Chapter 1. National initiatives for open government at the local level

This chapter situates open government at the local level in Tunisia in the context of the reforms undertaken by the central government. It analyses open government reforms at the central level and their impact on local authorities, while evaluating the involvement of local authorities in these reforms, and in the structures that manage them.

    

The OECD’s concept of open government at the local level

Local administrations are the foundations of the State, the interface through which citizens enter into contact with public policy. “The proximity of citizens and the state spurs engagement, but also shapes citizens’ perception about the government. Thus, it is not surprising that cities, regions or provinces have, in the last decades, been places for citizen engagement. The demands for greater engagement of citizens in urban planning date back to the 60/70s. Innovative and interactive approaches to involve citizens in policy making arose in parallel with the decentralisation efforts initiated by many countries from the 1970s and consisted of transferring authority, responsibility and resources from the national government to lower governmental levels, to better respond to citizens’ needs and demands” (OECD, 2016a).

Local administrations have remained central to initiatives for more transparent, more open, more participatory and more accountable governance. Indeed, a wave of new municipal initiatives for citizen engagement and transparency has emerged, largely as a result of the opportunities offered by information and communication technologies. Direct contact between the municipality and its citizens remains an important channel for inclusion and dialogue, and a key factor that distinguishes open government initiatives at the local level from those at the national level. In addition, the relevance and proximity of municipal affairs to citizens’ daily lives, and the impact that they have on these – for example, in the areas of urban transport and land-use planning – change the ways in which people participate, and they can in general make public participation easier.

According to the OECD, “open government is a culture of governance that promotes the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth” (OECD, 2017a). To achieve open government, national and local administrations must adopt a new culture of governance, which simultaneously requires a strong political will, a consistent whole-of-government approach, human and financial resources, and appropriate institutions and practices. There are a number of objectives that drive countries to adopt open government initiatives (see Figure ‎1.1) (OECD, 2016a).

Figure ‎1.1. Objectives of national open government strategies
Figure ‎1.1. Objectives of national open government strategies

Source: OECD, 2016a.

Thanks to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a movement has developed worldwide to promote open government by targeting national administrations. Today, more than 70 countries, including Tunisia, are already engaged in implementing open government practices. However, the participation of local administrations in this dynamic remains weak. Only about 40% of the 12 OECD countries that have implemented a coordinating mechanism to promote open government have included local government representatives in the mechanism (OECD, 2016a). In Tunisia, local government is not included in the national steering committee that has been set up to elaborate the country’s open government policy. Local administrations are, however, well positioned to interact with citizens and understand their needs. Open government at the local level will help to bring the public authorities closer to the citizens, design policies that are better suited to the needs of local communities, and, as a result, promote a more effective achievement of policy objectives throughout the country. In this regard, it is essential that local administrations remain at the heart of open government initiatives, a principle that the Tunisian Constitution recognises under Article 139. Furthermore, including local administrations in the open government programme will enable the country to come closer to what the OECD defines as an Open State. According to the OECD Recommendation, an Open State is a situation “when the executive, legislature, judiciary, independent public institutions, and all levels of government - recognising their respective roles, prerogatives, and overall independence according to their existing legal and institutional frameworks - collaborate, exploit synergies, and share good practices and lessons learned among themselves and with other stakeholders to promote transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation, in support of democracy and inclusive growth”.

The open government movement in Tunisia

Transparency, participation, accountability and an end to corruption were at the heart of the demands that citizens made in 2011. From the beginning of its mandate, the transition government pledged to create conditions for a profound cultural shift in governance, the role of the state, and the rights of citizens to establish a more transparent, more open and more participatory system of governance (OECD, 2016b). Examples include the adoption of a decree-law on access to administrative documents and a decree-law on associations in 2011, the liberalisation of the media, and the introduction of the new press code. At the same time, civil society has relentlessly demanded and fought for its rights and civil liberties, particularly when security considerations and challenges have prevailed1.

