Bringing democracy closer to the people : Tunisia’s decentralisation reforms

Under the previous regime, Tunisia was a highly centralised state where many of the internal regions suffered from severe underdevelopment and lack of opportunities, a problem that remains acute. Responding to the demands of the 2011 revolution, the 2014 constitution foresees a process of decentralisation. To implement the constitution, the government is currently working on a new decentralisation law (Code des Collectivités locales) to delegate powers and responsibilities to local authorities, bringing governance closer to the people. In support of this process, DRI launched a programme to help citizens put forward proposals on the draft law. DRI worked with 11 national partner organisations over eight months to think through and comment on outstanding issues. 13 working sessions in Tunis focused on selected articles in the Code des Collectivités locales: regulations on financial resources, powers, control over local authorities and participatory democracy.

To reach out to as many people as possible up and down the country, DRI trained 20 facilitators from partner organisations and local associations to run workshops on the decentralisation reforms in the regions. Town hall meetings were organised in the underprivileged governorates of Jendouba, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, Kairouan and Medenine. Over 400 representatives of political parties, local authorities, CSOs, media and the public discussed their vision for stronger local governance after a briefing on the draft law. Each event came up with recommendations that reflected local priorities.

DRI worked with partner CSOs to gather all the insights and results from Tunis and the regional consultations into a final report, which the partners endorsed at a roundtable on 12 November. DRI subsequently provided some initial support to CSOs in advocating for the report’s recommendations, which were presented and publicly discussed at a national conference in December attend by MPs, government representatives, academia, the media, civil society and the international community.

Key findings from the report:

  • There should have been more public consultation on the creation of new local authorities. The Minister of Local Affairs should develop a communication strategy to engage the public on the reforms.
  • The draft law should require local authorities to engage citizens on participation, and each authority should develop a participation manual that reflects local realities.
  • Greater transparency is needed on the division of powers at the local level. The draft law should specify how authorities should work with national bodies delivering local services.
  • Control over local authorities should be limited to the judicial control through the Court of Auditors and Administrative Tribunal.
  • Development plans for localities should be harmonised between municipal, local and regional authorities.

DRI continues supporting participation of CSOs and other stakeholders in the decentralisation debate. Six training sessions on decentralisation and local elections were organised in December for journalists from Tunis and the regions. Follow up advocacy coordination with CSOs continues and direct awareness work with MPs and representatives of political parties is being carried out in parallel.

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