Introduction

The revolution of 14 January 2011 began in Tunisia’s poorest regions. It cast a spotlight on the difficulties faced by Tunisians based on their area of origin, and their frustration at the lack of opportunities and economic development in the interior regions (The European Union's Committee of the Regions 2014). Seven years later, the development of the interior regions remains at the core of popular demands, and the implementation of the decentralisation provided for in the 2014 Constitution is eagerly awaited (OECD, 2017a). Since 2011, the municipalities – administrations that are traditionally close to citizens – have been faced with growing calls and demands from the people for increased socio-economic development and the establishment of local democracy.

The 2014 Constitution enshrines the principles of a democratic, republican and participatory regime, and it confirms the strengthening of local authorities, managed according to the principle of self-government. It also stipulates that local authorities should operate according to the principle of open governance (Article 139) and must therefore systematically put in place open government policies. As a result, it offers municipalities the conditions to enable them to play a more prominent role in local development, and it also offers citizens a greater role in this same development. Since 2011, municipalities have been attempting to respond to these expectations by introducing new practices to interact with citizens. For their part, citizens and organised civil society are demanding their newly acquired civic and political freedom, calling for greater transparency and participation, while proposing open government practices to the municipalities. This engagement on the part of municipalities and their citizens has led to the emergence, albeit sporadically, of open government practices and initiatives at the local level.

Tunisia is currently undergoing a period of transition and evolution of its political system: the country is moving from a regime that was characterised by a unitary state, in which central government wielded power over the local authorities, but for which it exhibited negligible competencies, to a system in which there is greater autonomy for the municipalities, together with the promotion of local democracy and a closer relationship between citizens, the administration and its public services. This report has been prepared in the context of this development, and it presents an analysis of the current situation of open government at the local level in Tunisia. Tunisia’s open government team, in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment, selected the municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax for a pilot study, since these have adopted mechanisms for transparency and citizen participation. The study aims to disseminate best practices and draw up recommendations that will enable the implementation of constitutional provisions and create the conditions for inclusive and sustainable social and economic development of municipalities. The report was written during a period of transition1 and therefore evaluates an exceptional situation that is expected to change following adoption of the Code for Local Authorities, and in the wake of the first local elections of May 2018; however, it is ultimately based on the experiences of open government in Tunisia during these past seven years, and the lessons learned from them may reveal the path to follow in order to help municipalities become more transparent, more inclusive and more open.

An opportunity to implement open government practices at the local level

The current context offers an opportunity to foster a new culture of open governance at the local level, based on proximity and constant dialogue for better local development, designed and constructed as closely as possible with the citizens themselves (OECD, 2017a). The on-going decentralisation process is considered as going hand in hand with a more open, more participatory and more accountable governance, since it highlights the importance of local democracy and the development of public policies that are better aligned with citizens’ needs.

A number of legal texts containing provisions conducive to open government have been adopted. Indeed, the legal framework leaves municipalities with no choice but to adopt principles and mechanisms for open government. Article 139 of the Constitution stipulates that “local authorities shall adopt the mechanisms of participatory democracy and the principles of open governance to ensure broader participation by citizens and civil society in the preparation of development programmes and land management and monitoring of their implementation, in accordance with the law.” The Code for Local Authorities highlights this choice, dedicating an entire chapter (Chapter 5) to participatory democracy and open governance, and creating new committees within municipal councils for participatory democracy and open governance on the one hand, and for media, communication and evaluation on the other (Article 210). In addition, a number of reforms to the national legal and policy framework introduce obligations and mechanisms for open government. Significant reforms in this regard include organic law no. 2016-22 of 24 March 2016 on the right to access to information, which also applies to local authorities (Art. 2), the Urban Development and Local Government Programme (PDUGL), which seeks to implement constitutional provisions linked to decentralisation, the adoption of mechanisms for participatory democracy and the principle of self-government of municipalities (discussed in detail below), and commitment number 4 on transparency and open government at the local level in Tunisia’s second national action plan for open government.

The municipalities, whose competencies will be reinforced by the on-going reform, and whose legitimacy has increased since the elections of May 2018, should serve as a driver for local development. They are called upon to develop and implement mechanisms for participatory democracy and open governance, which enable them to better respond to demands for local development.

References

OECD (2017a), Un meilleur contrôle pour une meilleure gouvernance locale en Tunisie : Le contrôle des finances publiques au niveau local, Examens de l'OCDE sur la gouvernance publique, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264265967-fr.

Note

← 1. Note: The interviews with the three municipalities were held in February and March 2017, and preparation of the report was based on data collected until May 2018.

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