Chapter 3. Open Government in La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax

This chapter offers an assessment of the institutional framework and open government practices in the municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax. It provides an overview of current practices and their opportunities and weaknesses in the context of the open government principles enshrined in the Code for Local Authorities. Recommendations for a more consistent and systematic approach are developed based on the experience of the OECD countries and the OECD Recommendation on Open Government.


The special delegations of municipalities appointed in 2011 have been faced with citizen expectations for more inclusive and open public governance that is capable of overcoming the challenges of local development. In this context, a number of mayors and municipal councillors have taken the initiative to implement practices that create a more open and citizen-centred local administration. The legitimacy deficit arising from the absence of elections increased the urgency and importance of including citizens in the management of public policies and municipal services. This culture of openness sought to break with the culture of secrecy and establish a climate of trust. The new mechanisms for participation and transparency, especially in the area of finance, had the additional goal of fostering citizens’ interest in municipal affairs and restoring confidence in municipal management, also to encourage them to pay their local taxes (Guidara, 2015).

Citizens and civil society did not wait for a new system of governance to be put in place, and instead came forward as drivers of change, proposing new forms of citizen participation to the municipalities. The engagement on the part of civil society, coupled with the new spirit of openness shown by the municipalities, have led to the introduction of promising open government practices in some municipalities, namely participatory budgeting and open data initiatives. The municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax are part of these innovative experiences. La Marsa and Sfax are among the few municipalities to have adopted participatory budgeting, and Sayada has set-up a partnership with civil society in an effort to make the municipality more transparent.

In light of these experiences and the commitment of the national government to promote open government principles and initiatives, the open government team in Tunisia, together with the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment, has chosen the municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax for cooperation and a pilot study with the OECD. The aim of this cooperation is to review the legal and institutional policy frameworks, as well as open government practices in the three pilot municipalities, to increase their importance and impact on the one hand, and to share their best practices and lessons learned with all Tunisian municipalities on the other.

Characteristics of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax

La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax are coastal municipalities in the north and centre of Tunisia. They are located in the governorates of Tunis (La Marsa), Monastir (Sayada) and Sfax (Municipality of Sfax). These municipalities are situated in the country’s most developed governorates. Tunis and Sfax hold first and second place in the local business climate index, and Monastir lies in eighth place. The index assesses municipal services, the participatory approach, transparency and access to information, non-municipal services, living conditions and the availability of labour (IACE, 2016). These governorates also host important economic sectors for Tunisia, namely agriculture, textiles, leather, fisheries and the chemical industry.

The Regional Development Index (2012) also shows that Tunis, in 1st place with a score of 0.76. Monastir, in 4th position with 0.64, and Sfax, in 7th place with 0.56, rank among the country’s top 7 regions, compared with more marginalised regions such as Kairouan (23rd place, with 0.25) or Kasserine (24th place, with 0.16). It is important to note the significant differences between Tunis (0.76) and Kasserine (0.16)1.

In terms of social and economic indicators (see Table ‎3.1), the three municipalities show results that are above average for Tunisia, particularly regarding unemployment and levels of education or Internet connectivity. Compared with other municipalities, this positions them at an advantage for piloting and implementing new open government practices.

Table ‎3.1. General Census of Population and Housing 2014


La Marsa


Sayada- Lamta- Bouhjar



92 987

272 801

24 889

12 962 (Sayada)

10 982 754

Youth (15-29)





Illiterate (10+)





Use of Internet (10+)




36.9% (total area) 45,4% (municipal area)






Unemployment (men)





Unemployment (women)





Note: The figures for Sfax except for the population refer to the Sfax city delegation.

Source: INS, 2014, General Census of Population and Housing 2014.

Towards a comprehensive approach to open government at the local level

OECD data shows that despite the existence of a great many open government practices at the level of national and subnational governments, a consistent approach often remains lacking, even though this is important for a cultural change to occur, and for strategic use to be made of open government. As a result, the OECD Recommendation on Open Government proposes that adherents “develop, adopt and implement open government strategies and initiatives”. According to the recommendation’s definition, “an open government strategy (is) a document that defines the open government agenda of the central government and/or of any of its sub-national levels, as well as that of a single public institution or thematic area, and that includes key open government initiatives, together with short, medium and long-term goals and indicators” (OECD, 2017a).

In Tunisia, in terms of the central government, the biennial open government action plans are more of a roadmap for open government than an actual strategy. Municipalities, including La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax, have developed open government practices (which are discussed below) that are, however, not part of a strategic vision. For this reason, the municipalities could develop their own open government strategy at the local level, as in the case of the region of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany (see Box ‎3.1). The mayors and elected representatives could, in consultation with citizens, reach a consensus on key priorities in the areas of transparency, stakeholder participation, integrity and accountability, taking 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 between all the activities, while bringing all the stakeholders together 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. Nevertheless, exchanges could be useful in harmonising these strategies, so that municipalities could learn from each other and adopt a joint approach towards the central government.

Box ‎3.1. Open Government strategy of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) in Germany

Developing this strategy was among the commitments made in the 2012-2017 government coalition agreement, with the aim of developing a new culture of participation in the digital age and strengthening transparency in the administration. With this objective, the strategy was adopted in 2014. It presents a consistent and ambitious approach with a practical focus. The strategy is based on the principles of participation, transparency and collaboration.

Key points of the strategy are:

  • An inter-ministerial approach that seeks to involve the entire administration.

  • An integrated approach that includes participation, transparency and collaboration.

  • A participatory approach to developing the strategy.

The key objectives are to:

  • Strengthen dialogue between citizens and the administration to build greater trust.

  • Open up administrative action to citizens, the private sector and universities to give it fresh impetus.

  • Draw on the potential for innovation in open government.

Activities within the strategy include:

  • Creation of the necessary institutional framework within the administration.

  • Open data.

  • Participation through online standards and mechanisms.

  • e-collaboration, in-house and with civil society.

  • The Open.NRW portal as a central platform for open government.

  • Internal and external communication about Open.NRW.

  • Information, training and cultural change in the administration.

  • Assessment of strategy implementation.

Source: The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, 2014.

The institutional framework for open government in La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax

The successful implementation of open government practices and the development of a strategy in this area also depend on the administration’s institutional framework. Analyses conducted in the OECD countries have shown the value of dedicated structures for coordinating open government initiatives to ensure their consistency, complementarity and relevance. Some 77% of OECD countries have a service responsible for the horizontal coordination of open government initiatives at the central level. The study shows that this service is responsible for a number of tasks linked to the implementation of open government reforms, such as: formulating an open government strategy, coordinating the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of open government initiatives, communication and, in some cases, allocating financial resources and evaluating the impact (see Figure ‎3.1) (OECD, 2016a).

Figure ‎3.1. Responsibilities of the coordination office
Figure ‎3.1. Responsibilities of the coordination office

Source: OECD (2016a).

Following the 2011 revolution and dissolution of the municipal councils, special delegations were appointed by decree in all the country’s municipalities. This process also applied to the cities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax, enabling them to manage municipal activities until local elections were held in accordance with Article 12 of the organic law on municipalities. However, all three municipalities experienced several delegation changes, meaning that each one had to re-establish a dialogue with the citizens, while the local community was forced to remind the new delegations of the open government commitments made by the outgoing ones. These changes had an impact on the initiatives, particularly in Sayada2. This municipality found itself in an unusual situation following the resignation of the president and members of the special delegation on 26 October 2015 (Businessnews, 2015); as a result, it was led by the Governor of Monastir for more than a year, until a new delegation was nominated on 8 February 20173. The special delegation in La Marsa was replaced just two months (9 June 20114) after its initial nomination (8 April 20115) as a result of dissatisfaction among local actors, according to explanations from the leaders of La Marsa. Sfax saw the nomination of a new delegation in October 20126. Finally, the compositions of delegations in La Marsa and Sfax were changed in April 20177. The municipal councils elected during the local elections of May 2018 are now being called on to continue the dialogue with citizens to win their trust.

The special delegations of the past seven years have been headed by the mayor and are made up of several members. The fact that they remained in place for longer than the one-year period initially planned resulted in some members becoming inactive. Delegation members were responsible for the municipality’s eight permanent committees, which handle administrative and financial affairs, urban works and planning, health, sanitation and environmental protection, economic, social, family, youth, sports and cultural affairs, co-operation and external relations, and voluntary action (law of 1975). By contrast, in Sayada, two committees had to be merged, due to the limited number of delegation members.

The municipal administration has a similar structure in all three municipalities and consists of several departments (see Figure ‎3.2 for La Marsa, Figure ‎3.3 for Sfax and Figure ‎3.4 for Sayada). The appointment of an official with responsibility for access to information in each administration is obligatory under Article 32 of the organic law on the right to access to information, while the appointment of an official with responsibility for handling complaints is a requirement of the PDUGL programme, with the role clearly defined in the Guide to mechanisms for handling complaints. Sfax and La Marsa also have a citizens’ relations’ bureau.

