As part of Phase III of the “Supporting Decentralization in Tunisia” project, the Forum of Federations, in cooperation with the Centre africain de perfectionnement des journalistes et communicateurs (CAPJC) and the Instance supérieure indépendante pour les élections (ISIE), held a training workshop at CAPJC, from March 8 to 10, 2016. This workshop engaged radio, television, print, and electronic media journalists from various Tunisian regions. Activities were organized and supported by national and international experts, under the general theme: Decentralization, Local Elections and Media.
The workshop opened with remarks from CAPJC’s director, Sadok Hammami, who highlighted on the fundamental role of the media in generating information and creating awareness, two tasks requiring total mastery of the concepts at hand. The media is considered an intermediary between the world of politics and the citizens.
The director of the project, Leila Haouaoui, presented the Forum of Federations’ mission, and the various components of the Tunisia project. She reminded participants that the workshop’s goal was to equip journalists and communicators to better play their roles as information and awareness catalysts in a decentralization context. A free and responsible media is an essential prerequisite for success throughout all phases of a democratic transition. When the population is well informed on what constitutes decentralized governance, and what the major stakes are, it is much more likely that they will support the process and actively contribute to its success.
The three-day program centered around three major themes.
Decentralization: Concepts and operationalization: S. Klibi (constitutional expert) gave a detailed legal interpretation of the articles of the Constitution, and the Code for local communities project that constitute the founding principles of decentralization in Tunisia. She explained that local communities are becoming a laboratory for the establishment of a participative, democratic and republican regime, as required by Article 139, which obligates local communities to adopt participative democracy mechanisms. Adel Ben Yakhlef, director general of the Training and Support Centre on Decentralization, explained that the new Constitution has given local communities a crucial role to play in the economic and social development of their territories. However, decentralization will require deep reforms at the state level, as well as innovative socioeconomic orientations. In reality, these reforms will bring about a new division of roles and powers between the central state and local communities, and also among local communities themselves. Nonetheless, conferring new powers on local communities will be difficult, since decisions will have to be made relating to resources (financial/transfers).
Makram Montacer is an economist and decentralization expert who has spoken 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 has been based on the principle of subsidiarity. Various scenarios relating to territorial divisions were proposed and sparked much interest and debate among the participants.
Municipal elections: Role of ISIE. The president of lSIE, Chafik Sarsar, presented the municipal elections roadmap and explained the various steps of the electoral process, from territorial divisions, as a base, to the establishment of municipal districts. Lamia Zargouni, a member of the ISIE Council, reminded participants that the organization’s main mission is to ensure free, democratic, pluralist, honest and transparent elections and referendums. Chafik Sarsar stressed the urgency of finalizing the Code for local communities.
Elections and media in a democratic context: This relationship was examined by Marc-Noël Ouellette, an ex-Canadian reporter and president of local newspaper groups. He reminded participants that the main functions of journalists are to inform the public of events, to stimulate public debate, to denounce abuse, to create awareness, to mobilize public opinion, to encourage political pluralism, and to ensure that politicians take note of public opinion. The media and society closely depend on one another.
Under the guidance of Marc-Noël Ouellette and Manoir Marrouki, a member of the National Union of Tunisian Reporters and president of an observatory, participants were divided into small groups and asked to develop an efficient communications campaign on a specific subject associated with decentralization. The participating journalist showed a lot of interest in this task, in which they had to present all steps of their campaign, from the identification of the message to the actual writing as well as the production phase.
The journalists got to participate in another small group activity where they were called upon to imagine and create a journalistic file on decentralization. They demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm for this task and were happy to prepare and present their work. Experts discussed the filesand congratulated the participants for their excellent work.