Decentralization and Local Governance: Role of Civil Society
January 18 to 20, 2016 in Kairouan
February 23 to 25, 2016 in Djerba
Under the auspices of the Department of Relations with Constitutional Entities, Civil Society and Human Rights, the Forum of Federations organized two training workshops with civil society representatives as part of a series of five workshops. The first was held from January 18 to 20, 2016, at La Kasbah Hotel, and the other was held from February 23 to 25, 2016, at the Vincci-Resort Hotel in Djerba. These meetings welcomed active members of civil society (men and women), two international experts, two local experts, and the Al Bawsala Association, a non-governmental organization on Tunisian rights.
Kamel Jendoubi, the Minister of Relations with Constitutional Entities, Civil Society and Human Rights, opened the proceedings. He emphasized that the crucial role played by civil society in the 2011 revolution explains new constitutional choices which give civil society an important role in the strengthening of democracy and in regional and local development. He also stressed that the associative fiber was still in its infancy, thus fragile and relatively unstructured. The relationship between civil society and the State is still characterized by mutual mistrust and a flagrant lack of concerted action.
Sheela Embounou, project director in Ottawa, and Leila Haouaoui, director of the “Support for decentralization in Tunisia” project, presented the missions and approaches of the Forum of Federations, which are mostly based on the sharing of experiences on decentralization and local governance with all players, from citizens to local communities, the central state and civil society, the latter being the main mediator between citizens and State powers.
The first day focused on the role of civil society after the application of the new Code for local communities and mobilization of key players in civil society. The second day mostly examined local community competencies and the Canadian experience, participatory budgeting and its criteria.
Participation of civil society in the decentralization process: Salwa Hamrouni, a member of the Tunisian Association of constitutional law and a public law teacher, explained, based on the articles of the Constitution and the Code of local communities, that the participation of civil society in the decentralization process could not be realized without participatory democracy and principles of open governance allowing citizens and organizations to partake more fully and efficiently in regional development and land use. She stressed the need to make proper distinctions between decentralization and de-concentration, and explained what those notions imply in terms of attributes, resources and representativeness. The participation of civil society in this process is undisputable. However, to strengthen its role, it must determine its limits and obligations. She then guided participants through group tasks, asking them to identify possible actions of civil society a major player in decentralisation, based on various articles of the Code of local communities.
Mobilization of civil society: Alexa Conradi, communications expert and ex-president of the Quebec Federation of Women, stated that by leaning on values and principles, members of civil society can interpret various situations and collectively define what actions to take. However, they must very carefully choose their strategies, taking into account different contexts and devise a solid action plan. Strong communications are at the heart of this process. It is also important to evaluate and re-evaluate our actions and, above all else, to learn from our mistakes. In this sense, she asked participants to work in small groups to select an activity sector, identify specific problems, analyse and interpret them, and find ways to solve them efficiently. Participants gave insightful exposés on problems linked to tourism and waste collection and management, stressing the importance of dialogue and trust in finding solutions to regional and local development challenges.
Participatory budget: Making reference to the Moroccan decentralization experience, Hayat Lahbayli, president of the Fès Alternative Movement, talked about participatory budgeting, defined as a process that encourages communities to take part in debates on public policies and in decisions on public resources and to have a say in decisions regarding their allocation and follow-up. Participatory budgeting is based on the following principles: participation, efficiency, transparency, inclusion, solidarity and transversality. However, participatory budgeting requires many steps: setting in motion, taking stock, defining the rules, diagnosis, prioritization, creation of alliances, implementation, follow-up and evaluation. Participants showed lot of interest in Moroccan experience and participated in an exercise to define the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders involved in participatory budgeting.
Implementation of decentralization in Tunisia: Makram Montacer, an economist and decentralization expert, talked about the size and optimal numbers of local communities closely dependent on economies of scale, socio-geographic space, functional limits and financial sustainability of local communities. He also discussed the various levels of local communities, referring to several decentralization models, namely European countries in the context of unitary states. Communes, regions and districts will each have attributes judged sharable, transferable or exclusive. The central state will continue to play an essential role in the success of the decentralization process. Since the 2014 Constitution, the division of competences between them and the state is based on the principle of subsidiarity. Various scenarios relating to territorial divisions were proposed, and sparked much interest and debate among the participants.
Testimony of the Al Bawsala Association: Chaima Bouhlel, member of Al Bawasala, the group responsible for the Marsad Baladia project, talked about the association’s experiences in the field of active civil societies. She concluded that Tunisian associations must fight to get information, effect change, and become active players in participatory democracy. Launched in January 2014, the project’s goal is to follow the progress of municipalities relying on access to information, clear communications and regular updates. The project also aims to close the gap between municipalities and citizens at various levels, such as understanding of local realities or participation in decision-making. It allows observation of municipal activities and their effects on the entire Tunisian population.
In a very friendly atmosphere, participants took part in the final exercise. With the help of the experts, they were asked, in small groups, to imagine a project funded by a portion of a communal budget. Members of various organisations cooperated to design a project, taking into account an efficient plea to change practices and attitudes.
The workshops ended with the award of certificates of participation and USB keys. Participants expressed the desire to join other groups active in decentralization and local governance and asked that a third workshop be organized to enrich and complete the other two.
Recommendations pertaining to the Code of local communities formulated by the participating associations were forwarded to the department in charge of relations with constitutional entities, civil society and human rights.