Figure ‎3.2. Administrative structure of the municipality of La Marsa
Figure ‎3.2. Administrative structure of the municipality of La Marsa

Source: La Marsa, 2017,

Figure ‎3.3. Administrative structure of the municipality of Sfax
Figure ‎3.3. Administrative structure of the municipality of Sfax

Source: Sfax, 2017,

Figure ‎3.4. Administrative structure of the municipality of Sayada
Figure ‎3.4. Administrative structure of the municipality of Sayada

Source: document supplied by the municipality of Sayada.

To respect the new open government requirements, it is critical that the institutional, human and financial frameworks be adapted in the medium and long term. This requires a framework in which the different sections and officials (for access to information, complaints, and the citizens' relations bureau) work in close cooperation and exchange information. The Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment, in partnership with the representative bodies of the municipalities (National Federation of Tunisian Cities and the future High Council of Local Authorities), could draw up proposals on the institutional organisation, based on the experience of open government coordination at the central level in the OECD countries, or on existing structures for citizen participation in cities located in OECD countries (see Box ‎3.2). These structures should nevertheless be adapted to suit municipalities’ size and context.

Box ‎3.2. “Citizen Relations” Department in the city of Dieppe, France

In Dieppe, this department is “one of the key tools for the citizen participatory process taken by the municipality of Dieppe. Staffed by three officials, it is responsible for developing and implementing tools for local democracy by forming participatory working groups, neighbourhood councils and staging themed city workshops. It offers an interface with citizens, while furthering discussion, thereby assisting them in completing finalised and shared projects. It provides logistical support, particularly for reserving and preparing meeting rooms, and making information or material available. At citizens’ request, it facilitates and organises discussions with elected councillors or municipal services to supply them with the information needed for a shared analysis, before helping them access the necessary technical and financial expertise for the projects to be developed, which can subsequently be registered as part of the participatory budgeting process. The team provides support for people of Dieppe wishing to launch neighbourhood micro projects that are eligible for citizen participation funding allocated for activities that focus on building social links and improving community life. It is also tasked with organising and monitoring the functioning of the five neighbourhood councils”.

Source: City of Dieppe, (n.d.)

Limited human and financial resources

The success of any open government initiative also depends on the human and financial resources available. For this reason, the OECD Recommendation on Open Government calls on governments to implement reforms by “providing public officials…with adequate human, financial, and technical resources, while promoting a supportive organisational culture” (OECD, 2017a). The Recommendation therefore recognises that open government presents a new culture of governance that requires suitable human and financial skills and resources. For example, interaction with citizens requires skills in negotiation or mediation – skills that the administration could acquire through training offered either by itself, by the national administration, or by partners.

In Tunisia, there are about 800,000 public officials, of whom only 10% are employed at the subnational level. In the OECD countries, the salaries of staff working in local administrations account for 35.7% of public spending in that category (OECD, (n.d.). In Tunisia, the human resources situation in municipalities has further deteriorated due to a recruitment freeze that has been in place since 2011. Furthermore, municipalities are barred from recruiting staff without consent from the supervisory authority, namely the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment. In Sfax, large numbers of public officials have gone into retirement, and the municipality has been unable to hire new staff. The process of decentralisation under way involves new tasks for the municipalities, and without adequate support, they will face difficulties in implementing projects. This lack of human resources also means that new obligations, such as designating a staff member who is specifically tasked with handling access to information or meeting demands for more effective and transparent communication with citizens, become supplementary duties for public officials. In Sayada, for example, this entails that the financial officer is also responsible for complaints and is the focal point for civil society; meanwhile, the information technology manager is also the focal point for access to information. The municipalities must therefore respond to demands to implement open government initiatives without being able to improve their capacities and expertise in this sector through recruitment. The non-governmental organisation Action Associative offered capacity building and training during the introduction of participatory budgeting in La Marsa and Sfax. However, these activities were arranged on an ad hoc basis, whereas municipalities need long-term support to be able to meet new demands for access to information, openness, participation and accountability, and to undertake their new prerogatives following the elections and the adoption of the Code for Local Authorities. With this objective in mind, decentralisation allows the level of staff ratio to be increased.

Taking into account the current situation and the recruitment freeze, the national government (Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment as well as the Presidency of the Government), in partnership with civil society and organisations representing the municipalities, could propose training in open government and access to information to support municipalities in the fulfilment of their objectives. Such training would need to be part of an overall approach to training in open government. This process will require the involvement of various actors, such as the National School of Administration, the Centre of Training and Decentralisation Support, or the International Academy for Good Governance. Participation in the OECD Global Network of Schools of Government or cooperation with other international organisations could also promote the development of training programmes. The municipalities themselves are called on to draw up open government approaches that require few human and financial resources. Partnerships with civil society, universities or the private sector – such as those set up in Sayada for management of the website – could also be considered.

Similarly, financial resources at the local level only account for a small share of overall finances. The share of public expenditure for subnational administrations is just 4% (UCLG, 2016) in Tunisia, compared with 40% in the OECD countries (OECD, (n.d.). Of this budget, the majority is used for operations, which limits the budget available for investment (see Figure ‎3.5, Figure ‎3.6, Figure ‎3.7). The municipalities depend on state funding for their operations budget, 75% of which in 2010 came from their own resources and 25% from state funding (Turki and Verdeil, 2015). Interviews with officials and elected representatives from the three municipalities revealed the difficulties in allocating a stable budget that would allow activities linked to open government to be developed at the local level, such as the office for complaints, access to information, or the municipality’s strategy for communication and transparency. However, the municipality of Sfax can count on a budget of which 41.6% was allocated to investment in 2017. Funding sources for the municipalities include self-financing, investment loans granted by the CPSCL, and allocations from the national budget. As previously indicated, the municipalities are experiencing difficulties in reaching the levels of self-financing required. The municipality of Sayada claims that it only collects about 10% of taxes. An increase in local tax collection rates could be an effective way of increasing the budget and, as a result, of increasing investment possibilities; however, this step will depend on building greater trust between the municipality and its citizens.

Financial stability and predictability are prerequisites for a long-term vision of open government in the municipalities. This requires greater confidence on the part of citizens in their municipalities, but the national government could also support awareness-raising campaigns to encourage citizens to pay their taxes.

Figure ‎3.5. Finances of La Marsa in 2016
Figure ‎3.5. Finances of La Marsa in 2016
Figure ‎3.6. Finances of Sfax in 2016
Figure ‎3.6. Finances of Sfax in 2016
Figure ‎3.7. Finances of Sayada in 2016
Figure ‎3.7. Finances of Sayada in 2016

Source: Ministry of Local Affairs and the Environment, 2017.

Open government initiatives and practices in La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax

According to the OECD definition, open government is based on the principles of transparency, stakeholder participation, integrity and accountability. Transparency refers to “the disclosure and subsequent accessibility of relevant government data and information”; participation “typically refers to the involvement of individuals and groups in designing, implementing and evaluating a project or plan”; accountability refers to the government’s responsibility and duty to inform its citizens about the decisions it makes as well as to provide an account of the activities and performance of the entire government and its officials” (OECD, 2016a). Public integrity refers to the “consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritising the public interest over private interests in the public sector”. (OECD, 2017b).

In addition, the concept of participation refers to a scale of participatory practices that range from information to engagement, assuming an increase in the level of citizens’ influence (see Figure ‎3.8).

Figure ‎3.8. Scale of participatory practices: levels of stakeholder participation
Figure ‎3.8. Scale of participatory practices: levels of stakeholder participation

Source: OECD, 2016a.

In the municipalities of La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax, initiatives aimed at establishing transparency, stakeholder participation, integrity and accountability are being implemented, together with corresponding practices for all levels of participation.

As previously mentioned, the municipalities are still governed by the 1975 organic law on municipalities, which sets out a number of open government practices. These include:

  • preliminary meetings to be held at least one month before the municipal council’s regular sessions (which must take place four times a year). During these preliminary meetings, citizens are invited to express their views on local issues (Art. 32);

  • public sessions of the municipal council; the date scheduled must be announced by posting a notice at the entrance to the municipality offices and those of its districts, as well as through various media channels (Art. 39);

  • committee meetings to be held at least once a month, which are open to the public; the date scheduled must be announced, by posting a notice at the entrance to the municipality offices, and those of its districts, as well as through various media channels (Art. 14). Public officials and citizens may be called upon to participate in the work of their committees in an advisory capacity (Art.17);

  • a transcript of the proceedings of the municipal council session must be posted (Art. 42).

After 2011, the municipalities of La Marsa, Sfax and Sayada implemented these mechanisms and sought to go even further in their efforts to foster constructive dialogue with their citizens. In La Marsa and Sfax, the focus was on participatory budgeting – a tool for joint decision-making together with citizens – which was proposed to the municipalities by Action Associative, while in Sayada, priority was given to transparency and surveys.