Open government has appeared to be a promising pathway to meet the challenge of regaining citizens’ confidence, with the aim of ensuring their contribution to and participation in the decision-making process. Indeed, the concept of open government is based on a culture of governance rooted in transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation (OECD, 2017a), a culture that is aligned with the principles of the 2014 Constitution and which breaks with that of the former regime. As a result, the government, working together with civil society, the private sector and the legislature, has undertaken substantial reforms that have brought about remarkable transformations, such as improvements in budgetary transparency. These reforms have received international recognition, since Tunisia’s membership in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2014.

Supported by the OECD, Tunisia launched a process of dialogue within the public administration, as well as with civil society, to promote the principles of open government and to participate in the OGP in 20122. Currently, a Joint Consultative Committee, made up of representatives of the different ministries and civil society, is responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring national biennial action plans that include Tunisia’s priority initiatives for open government. These plans are among the requirements for participating in the OGP, which also requires an independent evaluation of the action plans, as well as a participatory approach to their development (OECD, 2016b). At the time of writing this report, Tunisia is implementing its second action plan for 2016-2018. This procedure has promoted the adoption of a culture of open dialogue, based on trust between government and civil society involved in the OGP process; this already represents a good practice and may inspire other open government initiatives. In addition, participation in the OGP has helped to spread the culture and principles of open government within part of the public administration, which is the engine for reforms3.

The open government movement goes beyond the OGP process. According to information received from civil society, discussions are under way in Parliament, in consultation with civil society, to introduce the principles of open government into parliamentary methods and operations. Aside from La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax, a number of municipalities have also developed open government initiatives. These include activities aimed at encouraging dialogue between society and government. Roundtables have been organised in Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid to enable a tripartite discussion to take place between local authorities, representatives of the private sector and representatives of civil society, as well as initiatives seeking to ensure that citizens’ priorities are taken into greater account through participatory budgeting in Gabès (GIZ, 2014).

Open government practices in Tunisia are also emerging as the result of a civil society that is both active and expert on issues of transparency, citizen participation and accountability. Initiatives include the parliamentary observatory project ‘Marsad’, launched by the association Al Bawsala, which has succeeded in bringing transparency to the activities of Parliament and its members; the activities of the association IWatch that is encouraging a culture of integrity, mainly among youth, and supporting whistle-blowers; and YouthDecides, which fosters the participation of young people in public debate. However, most of the organisations working in this area are based in Tunis, and they only represent a small part of the civil society. Nevertheless, these associations have and continue to play a decisive role in consolidating and implementing a system of governance based on transparency, integrity, accountability, and stakeholder participation. (For a full discussion of open government initiatives at the national level and recommendations, see Box ‎1.1 and OECD, 2016b, Open Government in Tunisia).

Box ‎1.1. Excerpt: Recommendation of the Open government Review of Tunisia

Organising for Open Government reform at the centre of government

  • Provide high-level leadership and co-ordination.

  • Establish on-going working-level structures for implementation.

  • Develop a strategy for each area, including resources required for implementation and performance measures to assess progress.

  • Extend Open Government to the local level.

  • Assess progress on Open Government regularly, with stakeholder participation.

Citizen engagement

  • Establish a formal steering group to implement access to information and an institution to ensure the application of the norms.

  • Fully implement press and media freedoms.

  • Develop and institutionalise a Tunisian approach to citizens’ engagement.

  • Promote the formation of civil society networks to organise and broaden engagement.

  • Expand the capacity of the government to follow up on citizens’ engagement initiatives.

Budget transparency

  • Improve availability of budget information by publishing all of the reports named by the OECD guidelines on this issue in a timely manner.

  • Prepare and provide a broader set of background and analytic materials to accompany the budget and guide the budget debate.

  • Strengthen the capacity of the Assembly to examine the budget, fully participate in budgetary discussions and analyse budget performance.

  • Reinforce the government’s audit capacity.

  • Establish a detailed fiscal transparency action plan incorporating these measures.

