessons learned and best practices from existing practices, so that these experiences, as well as the trust built through the participatory budgeting process and the partnership in Sayada, may serve as a foundation for implementing structured mechanisms for public consultation and dialogue with all stakeholders affected by major municipal projects and urban development plans. More structured participation gains even more importance with the adoption of the Code for Local Authorities and the transfer of new competences to the municipalities.

  • The municipalities are called on to develop open governance approaches that require few human and financial resources. Partnerships with civil society, universities or the private sector – such as those set up in Sayada to manage the website – could be considered. These partnerships could also serve to better target open government initiatives, working together to identify the most essential and often requested information and data, with the aim of ensuring their proactive publication, and with the aim of establishing a culture of transparency. Workshops and training sessions, as well as taking advantage of information and communication technologies, could help to create understanding of rights and obligations linked to access to information.

  • Following the elections of May 2018, training and capacity development are crucial for the newly elected representatives, in order to promote a culture of local democracy; capacity building for public officials to help them develop policies in this area is also important.

  • Since the municipal elections, the municipal councils and their committees have increased legitimacy and, as a result, they have become important venues for municipal decision-making. The municipalities could therefore strengthen their efforts to use information and communication technologies, especially social media networks, to increase participation, particularly in municipal council meetings.

  • To build greater trust with citizens and civil society, it would be useful to increase transparency surrounding municipal operations, especially regarding delays in project implementation. This process requires a systematic approach of monitoring and evaluating project implementation.

  • At a time when community radio, including web radio stations, is emerging in Tunisia, as well as online press, local authorities would do well to promote dialogue with these media channels to help them become active players in discussions between society and government. By making press contacts and facilitating direct access to information – without having to pass through the central government – municipalities can encourage a type of journalism that pays closer attention to local issues.

  • Promoting the sharing of experiences and inter-municipal cooperation in the area of open government, through the National Federation of Tunisian Cities, through the organisation of a dedicated annual day and open government debates, would facilitate the development strategies and initiatives on this issue.

  • Ensuring continuous monitoring and evaluation of open government strategies and initiatives at the local level would help to adapt these and strengthen their impact.

Recommendations for civil society, citizens and the media

  • Civil society actors and the media could, in turn, build trust and dialogue by demonstrating greater transparency by adopting the best practices of internal governance, integrity and transparency in the management of their activities.

  • They could also become policy advocates, proposing local authorities mechanisms for consultation and participation and playing the role of watchdog.

  • They also play an important role in civic education on the new prerogatives of the Local Government Code and on access to information

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