According to Article 15 of the 2014 Constitution, local authorities are required to be transparent. This requirement is underscored by Article 139 of the Constitution, which enshrines the principles of open government – including transparency – as core guidelines for local authorities, as well as by the organic law on the right to access to information, which was adopted in 2016 and entered into force on 24 March 2017. Although the legal framework for transparency has been consolidated since the revolution, the legal framework prior to 2011 included basic requirements in the area of transparency. Law No. 75-33 of 14 May 1975 on municipalities (still in force) stipulates that municipal council meetings, preliminary meetings and committee meetings must be open to the public. However, transparency of government activities was not part of the administrative culture under the regime of Ben Ali. As a result, the municipal administrations and the special delegations appointed in 2011 faced demands for greater openness and transparency. These demands came from citizens and civil society but also the new legal framework– such as the decree law on access to administrative documents, which called for greater transparency.

The long tradition of opacity resulted in the implementation of few transparency mechanisms and processes. The municipality of Sayada was the first to adopt measures for transparency, in response to individual initiatives by citizens. Since 2012, the municipality has published its budget and the proceedings of municipal council meetings online. This new openness was entirely the result of active engagement on the part of citizens, who subsequently grouped together under the banner of the Association for Free Digital Culture (Clibre), which has developed and continues to manage a collaborative online portal for the municipality ( Details of the budget, civil status, revenues, proceedings and tenders are published on the website. The partnership also enables civil society to publish information. According to both the municipality and civil society, this new openness has increased trust in the municipality.

The municipalities of La Marsa and Sfax have also taken steps to increase transparency, setting up municipal web portals in mid-2016 in the case of La Marsa ( and 2010 in the case of Sfax (, on which certain documents and key data, such as the organisational structure, are published proactively. However, all the municipalities face challenges of inadequate resources to keep their websites updated. In addition, the three municipalities have set up Facebook pages (see Table ‎3.2), an important communication channel given the importance of Facebook in Tunisia. In the case of Sayada, the page is jointly managed by civil society. These pages also serve as a platform for publishing information and interacting with citizens.

Table ‎3.2. Facebook fans on official municipal pages (11 August 2017)

La Marsa






The municipalities also use more traditional communication methods, such as banners, posters and loudspeakers, as well as briefings with the local media. The proactive approach in the area of transparency is limited to the publication of key documents (proceedings, statistical data, dates of meetings and, in the case of Sayada, monthly expenditures and revenues in open data format). Some open data is also published on the national portal;

While a culture of open government has been developing since 2011, citizens still find the public administration reluctant to provide access to information. The administration is sometimes guilty of lengthy delays in supplying information, of only publishing certain parts, or refusing to provide data altogether. A case in point was La Marsa, where civil society demanded to see contracts and studies related to the restoration of a bridge in the city. Professional secrecy and liability in cases of unauthorised disclosure may also explain why public officials choose not to release information (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014). As a result, civil society or citizens are sometimes forced to turn to the judicial system – which in any case involves protracted proceedings and judgements that are not always enforced. Participation in meetings has been cited as one of the most effective means of accessing information about municipal projects under way, such as planning for a central town square.

Since 24 March 2017, municipalities have been obliged to implement the new law on the right to access to information, which replaced the decree law on access to administrative documents. Although the three municipalities have appointed an official with responsibility for access to information, as required by law, the municipalities are finding it difficult to put the new obligations into practice. Following visits in February and March 2017, it emerged that expertise related to the law and the understanding of its implications remain basic, despite some training initiatives conducted in partnership with the OECD. Furthermore, aside from the capacities of the official responsible for access to information (see the section on human resources), the municipalities do not have an appropriate management system for data and archives. Efforts to coordinate the various municipal services should also be improved to foster access to information, particularly in the larger municipalities, such as Sfax. The difficulties do not simply lie in exchanging information between the different services; municipal councillors also report problems in accessing information in Sfax and La Marsa. Furthermore, research carried out by the Al Bawsala association, as part of the Marsad Baladia project, reveals that the municipalities are not yet in compliance with the new legal framework. The association has drawn up an index for transparency based, among other factors, on the proactive publication of information on the municipality website, and on the rate of response for the information requested by the association (see Table ‎3.3).

Table ‎3.3. Transparency rating according to Al Bawsala’s Marsad Baladia index

La Marsa








Source: Al Bawsala, (n.d.)

Access to information is not just a new obligation for the municipalities. It is also a new right for citizens. However, awareness of this right remains weak among citizens and, as a result, the take-up rate is also low. Although the municipalities do not collect official statistics, they report receiving very few official requests for information. Nevertheless, data from the OECD indicates the importance of measuring the impact of efforts towards transparency. It is crucial that the municipalities improve the process by collecting data on the use of information published, and on the number of requests for information received and handled, while at the same time measuring the impact. Currently, municipalities do not have the financial and human resources to do this.

The municipality index for transparency developed by Transparency International Lithuania reveals the information that Transparency International believes that municipalities should publish proactively. This example could serve as inspiration for Tunisia’s municipalities (see Box ‎3.3).

Box ‎3.3. Municipality index for transparency

Transparency International Lithuania has developed a municipality index for transparency, which assesses the 60 municipalities of Lithuania based on certain types of information published and made available on their official websites.

The index consists of the following features:

Information on organisational structure

  1. 1. list and contact details of employees

  2. 2. job descriptions

  3. 3. declarations of interest by public officials

  4. 4. asset declarations of high-ranking political officials and senior executives

Information on municipal council activities

  1. 5. file of individual votes 

  2. 6. file of individual votes under the previous mandate 

  3. 7. proceedings of municipal council meetings 

  4. 8. proceedings of municipal council meetings under previous mandate 

Information on anti-corruption policies and activities

  1. 9. anti-corruption programme/plan

  2. 10. information on tools/initiatives used in anti-corruption programme 

  3. 11. code of conduct 

  4. 12. policy on travel and accepting gifts

  5. 13. information on procedures and methods for whistleblowing 

  6. 14. information on processes linked to reports submitted by whistle-blowers

  7. 15. list of interest groups encountered during service 

Information on businesses linked to the municipality

  1. 16. list of companies linked to the municipality 

  2. 17. list of senior executives in businesses 

  3. 18. proportion of shares held in these companies 

  4. 19. list of businesses supplying public services in its territory 

Information on municipal finances

  1. 20. annual budget

  2. 21. annual budget for previous years 

  3. 22. annual financial reports 

  4. 23. annual financial reports for previous years 

  5. 24. municipal debts and reasons for these debts 

Information on public procurement

  1. 25. planned public procurement 

  2. 26. technical specifications for corresponding tenders 

  3. 27. declarations of interest by selection committee

  4. 28. list of businesses that win procurement contracts 

  5. 29. list of services to be procured

  6. 30. monetary value of services (to be supplied) 

  7. 31. justification of selection of successful businesses

  8. 32. assets belonging to the municipality and associated rental stream 

Information on public participation

  1. 33. opportunities and places for public consultation 

  2. 34. suggestions/comments received during public consultations 

  3. 35. decisions made following public consultation 

  4. 36. information on planned council meetings, agendas and related documents 

  5. 37. information on feedback mechanisms 

  6. 38. information on processes linked to citizens’ suggestions/comments.

Source: Transparency International Lithuania, (n.d.)

Municipalities could consider forming partnerships with local civil society and the media to identify the most important and frequently requested information and data, with a view to their proactive publication. Based on the Sayada model, a partnership can help overcome challenges of limited human and financial resources, and could be useful in ensuring that information is published in a way that is more open and easy to understand.

Such partnerships can also help to spread a culture of transparency, both within the administration and among citizens. The use of seminars, training sessions and information and communication technologies could foster an improved understanding of rights and obligations linked to access to information. To this end, user guides could be developed to outline public officials’ obligations, provide case studies and explain the rights and procedures for citizens. Offering prizes to reward transparency, or transparency competitions, could also help to promote a culture of transparency among public officials and spur a spirit of innovation among citizens, civil society and the administration. For this purpose, municipalities would do well to draw on existing experiences in Tunisia at the national level, such as the Apps for Democracy Hackathons organised by the The Tunisian e.Gov Society association.

Participatory budgeting

“Participatory budgeting is a basic democratic process, through which citizens make decisions in a sovereign and independent manner, in agreement with the municipality, on a share of the budget of their municipality8”. The first participatory budget was developed in 1989 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre as a municipal response to the need to introduce democracy and to address problems posed by traditional labour practices, social exclusion and corruption. As a result, the city experimented with participatory mechanisms to help overcome financial constraints, allow citizens to play a direct role in government activities, and reverse priorities for social spending. It was against this backdrop that participatory budgeting was developed and initially implemented in several Brazilian cities (Shah, 2007). In 2005, participatory budgeting was practised in more than 300 municipalities worldwide. In Tunisia, participatory budgeting was first introduced in 2014 in the four municipalities of La Marsa, Menzel Bourguiba, Tozeur and Gabès, at the initiative of Action Associative. In 2015, Manouba, Gafsa and Sfax joined the list, followed, in 2016, by Ben Arous, Kef, Sbeitla and Ettadhamen. Today, 19 municipalities have adopted the participatory budgeting mechanism (Béja, Kélibia, Sidi Bou Said, Nabeul, Monastir, Ariana, Sidi Bouzid and Raoued) (La, 2017). According to Action Associative, participatory budgeting “aims to build a relationship of trust between citizens and municipal institutions […] through citizen participation in the decision-making process […] and through implementation of mechanisms for transparency and accountability within the municipalities” (Action Associative, (n.d.).