Integrity and the fight against corruption

  • Fully implement the code of ethical conduct for government employees.

  • Reform the asset declaration system to reinforce its efficiency.

  • Fully implement the TUNEPS e-procurement system.

  • Fully implement a whistle-blowers protection system.

  • Provide adequate resources for the audit and performance evaluation functions.

Information and communication technologies (ICT)

  • Strengthen human and financial resources available to the government in ICTs.

  • Develop a national integrated plan for ICT support to Open Government.

  • Examine opportunities to consolidate and streamline existing websites.

  • Develop alternative Open Government mechanisms and communication strategies to reach citizens lacking access to online services.

  • Expand the use of social media to communicate with citizens, including development of smartphone applications.

Source: OECD, 2016b

Despite the considerable progress made through the adoption of new laws, new mechanisms for participation and transparency, Tunisia still faces significant challenges in streamlining open government principles and practices within the administration and society. This report highlights opportunities and challenges at the local level, specifically in the municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax.

National government initiatives for open government and their impact on municipalities

The national government of Tunisia has made a commitment to open government, enshrining these principles in its legal framework, and it has demonstrated its commitment at the international level by joining the OGP. In this context, the government has launched a multitude of reforms to promote transparency, participation and accountability. These reforms include commitments made as part of open government action plans, but they also go beyond these, for example in terms of budget transparency, open data (through a national portal) and the fight against corruption (through the adoption of a Code of Conduct for Public Officials). Several of these commitments have an impact on open government at the local level. In addition, recognising the importance of local authorities being more open and closer to the citizens, the government itself has made more concrete commitments to encourage open government at the local level through the second OGP action plan, which states that:

  • The Ministry of Local Affairs and the Environment has pledged to develop a practical guide to explain the principles of open government and set up open data platforms at the municipal level.

  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports has undertaken to set up youth consultative councils at the local level.

These commitments represent a first step towards addressing the difficulties encountered in the area of local citizen participation, especially for youth. Their effective and full implementation could help overcome a number of shortcomings and meet various challenges in establishing local open government practices, particularly at the municipal level, in terms of expertise in youth participation and transparency. However, to better target and harness the national open government programme as an engine of development for the whole country, structures for involving local administrations in national projects should be considered, such as involving local administrations in the Steering Committee for Open Government or in open data initiatives.

In addition, the Urban Development and Local Government Programme (PDUGL), launched in 2015 and described below, has a direct impact on open government at the local level, since it stipulates open government practices as a condition for the awarding of subsidies to local authorities. PDUGL is a 1.220 million dinar (about 418 million euro) programme, partly funded by a World Bank loan over a period of 60 months, which aims to implement the principles of decentralisation laid out in the Constitution.

A new system of transferring subsidies to municipalities has been developed on the basis of a transparency performance assessment and the respect of mandatory minimum conditions. The municipalities are required to prepare and adopt a Municipal Investment Plan (MIP) for the next five years. According to a circular dated 14 August 2013 from the Ministry of the Interior, the principles to be respected in preparing the MIP include the adoption of a participatory approach, transparency and good local governance, as well as the effective and efficient use of local authority resources. A participatory approach is also required for preparation of the Annual Investment Plan (AIP). The programme’s executing agency is the Loans and Support Fund for Local Authorities (CPSCL). A precise timetable and a public consultation guide by the CPSCL give a detailed outline of the steps for municipalities to follow in developing their AIP/MIP, including an annual public meeting to provide information on municipal activities and to allow citizens to voice their opinions on the AIP/MIP (see Figure ‎1.2).

Figure ‎1.2. Involvement of the public in the PDUGL framework
Figure ‎1.2. Involvement of the public in the PDUGL framework

Source: CPSCL, 2015.

