Tunisia: Conference on Decentralization: strong instrument for democracy and local development


Nearly 200 representatives of local and central governments, regional and international organizations and members of the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly gathered in Tunis, Tunisia on 28-30 May 2012 to debate on decentralization and the constitutional process in Tunisia. The conference was jointly organized by the National Federation of Tunisian Cities (FNVT), UCLG, the Diputación de Barcelona (Barcelona Provincial Government), the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF) and the Arab Town Organisation (ATO).

The conference was opened in the presence of representatives of central government, the President of the Local Government Commission of the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly and Dr. Kadir Topbaş, President of UCLG and Mayor of Istanbul. Mr. Saifallah Lasram, Mayor of Tunis and FNTV, recalled in his opening speech the principles that should be included in the new constitution to strengthen the role of local government and local democracy. Mr. Said Mechichi, the Secretary of State in the Minister of Interior in charge of the Reformation, reaffirmed on behalf of the Minister of the Interior that decentralization is an essential option for the future to consolidate the unity of the State. Dr. Kadir Topbaş reaffirmed the commitment of UCLG to assist the authorities and local actors to consolidate Tunisian local democracy.

After a first general discussion on issues of decentralization, the participants developed, in three parallel workshops, debates about the balance between decentralization and devolution, the role of local authorities in development and their relationships with civil society.

In the first workshop, Mr. Mehmet Duman, UCLG-MEWA Secretary General, made a speech presenting the region and the actual situation in terms of decentralization, by underlining UCLG-MEWA activities serving to the strengthening of local democracy and decentralization in the Middle East and West Asia region.

Dr. Ahmet N. Helvacı, former sub-governor and former mayor from Turkey, presented the Turkish experience of local government and decentralization.

A general consensus has emerged on the need to promote anchoring of political, administrative and financial decentralization in the new constitution of Tunisia to enshrine the principles of local autonomy, to create different levels of local communities and ensure an appropriate split of responsibilities and resources between different levels of government, encourage citizen participation and provide a legalisation of controls on local government.

During the three workshops, participants discussed several issues such as the status of regions as territorial level management to reduce regional disparities, the weakening of the controls exercised by central government on local authorities and the relevant place to establish the best connection between local administration and central government for more constructive collaboration between the different spheres of government; the need to strengthen and diversify the local tax system and ensure a transfer of resources to local authorities on transparent and predictable basis, improving transparency and efficiency of management and the creation of a local government service as well. Regarding civil society issues, the participants considered that participative democracy must go hand in hand with representative democracy. Participants officially recorded the changing role of civil society as associations of allegiance to a role of intelligence. It was also noted that a third of the country is not yet municipalized and priorities should be to give to all citizens the same rights.

Considering decentralization and strengthening local governance is an essential path to consolidate the country’s future development. International partners proposed to provide support to the transition process and strengthen the role of local authorities. 

In conclusion, local authorities have warned against neglect they face and called on parliamentarians to receive constituent local authorities to establish a dialogue on the constitutional process. They also proposed to promote pilot projects of citizen participation to help developing the new legislation.