Action Associative has supported municipalities in implementing participatory budgeting, using a precise methodology (see Box ‎3.4). To this end, it has trained both municipal officials and citizens to enable them to serve as facilitators.

Box ‎3.4. Stages of participatory budgeting in Tunisia

In Tunisia, several municipalities have adopted the participatory budgeting mechanism. Throughout the world, there are a great many different approaches to participatory budgeting. In Tunisia, Action Associative is a key actor, that increases awareness and offers training in a well-defined methodology. In line with this system, participatory budgeting takes place according to the following stages.

The process often begins with an official decision by the municipal council to create a budget line for participatory budgeting. Next, an agreement is signed between civil society and the municipality, defining the rules of cooperation.

The first phase is that of communication and raising awareness of the participatory budgeting process and the possibility of engaging in it. Forums are then organised in the various residential areas, hosted on a voluntary basis by local facilitators proposed by signatory associations to the conventions. The facilitators also have the task of informing citizens and raising awareness among them through flyers, messages, broadcasts on loudspeakers, house-to-house visits, etc.

Each forum lasts two days, generally from Saturday to Sunday. The Saturday is devoted to a presentation by the municipality or the technical service about projects planned, achievements and local finances. The Sunday is used for discussions between citizens, allowing them to present their needs and vote for projects. At the end of the forum, three delegates, who must include one woman, one man and one youth, are chosen to represent the residential area/district to which they will be accountable.

After the vote has taken place in all neighbourhoods, a delegates’ forum is organised, during which a vote is held for the projects that will subsequently be adopted by the municipal council.

The methodology also provides for the involvement of citizens in the implementation phase. Citizens’ monitoring committees are formed to oversee the procurement process and the carrying out of the works.

In addition, several municipalities, including La Marsa, Menzel Bourguiba, Gabès, Tozeur, La Manouba, Sfax and Gafsa, have signed an inter-municipal mutual aid agreement on participatory budgeting. The aim of this inter-municipal network is to provide support and secure its long-term future.

Sources: Jaouahdou, 2016, Action Associative, (n.d.)

In La Marsa, where participatory budgeting was launched under a municipal decree on 9 January 2014, and where in the first round a budget of 550,000 dinars was allocated to public lighting projects, the total participatory budget has now reached 10% of the overall investment budget. In Sfax, on 25 February 2015, the municipal council decided to allocate 3 million dinars of the investment budget to participatory budgeting. In La Marsa, the service categories submitted for participatory budgeting are public lighting, roads, rainwater drainage and pavements, and in Sfax the categories are roads, public lighting and paving. According to the authorities, the participatory process has helped to improve relations between citizens and their local administration and to build a relationship of trust. Participatory budgeting is seen as a means for learning democracy and combating corruption, since it introduces checks and balances, and monitoring by citizens. It has also led to the improvement of infrastructure, by responding to communities’ priority needs. However, to build long-term confidence, there is a need for continuity and credibility, especially through the implementation of projects chosen by citizens.

Several years’ experience of participatory budgeting in La Marsa, together with the 2015 implementation of this project in Sfax, have highlighted a number of challenges. Despite efforts in the area of awareness raising, and the requirement for at least one delegate to be a youth, officials in La Marsa have pointed to the lack of young people in the process. Furthermore, delays in the implementation and execution of projects is jeopardising the trust that has been created. As for the technical services, officials responsible for implementation are not linked to the participatory budgeting process, which reduces their support for and commitment to dialogue with the citizens. Some have suggested that this self-perpetuating work culture, coupled with the failure to put citizens’ and civil society’s know-how to good use, is contributing to mistrust between the administration and citizens.

In order 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 evaluation of project implementation. For example, the city of Paris, which has adopted the participatory budgeting process, allows citizens to use its website to monitor the implementation of projects that have been voted for. The website indicates whether or not a project has been implemented, and which stage it is currently undergoing (inception, study and design, launch of procedures, project realisation, delivery and inauguration).

Nevertheless, participatory budgeting is a valuable initiative, and one that is judged in positive terms by most administration members and by civil society in La Marsa and Sfax. However, participatory budgeting also carries the risk that open government initiatives will only focus on this process, to the detriment of other municipal operations and more structured activities, such as municipal council meetings and transparency of local government as a whole. In any case, the future of participatory budgeting has been uncertain since the implementation of the process surrounding the annual investment plan within the framework of the PDUGL.

Participatory budgeting enables citizens to decide on specific local projects. Conversely, the AIP required as part of the PDUGL encompasses the entire range of municipal investments, namely local, structural and administrative projects. The AIP methodology stipulates participation, albeit a level of participation – consultation – that gives fewer decision-making powers to citizens than does participatory budgeting, which involves joint decision-making. Since 2016, all municipalities, including those that have adopted participatory budgeting, have a duty to develop their AIP according to the methodology dictated by the CPSCL. However, the experience of participatory budgeting has meanwhile created a community of public officials, municipal councillors and civil society organisations who are convinced of the added value of this practice, and of citizens’ right to participate in municipal decision-making, and are persuaded that abrogation of the participatory budgeting process is not an option. The municipalities have therefore attempted to combine the two methods. In La Marsa and Sfax, decisions on local projects have been jointly made with citizens. Indeed, La Marsa had already completed the participatory budgeting process to choose projects prior to the obligatory consultation for the AIP. Citizens’ choices therefore formed the basis of the AIP. At present, the co-existence of the two methods is creating confusion. On the one hand, the participatory budgeting process allows stronger participation (joint decision-making, participation in problem diagnosis, assessing project implementation, unlike a public consultation for the AIP), but on the other, the AIP covers structural and administrative projects to which the participatory budgeting process is unsuited. Action Associative, in collaboration with those municipalities that have adopted participatory budgeting, is calling for a merger of the two mechanisms, a prospect that is being opposed by the CPSCL. Given this latter’s financial power, it has the means to force municipalities to only apply the AIP.

These developments raise questions about the scope of citizen participation, which should be decided by consensus. Questions include: what should the role of citizens be; to what extent should they participate in management of the municipality? Is citizen participation desirable in the development of structural and administrative projects? Are citizens sufficiently well informed and capable of acting in the public interest? What roles and responsibilities remain with the elected representatives and the municipal council if citizens decide on all investments? Does increased participation in the form of joint decision-making risk forcing a municipality to implement citizens’ priorities (or of those citizens who participated) instead of its own priorities, and what are the implications in terms of accountability? At the same time, those municipalities that have experimented with participatory mechanisms cannot turn back, since both civil society and the citizens are demanding their right to participation. As observed by the EU study, “a power struggle has begun to emerge between state actors and civil society over their future roles and prerogatives” (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014). The Charter of Paris for Citizens’ Participation proposes a common framework between the city and its citizens, which sets out the rights and obligations of each (see Box ‎3.5).

Box ‎3.5. Charter of Paris for Citizens’ Participation

The city of Paris drew up a charter of citizens’ participation in 2009, so as to create a common framework and strengthen participation. In the light of developments in terms of citizens’ participation since 2009, this Charter has been revised using a participatory process, and a new Charter was adopted in 2018.

The Charter contains the following key points.


  1. 1. What participation means.

  2. 2. Free and inclusive participation.

  3. 3. Participation that is available to everyone.

  4. 4. Participation that is more user-friendly.


  1. 5. Transparency and participatory contract.

  2. 6. Renewing and connecting citizens’ bodies.

  3. 7. Strengthening Parisians’ role in municipal politics.


  1. 8. Promoting Agoras and public experimentation.

  2. 9. Ensuring participatory culture in the long term.

  3. 10. Bringing the Charter to life.

Source: Paris City Hall, 2018.

Citizen participation in strategic planning

Participatory budgeting and the AIP are just two participatory mechanisms, albeit currently the foremost topics of debate and those attracting the greatest interest among municipalities and citizens in La Marsa and Sfax. However, citizens’ involvement in other municipal processes and decisions is also important.

Participatory budgeting and the AIP only allow participation in a limited share of municipal activities. For example, in Paris, plans are in hand to ensure public consultation on all major municipal projects. Indeed, citizen participation dates back to the 1960s, particularly in the case of urban planning in which citizens demanded the right to be involved. In the wake of the new Constitution, the project for the Code of Spatial Planning and Urban Development (CATU) also provides for a participatory approach to urban planning policy (Articles 40 and 77). Citizen participation was not provided for in either the organic law on municipalities, nor the CATU of 1994. The design of an urban development plan (UDP), which is obligatory for municipalities, therefore represents an opportunity for participation (Turki, S.Y. and Mahjoub, 2014). The plan for the Code for Local Authorities also sets out requirements for a participatory approach to the UDP (Article 228).