The municipalities were required to prepare their first AIP in 2016. While the introduction of a participatory approach in all municipalities through the AIP/MIP is a commendable reform for the promotion of open government, the AIP has been introduced at a time when several municipalities had already independently developed a participatory approach, also to participatory budgeting. Under the current arrangements, the AIP mechanism does not take these mechanisms into account, which has created confusion and generated parallel mechanisms in municipalities that have already adopted participatory budgeting (see below for a detailed discussion on this point).

In addition, in an effort to establish transparency, within the framework of the PDUGL, the Ministry of Local Affairs and the Environment launched a local authorities’ portal (www.collectiviteslocales.gov.tn). The aim of the portal is to “entrench the concepts of transparency, good governance and participation in the authorities”4. The portal provides data on finances (budgets) and performance (governance, management, sustainability) for each municipality, including in open data format. It also offers information linked to the PDGUL, as well as to the legal and regulatory framework. A space for e-complaints allows citizens to register their grievances.

To strengthen national programmes, such as the PDUGL, which aims to implement open government practices at the local level, it would be useful to involve local administrations to a greater extent and to build on the processes and mechanisms developed at the local level. Closer involvement of local administrations, for example through representative institutions (the future High Council of Local Authorities as well as the National Federation of Tunisian Cities), will help programmes adapt better to local needs and conditions, and will encourage political commitment on the part of local actors. Several OECD countries have developed mechanisms for involving subnational governments (see Box ‎1.2).

Box ‎1.2. Consultation of subnational governments on open government: case studies from Spain and Peru

In Spain, consultations were initially conducted through the National Commission for Local Administrations (CNAL), the standing body for collaboration between the central government and local governments. With the adoption of the 3rd National OGP Action Plan, the Sectorial Commission on Open Government was launched on 6 March 2017 and is made up of the General State Administration and the Autonomous Communities, Autonomous Cities and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP). It serves as an organ of inter-administrative cooperation and a forum for exchanging information among the three levels of public administration.

In Peru, the three levels of government, namely the ministries, the regional administrations and the municipalities, have been involved in developing the National OGP Action Plan 2015-2016. The Ministry of Public Management requested these to propose their commitments for the action plan. In addition, participatory workshops have been organised in the departments of Ayacucho, Piura, San Martín and Lima, with the aim of identifying proposals for commitments, thereby shaping a joint vision between the regions and municipalities.

Sources: OECD, 2017b; Spanish Ministry of Finance and Civil Service (Ministerio de Hacienda y Función Pública) http://transparencia.gob.es/transparencia/transparencia_Home/index/GobiernoParticipacion/Gobierno-abierto/IIIPlan.html; http://transparencia.gob.es/transparencia/dam/jcr:cfc2ac4b-a5bb-4fc2-857d-4fbf61864122/2017_07_26_SPA-ENG_III_Plan_OGP_vf-1.pdf.

References

CPSCL (2015), Guide sur la consultation publique pour les collectivités locales, http://www.collectiviteslocales.gov.tn/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/GUIDE-de-la-consultation-publique.pdf (accessed on 29 January 2018).

GIZ (2014), La démocratie locale et la participation des citoyens à l'action municipale: Tunisie.

Ministère des Affaires Locales et de l'Environnement (2017), Portail des Collectivités Locales en Tunisie, http://www.collectiviteslocales.gov.tn/ (accessed on 29 January 2018).

OECD (2017a), Recommendation of the Council on Open Government http://acts.oecd.org (accessed on 29 January 2018).

OECD (2017b), Towards a New Partnership with Citizens - Jordan's Decentralisation Reform, OECD Publishing.

OECD (2016a) Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en

OECD (2016b) Open Government in Tunisia, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264227118-en

Notes

← 1. Examples include the engagement of civil society for the adoption of a law on the right to access to information, in line with international standards, or citizens’ protests against a new law on security, which they see as an attack on freedom of expression (www.hrw.org/news/2015/05/13/tunisia-drop-or-amend-security-bill).

← 2. For more details, see OECD, Open Government in Tunisia (2016).

← 3. For more information on the process in Tunisia, see: www.ogptunisie.gov.tn/.

← 4. Presentation of the portal.

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