  1. 1. Article 40 of the CATU: on the participatory approach. The development and implementation of urban planning should be conducted using a participatory approach and in partnership with the various stakeholders involved, particularly through consultation with the councils or committees, where relevant local communities and authorities are represented, as well as with the most representative socio-economic bodies and associations in the area of spatial planning and urban development.

  2. 2. Article 77 of the CATU: on the participatory approach. A debate may be held within the municipal council on the overall direction of the urban development plan before it is examined by the relevant businesses and public bodies. The debate may bring together residents, local associations and other people concerned throughout the development of the said plan. The president of the municipal council may seek the opinion of anybody or association with competence in the area of land use, urban, environmental, architectural, habitat and transport planning9.

To date, La Marsa, Sfax and Sayada have not yet developed participatory approaches to drawing up their UDP. La Marsa is currently revising its UDP, a process in which experts and national institutions have been involved. Citizens will have the opportunity to present their views once the plan has been drafted.

Since 2014, the municipality of Sayada has been conducting surveys on its website, allowing citizens to give their opinion, principally on road and infrastructure projects. The results are then presented to the municipal council for adoption. The consultation takes place in several phases: First, a collection of projects is proposed, which the citizens classify according to their preferences; they are then invited to choose the project details. For example, the resurfacing of a number of streets was decided using this mechanism. However, this process is still tainted by a low level of participation and inadequate explanation in the public surveys of the choices and issues at stake. In Sfax, the seven municipalities of Greater Sfax have engaged in a participatory experience in the drafting of the Greater Sfax Development Strategy 2007-2016, which is based on a participatory diagnosis of the present situation (Bennasr, A., Megdiche, T. and Verdeil, 2013; Hadj, 2008).

La Marsa, Sfax and Sayada reflect an innovative spirit in how they have introduced open government practices. It would be useful to draw lessons learned and best practices from this, so that these experiences, as well as the trust built up through participatory budgeting and the partnership in Sayada, can serve as a foundation for enacting structured mechanisms for public consultation and dialogue with all stakeholders affected by major municipal projects and urban development plans. The importance of more structured participation is further underscored by adoption of the Code for Local Authorities and the transfer of new competences to the municipalities. The experiences of participation in strategic planning in the city of Alcobendas in Spain may serve as an inspiration (see Box ‎3.6).

Box ‎3.6. Participation in strategic planning in Alcobendas, Spain

In 2013, the municipal council of Alcobendas approved its strategic plan “Diseña Alcobendas 2020”. The plan comprises 38 projects divided into five strategic categories (promotion of the city; economic development; innovation; education and employment; sustainable development; good governance, transparent and responsible management; social responsibility and quality of life) which together define a vision for the city.

One of the key objectives was the involvement of all stakeholders in the process. Building on the participatory mechanisms defined in regulations on citizen participation, the plan was developed by following a series of steps:

  • Development of an assessment report and a survey of the preferred strategies. These two documents were published on the website and in the local press, and were also explained during roundtable sessions with citizens.

  • For each theme, experts were invited to offer advice and help to define public opinion.

  • On the basis of this information, working groups using the SWOT methodology were called on to define their vision of Alcobendas, and to propose and develop projects to be included in the strategic plan.

  • 513 project proposals were presented in person and through the website, on the initiative of individuals or businesses. These people and companies were then given the opportunity to defend their projects before the public.

  • The projects were grouped into themed categories, and stakeholders then classified them by order of priority during the municipal social council, based on two criteria: usefulness for citizens and project viability.

  • The final plan was presented to the municipal social committee and approved by the municipal council.

All participants were given feedback on their proposals. A total of 320 people took part in the process, either as individuals or as representatives of institutions, associations or businesses. The entire documentation for the strategic plan is available on this website (, as are the meeting reports, SWOT analysis, etc. Monitoring and evaluation reports have also been published on the website (city observatory website) to keep citizens informed of the project’s state of progress (completed, ongoing, delayed, not activated).

Source: Lino Ramos Ferreiro, Head of Planning and Assessment, Municipality of Alcobendas

Participation in municipal council meetings

The opening of municipal council sessions to the public is current practice in the cities of OECD countries. This public access enables citizens to follow municipal operations closely, to be kept informed and to assess the municipality’s capacity to manage the city’s affairs. In Tunisia, the municipal council’s regular sessions are, in principle, public. Preliminary meetings are organised to enable citizens to express their views. Committee meetings are also public. These clauses are underscored by the Code for Local Authorities, which stipulates that “during municipal council sessions, a place must be left for the media, as well as components of civil society” (Article 219). The municipalities are obliged to inform citizens through various channels.

Despite the importance of council meetings for the running of the municipality, and for the opportunities that they present for participation, the three municipalities – La Marsa, Sfax and Sayada – are seeing a generally low level of participation at meetings, as well as a reluctance to becoming involved and a lack of interest in municipal affairs. Participants are always the same people, who take advantage of the opportunity to voice their grievances. The council meetings are announced via banners and the local press; As for invitations to committee meetings, these are directly extended to the actors concerned – chambers of commerce, trade unions, associations – and, as a result, in municipalities such as Sfax, they attract greater levels of participation. By contrast, Sfax acknowledges that publicity of committee meetings remains inadequate; the calendar is not published in advance and the meetings are organised on a spontaneous basis, thereby reducing the chances of stronger participation. The commitments made by the three municipalities to create better dialogue with citizens and build a climate of trust have nevertheless had a positive impact on participation in council meetings. La Marsa has seen a higher level of participation since participatory budgeting was introduced, especially on the part of citizens involved in it, and in Sayada, citizens are asking the municipal council to hold discussions on certain subjects, such as those concerning the coastal zone. Proceedings of meetings are generally posted in municipal premises, and in some cases are also published on the website. Box ‎3.7 presents innovative approaches to increasing participation. Municipalities could strengthen their efforts to use information and communication technologies, especially social media networks, to increase participation in municipal council meetings. The municipal councils and their committees will gain in legitimacy following the municipal elections and, as a result will become important places for municipal decision-making. The councillors also organise information centres or open door sessions – common practice in many cities in OECD countries -, which have so far only entailed a low take-up rate.

Box ‎3.7. Innovative participatory practices using information and communication technologies

Participation in municipal council meetings

In Grenoble, municipal council meetings are aired live on YouTube, with sign language. They are available in the website’s multimedia library.

Participation via Facebook in Morocco

Through its Nouabook project – an online platform that enables visitors to communicate with members of Parliament – the SIM SIM association offers discussions with parliamentarians on Facebook. The debates, which last about an hour, focus on specific themes, such as the issue of women (4th debate), and are available live on Facebook. Citizens can follow the discussions, and leave comments and questions. The debates are succeeding in involving large numbers of the public. The fourth debate (13 July 2017) has been watched more than 60,000 times, and the 3rd one (29 June 2017) has been watched nearly 40,000 times.

Source: City of Grenoble, (n.d.),


Claims represent another means of interaction between local government and its citizens. It enables citizens to make their voice heard, as well as their opinion on the quality of the administrative service. The claims system existed long before the revolution. Decree No. 93-982 of 3 May 1993 on the relationship between the administration and its users refers to the obligation to respond to claims regarding administrative services supplied by local authorities. The PDUGL programme calls for an official to be responsible for the complaints management mechanism, whose role is clearly defined in the Guide to Complaints Management Mechanisms. The municipalities receive complaints through various channels, including by post and email, via the citizens affairs office when this exists, and via Facebook. The municipality of La Marsa has also launched a system of lodging online complaints10, and Sfax receives complaints through local radio stations. In addition, Sfax has set up a website ( where citizens can submit claims by specifying the location of the request for intervention on a map of the municipality. The intentions are admirable, but due to the low level of take-up of the mechanisms put in place, results have yet to materialise. None of the three municipalities has the capacity to collect statistics on claims and their responses. Based on their experience, a large proportion of complaints concern the municipal police, and are linked, for example, to infringements related to construction sites. Since 2011, the municipal police has no longer come under the authority of the municipality, with the result that these complaints no longer fall within the municipality’s jurisdiction. The police’s intervention thus depends on their own discretion. The slow pace of intervention places local government in a delicate situation, as citizens expect rapid responses to their claims.

Participation of specific actors

The participation of specific actors from all social backgrounds and of all ages is a prerequisite to ensure that public policies respond to the needs of everyone, and that each social group has the opportunity to express its opinion and make its voice heard. However, efforts to promote citizen participation at both the national and local level, in Tunisia or in other countries, have encountered challenges. The OECD has identified two main groups that do not participate: stakeholders wishing to but unable to participate, and stakeholders able but unwilling to participate. Additional efforts are therefore required to lower barriers to participation and make the prospect more attractive (OECD, 2009). Box ‎3.8 identifies various mechanisms used by the Office of Public Consultation of Montreal to broaden participation.

Box ‎3.8. How to broaden participation in the process of public consultation

The capacity to participate in collective decision-making, and interest in doing so, varies according to individuals. From the perspective of democratic institutions, it is possible to adopt a passive approach – receiving and listening– or an active one, by setting in place various means to obtain the participation of all those concerned by the issues in question.

An active approach is determined from the beginning, during design of the consultation process. It begins by mapping the persons and groups affected by the issue that is the object of the consultation, and by assessing the different obstacles to participation. These may take a number of different forms, such as:

  • mistrust of decision-makers;

  • lack of information;

  • lack of availability

  • distance and accessibility of consultation venues;

  • lack of interest;

  • complexity of forms of participation;

  • a feeling of exclusion.

Clearly, there is no form of participation suited to all. It is therefore important to adopt a multi-channel approach.

To illustrate these different methods, listed below are examples of participatory activities that have been organised as part of the consultation framework by the Office of Public Consultation of Montreal (OCPM) on reducing dependency on fossil fuels (

Public hearings

A format traditionally used by the OCPM, in which citizens or groups sign up to present their opinions before a committee on the theme being debated. This type of participation is formal and allows for relatively expert participation. However, it quite inflexible (fixed venue and time), and some people could find it intimidating to make a verbal presentation in public.

Contributory citizen activities

Takes the form of a facilitation kit that offers an approach and information for addressing the theme being debated. This formula can be easily adapted to suit different groups and may include a playful dimension. It presents no constraints in terms of venue or timetable. The approach has been successfully tested by various groups such as associations, circles of friends, schools, parents’ groups, regardless of literacy levels, and at various levels of language proficiency.

Online consultation platform

An online tool that enables users to obtain information about the theme of the consultation and contribute by expressing ideas and opinions. It is easier to reach a large number of participants, particularly if social media networks are used. Citizens have the possibility of participating at any time, and from many place.

Creative Marathon

Creative approaches can be the best way to encourage the participation of some sectors of the public. In the Creative Marathon organised by the OCPM, the objective was to attract contributions to innovation from the community in Montreal. With few contacts in this area and a poor knowledge of some community group practices, representatives were invited to develop the way in which they themselves would like to be consulted. The result was obtained through a series of events similar to Hackathons, during which teams worked to develop prototypes of solutions aimed at reducing dependency on fossil fuels. The final stage involved making a presentation to the committee and city representatives.

Source: Guy Grenier, 2017, Coordinator participatory processes, Office of public consultation of Montreal.

Youth participation

The 2014 Constitution highlights the importance of young people, acknowledging that “youth is an active force in building the nation” and stipulating that the government should “support(s) them to assume responsibility, and strive(s) to extend and generalise their participation in social, economic, cultural and political development.” (Article 8). In addition, it stipulates that “the electoral law shall guarantee the representation of youth in local authority councils” (Article 133). Tunisia also recognises that public policies must be designed and implemented with the participation of young people, in order to respond to their needs and make them agents of national and local development. However, in terms of citizen participation, the praiseworthy initiatives of La Marsa, Sfax and Sayada have not succeeded in involving youth. According to interviews conducted during missions in February and March, municipal representatives have observed that in a general sense, there is a lack of active mobilisation and participation of youth on the themes discussed during debates on participatory budgeting and during council meetings, despite the requirement that one of the three participatory budgeting delegates should be a young person. The youth centres belong to the municipalities, and could be a place for interaction with young people, but these places come under the authority of the Ministry for Youth and Sports, requiring direct coordination between the municipality and the national administration. In Sayada, the youth centre has been under construction for two years, restricting venues for youth activities. The CoMun project implemented by GIZ is attempting to respond to the challenges of a local policy of integration and inclusion by offering training in the involvement of young people and developing joint projects between the municipalities and youth. As part of the national action plan for open government, the Ministry for Youth and Sports has pledged to set up youth councils at the local level. All these initiatives can help to develop more consistent approaches and strategies for engaging young people in municipal life. “Think young” involves shaping communication to target youth, using channels that speak to them, implementing innovative participatory structures, presenting municipal issues in a way that makes them relevant and building youth’s capacity in the field. Box ‎3.9 presents several best practices to promote youth participation in the municipalities of OECD countries. Targeted actions are needed to include young people and marginalised groups. Partnerships with associations that represent these could help to involve them more closely.

Box ‎3.9. Innovative practices for involving youth in municipalities

In Paris, France, the Parisian Youth Council, launched in 2003, is a body for participatory democracy. It aims to connect young Parisians with the development of municipal policies, to inform municipal decision-making so that it takes greater account of the needs and expectations of young Parisians, and to help the city in designing innovative solutions to support young Parisians in becoming autonomous. It is made up of 100 young people aged 15 to 30, who meet in plenary session twice a year and at meetings for different works. The candidates are chosen by drawing lots. The Mayor of Paris may summon the Council to obtain its opinion on various subjects that are presented to the municipal councillors.

In Belgium, “Youth Centres” are associations set up at the local level with the aim of promoting the development of a citizenship that is critical, active, responsible and supportive, principally among young people between the ages of 12 and 26, through increased awareness and knowledge of the realities of society, as well as attitudes towards responsibility and participation in social, economic and cultural life. These centres develop a local youth policy and encourage the implementation and promotion of socio-cultural and creative practices. The activities in which the associations choose to invest are highly diverse. There is a particular focus on actions or projects related to artistic practices, to the issue of equal opportunities, information and communication technologies and alternative sports practices, etc. Some youth centres are involved in spurring initiatives linked to local development, such as organising municipal youth councils, homework support, or outreach activities for young people in vulnerable situations.

In Quebec, youth centres that are members of the Regroupement des maisons de jeunes du Québec (RMJQ), (Youth Centres Group of Quebec) are associations of young people and adults who have undertaken, on a voluntary basis, to provide a vibrant a meeting place in their communities where young people aged 12 to 17 can develop their capacities and knowledge in the area of citizenship. It offers youth the possibility of taking responsibility and engaging in projects based on cultural, educational and sporting activities and health awareness-raising, information and promotional initiatives, which they find interesting and are designed to be useful to the community.

Sources: Paris City Hall, (n.d.) and other sources in Belgium and Quebec.

Towards a relationship of trust between citizens and local government

These participatory initiatives are laudable given that, before the revolution, direct communication between citizens and local government was not part of the political and administrative culture. However, such initiatives are affected by a lack of mutual trust: first and foremost, since the time of the former regime, citizens have harboured a mistrust of the political and administrative class. The fact that the government is delaying implementation of local democracy and continues to face problems of corruption diminishes its credibility among the Tunisian people. In addition, the administration lacks confidence in citizens who fail to pay all their local taxes, and towards civil society, accused by some of serving particular interests. A study conducted by the European Union in 2014 identified similar challenges. These challenges to participatory democracy include:

  • “The feeling of low willingness to cooperate on the part of state actors;

  • The feeling of poor consideration of civil society by state actors, who accord it little attention;

  • The feeling of instrumentalisation of associations by state actors;

  • The feeling of scant willingness to cooperate with civil society organisations on the part of state actors;

  • The feeling that civil society is attempting to serve its own interests more than general interests;

  • The feeling of lack of legitimacy and representativeness on the part of civil society” (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014). 

Municipalities and civil society are attempting to break with the culture of closed government and to set up new mechanisms for interaction. This commitment has helped to drive practices for open government, but additional efforts will be required to establish a new culture and to make open government the guiding principle of local administration. A common vision of the roles of each actor, of local government, citizens and civil society will help to embed a culture of open government. The Code for Local Authorities can also contribute in this respect, since it sets out a large number of mechanisms for transparency, participation and accountability, and acknowledges the importance of citizens, civil society and the media in municipal affairs. In particular, it highlights participatory democracy as the way in which municipal affairs should be managed. The inclusion of open government principles in the legal framework also exists in other countries of the MENA region and the OECD, and they can help to strengthen implementation of these practices. Examples include Organic Law No. 113-14 on municipalities, adopted by Morocco in 2015, which contains provisions for promoting transparency, participation and accountability. Chapter V on participatory mechanisms for dialogue and consultation should also be mentioned. It calls for participatory mechanisms for dialogue and consultation, as well as the setting up of a consultative body. The New Zealand law on local authorities (2002) contains provisions on participation, including for consultation (Article 82), and Article 5 of the Municipal Code of Costa Rica provides for the active participation of the population. Box ‎3.10 lists the most important prerogatives for open government in the Code for Local Authorities in Tunisia.

Box ‎3.10. Most important open government prerogatives in the Code for Local Authorities

The Code devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 5) to participatory democracy and open governance. In addition, the text contains clauses throughout on transparency, citizen participation and accountability.

Chapter 5: Participatory democracy and open governance

  • In the establishment of territorial use and development programs, local authorities must make use of the mechanisms of participatory democracy.

  • The local authority council ensures effective participation for all residents and civil society during the various phases of preparation of the territorial use and development programs, and their monitoring, implementation and evaluation.

  • The local authorities can refuse any development programmes that go against the provisions of this article. Any decision taken by the local authority in violation of the provisions of this article may be appealed by way of prosecution for excess of power.

  • The local authorities maintain a registry of civil society members concerned by local affairs.

  • The local authority has a special register for “citizens’ opinions” and responses to their questions.

  • Organisational projects are published 15 days before discussion by the elected councils.

  • The local authority council can organise a referendum on preparation of programmes and implementation of projects falling within its competence.

  • One-tenth of the citizens residing in the local authority can also propose organisation of a referendum. There can be no more than one referendum during the municipal or regional term. The governor may oppose the organization of the referendum before the administrative court of first instance within a period not exceeding one month from the date of his notification.

  • The proactive approach is compulsory in the areas of transparency and access to information concerning:

    • projects for local authority regulatory decisions;

    • financial management;

    • property management

    • contracts entered into by the local authority;

    • works and investments planned by the local authority.

  • The local authorities work, in partnership with the National Institute of Statistics, on drafting a local statistical database.

  • The municipal and regional councils can organise public meetings with citizens, during which the council will provide clarification and the citizens will submit their proposals before the adoption of decisions on certain themes.

  • A meeting can also be organised following the filing of a reasoned request by at least 10% of citizens registered on the municipal or regional electoral roll.

  • The presidents of local councils and their members with responsibility for various tasks must declare their assets and interests.

Among other clauses stipulating open governance are the following points on transparency in municipal management:

  • The principle of transparency and participation in preparation of the budget (Article 130);

  • An excerpt of the minutes of discussions to be posted and inserted on website (Article 224).

Participatory mechanisms during development of municipal activities:

  • The principle of open government in public service management (Article 75);

  • The local development plan (Article 105), the investment programme, the municipal equipment programme (Article 238) and urban development plans (Article 239) are to be drawn up using the mechanism of participatory democracy;

  • Commissions are to adapt the mechanism of participatory democracy (Article 212).

And the important role of citizens, civil society and the media:

  • The municipality can set up a special committee composed of civil society representatives with responsibility for monitoring operations of public services (Article 78);

  • Each district sets up a consultative committee (Article 229);

  • Two new commissions are to be set up, for participatory democracy and open governance and media, communication and assessment (Article 210);

  • During municipal council sessions, a place is reserved for the media, as well as for civil society organisations (Article 219).

Source: Code for Local Authorities

With the aim of fulfilling these new responsibilities and addressing the challenge of mistrust, municipalities could consider engaging in dialogue with civil society to establish a common charter/vision, based, for example, on the charter adopted for participatory budgeting, and a roadmap to apply the clauses on open government included in the Code for Local Authorities. This process would enable enlarging the participatory mechanisms used (see Table ‎3.4).

Table ‎3.4. Participatory mechanisms

Name of initiative


Nature of topics addressed


Duration/Number of participants

Public meeting of 21st century

Advise decision-makers using modern technologies

Mainly local issues, such as municipal development

Municipality, agencies

1 day/500-5,000

Evaluation survey

Stimulate a process of change, on the basis of previous successes

Process of change in organisations and society

Businesses, municipalities, agencies


Citizens' forum

Strengthen democratic competences, launch a social debate

Discussions on the subject of regional, national and transnational issues

To date, only private foundations

Several weeks/300-10,000

Participatory budgeting

Encourage citizens to participate in budgetary decisions

Defining priorities and spending and consolidating local and municipal budgets

Local elected representatives, local government

Several months/up to 10,000

Citizens' panel

Advise decision-makers

Views given to politicians and service providers, long-term change in public opinion

Local elected representatives and other stakeholders

3-4 years (up to 4 annual panels)/500-2,500

Citizens' council

Influence debates in society, advise decision-makers

Municipal development and local issues

Local elected representatives, local government, clubs, businesses

Monthly two day meetings/small groups of 8-12 people

Deliberative polling

Transfer of information, discussion

Wide range of issues at the local and transnational level

Political decision-makers

Several weeks/300-500

European citizens consultation

Transfer of information, discussion, influencing social debate

Future of Europe, local and European issues

Political agencies and decision-makers

Several months/ different groups of 25-150 people, up to a total of 1,800

Consensus conference

Exchanges between experts and non-experts

Controversial issues of public, interest at local and transnational level


3 days (+2 weekends for preparation)/10-30

Forum on national issues

Transfer of information, skills acquisition

Different issues regarding public organisation at the local or national scale

Municipalities, schools, universities and other educational institutions

1-2 days/10-20

Open conference

Reflect and launch new ideas

Virtually any issue that calls for a new or creative idea

Businesses, clubs, agencies, municipal institutions, educational institutions, churches, etc.

1-3 days/flexible (10-2,000)

Planning for a real exercise

Reorganise common spaces

Urban planning projects

Local elected representatives, local government, similar institutions

Several months/ flexible

Planning unit

Integrate citizens’ knowledge into planning decisions

Problems of local and regional planning (urban planning, infrastructure)

Local elected representatives, local government, similar institutions

2-4 days/flexible (max. 25 people per planning unit)

Technical scenario

Compare different future scenarios

Anticipation of future developments and formulation of recommendations on different topics, from local to transnational level

Businesses, clubs, institutions, local government, educational institutions, churches, etc.

1-3 days/flexible (25-250, max. 30 people per group)

World café

Mobilise collective intelligence

Virtually any issue that calls for a new or creative idea

Businesses, clubs, institutions, local government, educational institutions, churches, etc.

Flexible (3 hours to 2 days)/flexible (12-1,200)

Conference for the future

Develop common perspectives, accepted by all stakeholders

Long-term strategies and objectives for organisations and society

Businesses, municipalities, institutions

2-3 days/ ideally, group of 64

Future workshop

Adopt a creative approach to resolving complex problems, developing common perspectives about the future

Long-term changes and guiding processes and projects

Municipalities, institutions, organisations, clubs, etc.

2-3 days/flexible (max. 25 people per group)

Although this discussion process may be tailored to each municipality, exchanges between municipalities could serve to inspire each other. A dialogue with national government, which currently prepares a legal framework for public consultations, could also prove useful in defining a common vision. These dialogues at the local and national level will help to develop a common vision of citizen participation in Tunisia. In order to ensure continuity, civil society and public officials will be called on to share their experiences and best practices with the new municipal council.

The voluntary sector, social movements and the media

Active citizen participation in municipal development, as well as citizens’ capacity to demand accountability from the municipality, will partly depend on the voluntary sector and the media.

Freedom of association is a constitutional right (Article 35). It is regulated by Decree-Law No. 2011-88 of 24 September 2011 on the organisation of associations, which, following the 2011 Revolution, stipulated conditions for freedom of association. Since then, Tunisia has seen the creation of a large number of civil society organisations; in May 2017, more than 20,000 associations were registered in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Tunisia. However, according to officials from the platform, only about 3,000 associations are truly active, and of these, a large number rely on international funding (Robert, 2016). In addition, an EU report observes that, despite the existence of associations with a certain level of professionalism and technical expertise, many of them lack these attributes and take the form “albeit in a relative manner, of a position of beneficiary vis-à-vis the Government and its administration”, following a culture inherited from the old regime (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014).

Of all the civil society organisations in Tunisia, about 20% are registered in the governorate of Tunis where La Marsa is located, 8% are in the governorate of Sfax, and 4% are in the governorate of Monastir, where Sayada is located. Most of the associations operate in the areas of education, culture and art, and only 3.19% are active in the area of citizenship (Centre for Information and Training, 2017).

According to officials in La Marsa, this municipality can count on about 400 associations. A coalition of civil society organisations for La Marsa (see Figure ‎3.9), which groups together 16 associations into a network, has signed a common charter, enabling the collective implementation of initiatives. This type of network not only facilitates the activities of civil society, but also engagement with the municipality.

Figure ‎3.9. Coalition of civil society organisations in La Marsa
Figure ‎3.9. Coalition of civil society organisations in La Marsa


The number of associations in Sayada is estimated at about 23, half of which were set up after 2011. However, not all the associations and their members are active. In Sayada, a number of associations – between 8 and 10 – are working together to launch and implement long-term projects with the municipality, particularly on the coast or in the fishing port. For these associations, lack of meeting spaces poses a challenge to their activities. Sfax has a civil society that is highly dynamic. In addition, the municipality supports associations by allocating them funds to finance their activities. As described in Box ‎3.11, support for associations from the State or municipalities is common practice in OECD countries.

Box ‎3.11. Support for civic action in French municipalities

In many French municipalities, the city offers support to civic action, in order to encourage it. This includes financial assistance, as well as expertise, assistance and making available tools and facilities.

The city of Champigny-sur-Marne supports civic action through:

  1. 1. “Support to administrative procedures, assistance to project organisers.

  2. 2. Making available tools and methodological support.

  3. 3. Subsidies and in-kind assistance (loan of rooms, gymnasiums, materials…).

  4. 4. Promoting the actions of associations and volunteers, and support in staging events.”

In Clamart, this support includes management advice to associations, as well as assistance in launching them and training for leaders.

The municipality of Aubervilliers, which awards grants to associations, requires that they respect certain criteria, including the following:

  1. 5. “The association must be declared to the Prefecture and registered with a SIRET code.

  2. 6. Association actions must be for the benefit of citizens of Aubervilliers and linked to community life.

  3. 7. The association must not be religious or political.

  4. 8. The association must respect management rules that are disinterested and not-for-profit, and operate in a democratic manner, without discrimination, fostering the equal participation of men and women, as well as that of different generations.

  5. 9. The association undertakes to supply the City with a balance sheet and a report on its activities endorsed by a general assembly within six months of the end of the fiscal year.”

Sources: Municipality of Champigny-sur-Marne, (n.d.), Municipality of Clamart, (n.d.), Community life-Portal of associations of Aubervilliers, (n.d.).

In a context of transition, in which the country waited several years for local elections, it is unsurprising that a number of associations have been accused of being politicised and of wanting to stand for election. Some public actors explain their mistrust of civil society organisations by the fact that they believe that some associations play the de facto role of political parties (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014). As a result, developing a culture of transparency, not just within municipalities, but also in the non-profit sector, becomes increasingly imperative. It would therefore be useful to establish standards for transparency and accountability. Exchanges between Tunisian associations, as well as with international ones, could serve to define a charter of associations, which would include points on financial transparency and conflicts of interest.

In addition to associations, there are also neighbourhood committees. These date back to the 1990s and were first launched in 1991 during a Ministerial Council session. The neighbourhood committees were considered “a dynamic bridging point between decision-makers and citizens” and their objective was “the mobilisation and participation of citizens to improve neighbourhood living conditions, especially by involving its members in municipal life, notably through their participation in municipal councils, where they will represent citizens’ interests”. The neighbourhood committees have also been very active in the areas of cleanliness and the environment. However, during the time that Ben Ali was in power, these committees were reported to have been co-opted and used by the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) for control and propaganda purposes (Nicolás Adán, J.-E., Ben Hassen, S. and Doggui, 2014). After 2011, the neighbourhood committees continued to exist, and their role is in the process of being redefined.

Citizen engagement is also expressed through other channels, such as social movements or citizens’ protests, which increased significantly in Tunisia in 2017, particularly with regard to regional disparities and regional development. These movements are particularly prominent in the south of Tunisia, but supporting movements have also been formed in a number of governorates, including those of Tunis, Sousse and Sfax. In May 2017, the main focus of group protests was on economic, social, political, administrative and security issues, but at other times, educational and health issues have also been important topics, especially in January 2017. The targets of protest movements have included the governorates, delegations and security bodies, sports stadiums, ministers and the Presidency of the Government, the municipalities and ARP (FTDES, 2017). Tunisia also experienced a wave of protest movements in early 2018 following the adoption of the budget law.

These movements demonstrate the existence of a significant degree of citizen mobilisation in Tunisia, and a level of participation in other places and through other means. However, as everywhere in the world, the citizen participation encouraged by the public administration revolves around an invitation to take part in institutionalised participatory processes related to challenges identified by the public authorities. Citizens are seldom encouraged to launch participatory processes in a proactive manner, and to define the challenges themselves (Schauppenlehner-Kloyber and Penker, 2016). With the exception of a few associations, a lack of initiative on the part of citizens and associations has been identified as a challenge in La Marsa, Sayada and Sfax. Nevertheless, a number of cities around the world, such as Berlin and Paris, offer examples of collective action, self-organisation and joint resource management, including participatory gardens and neighbourhood groups. Another channel for interaction with civil society is through local citizen councils, as in the case of Latin America (see Box ‎3.12).

Box ‎3.12. Local citizen councils in Latin America

Since the 1980s, the Latin American public authorities have forged a new relationship with their citizens, allowing them to play a more active role in the decision-making process. The fact that they have succeeded is partly due to the launch of local citizen councils.

Although the local councils take different names and formats within Latin America, they share common features. In a general, they group together representatives of different sectors of civil society, such as the university sector, civic or local organisations and the private sector, and they connect these with representatives of local political authorities within a single body, where, working together, they develop public policies or development programmes. They generally pursue a common objective: strengthening democracy and improving the quality and responsiveness of public policies at the local level.

In certain cases, the setting up of local councils is provided for by the Constitution (for example the Constitution of Peru, Article IV, Chapter XIV on decentralisation) or a national law (for example the Mexican national law on water, which provides for the establishment of Basin Councils). In other cases, councils have been set up on the initiative of local government and citizens (for example in Colombia, with the youth municipal councils of Medellin).

In general, the local councils of Latin America are made up of elected representatives from different social, political and sometimes economic sectors, showing the importance of the capacities and goodwill of actors participating in the councils, and in particular, the attitude adopted by local government regarding citizen participation. The local councils of Latin America follow two main models, depending on the range of thematic areas that they handle. The first model allows local councils to examine and draft overall development plans that cover a variety of sectorial challenges, such as the Concerted Development Plan of Peru (Plan de desarrollo concertado). Under the second model, local councils are created to address specific thematic areas, such as social policy, environmental protection, urban governance or public service delivery, as in the case of the local health councils in Paraguay.

Source: OECD, 2016b.

This type of action offers an opportunity for citizens to participate in the debate on issues related to municipal development and its design (Schauppenlehner-Kloyber and Penker, 2016). At the same time, institutionalised participatory processes offer a means for social movements to express their demands in a different manner. For example, in Berlin, Germany, social movements used a referendum in 2013 to make their demands heard about the re-municipalisation of electricity, and again in 2014, about the use of the old Tempelhof airport (Lebuhn, 2015). Social movements have the potential to propose participatory means that go beyond the systems established by institutions, and to mobilise non-organised citizens (Martínez, 2010), as has also been seen in Tunisia. Careful thought about how best to integrate social movements in municipal efforts to promote open government can only enrich and broaden citizen participation (Neveu, 2011). Box ‎3.13 presents other approaches that could help to extend participation.

Box ‎3.13. Participatory mechanisms –excerpt from the Guide to Best Practices for Local Governance
  • “Where necessary, strengthen citizens’ capacities and sense of initiative (bottom-up and top-down participation). This objective could, for example, be achieved by setting up counselling sessions with the aim of introducing a service known as proximity-citizenship. Such a service can be illustrated through the example of citizen centres located in the neighbourhoods of French towns and cities. These are meeting places run by people working in local services, as well as neighbourhood councillors and residents’ groups.

  • Activate the role of planning advisory committees and give them greater authority and prerogatives. These are committees made up of citizens and business representatives, chosen by local elected officials. They can be considered as a source of proposals, as well as a lobbying group.

  • Promote the role of arbitration bodies (customary and state-based) to resolve local land disputes and facilitate access to land, especially in rural regions that agree to accept new development projects. These bodies may be assisted by “strategic groups” made up of figures who enjoy social recognition, and have significant political weight and influence in the local environment where land disputes are occurring”.

Source: IACE, 2015.

Local media also offers the potential for implementing open government. Media often serves as a bridge between the public administration, government and citizens by providing information on public policies and demanding accountability from the administration. Since 2011, which saw the liberation of the press, Tunisia’s media sector has undergone a significant transformation. Indeed, Tunisia has seen the emergence of new media at the national and local levels in print and online news services, as well as in the audio-visual sector. Legal recognition of community radio stations, defined as radios that are “specialised, local, not-for-profit and serve the interest of the general public”, and the launch of several radio stations of this nature demonstrates the importance attributed to the local media for public debate and citizen participation. However, of the ten radio stations recognised by the High Independent Authority of the Audio-Visual Commission (HAICA), three are in the region of Grand Tunis (Radio Campus, Media Libre FM, Radio 6), but none are in Sfax or Sayada. In these regions, public local radio stations (Radio Sfax and Radio Monastir), together with private radios (including Jawhara FM in Monastir and Radio Diwan in Sfax) are important sources of local information. Both the governorate and the municipality of Monastir frequently use Radio Monastir to discuss and convey information on local issues, such as cleanliness, public lighting and transport (GIZ, 2014). As previously mentioned, radio is also used in Sfax to convey citizens’ opinions and demands to the municipality. A radio station is currently being set up in La Marsa11.

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 central government – municipalities can encourage a type of journalism that pays closer attention to local issues.


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← 1.

← 2. Municipality of Sayada - Decree No. 2011-1208 of 27 August 2011

← 3. Government decree No. 2017-200 of 8 February 2017

← 4. Decree No. 2011-694 of 9 June 2011

← 5. Decree No. 2011-384 of 8 April 2011

← 6. Decree No. 2012-2364 of 11 October 2012 

← 7. Government decree No. 2017-434 of 12 April 2017 

← 8. Documentation provided by the municpality of La Marsa

← 9.

← 10.

← 11.

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