As part of Phase III of the “Supporting Decentralization in Tunisia” project, the Forum of Federations organized four training workshops with the Centre de formation et d’appui à la décentralisation (CFAD). The first workshop was held from February 9 to 11, and the second one from March 1 to 3. The third one held from March 9 to 11, and the fourth one from March 22 to 24 mars 2016, all at the CFAD offices in Tunis. These four workshops were targeted at secretary generals from municipalities as well as managers and advisors from various regions of Tunisia. The training was facilitated by four national experts and one Canadian expert.
The director general of CFAD, Adel Ben Yakhlef, welcomed the participants and explained that the decentralization process requires much time and resources, and a clear understanding of distinctions between local and national affairs, so that each party’s tasks and responsibilities are clearly understood.
The Director of the project, Leila Haouaoui, explained the missions and actions taken by the Forum of Federations which are essentially based on sharing experiences related to decentralization and local governance. She reminded the participants that the aim of the workshops was to equip civil servants with useful tools to help them play their new role in the direct instauration of decentralization. The training program was spread out over three days. The first day was dedicated to historical and local issues and the instauration of decentralization in Tunisia; the second day focussed on financial questions and governance; and the last day was devoted to the Canadian experience and familiarization with various local administration tools.
Following a quick look at Tunisian history, Adel Saidi, an expert in regional and local development, explained that decentralization issues had been around since the country’s independence and that in 1967; Tunisia initiated a new division of its territory. Despite several reforms, the country is still under the influence of a dominant central state and it remains difficult to establish full decentralization without true political will.
Legal expert Jinan Limam, led a detailed examination of various legal documents (Constitution, Local Community Code) pertaining to local power. She explained that the local application of democracy necessarily requires the adoption of representation and participation principles in the governance process. She also drew attention to possible problems stemming from the application of legal texts. Under her tutelage, and in order to help participants better grasp these concepts and documents, she asked them to examine, in small groups, various articles of the Constitution and the projected Code of Local Communities, with an eye on their future responsibilities in a context of decentralization.
Following their group activities and tapping into their personal knowledge of the issues at hand, participants formulated a series of recommendations to improve the current project.
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.
Hosted by Rashid Touzi, local finance expert and ex-director general at the Department of Finance, the second day’s proceedings concentrated on finances and local governance. Rashid Touzi discussed various sources of financing available to local communities, be they distinct, shared or transferred. He underlined the link between decentralization and finances, taking into account the evolution of municipal budgets and results for 2010 and 2014. The fragile nature of communes financing clearly stood out when examining fiscal resources and insufficiencies in local administrations. He also talked about good governance, a concept anchored in principles of transparency, integrity and empowerment. These subjects were discussed in small groups to help participants master the concepts of decentralization and good local governance and to encourage them to propose various mechanisms to improve the current system.
The last day was dedicated to international experiences in decentralization and local governance. The workshop was led by Canadian expert Roland Morin, who described the context and main elements of the Quebec municipal system, which is a decentralized public administration. He dedicated a whole session to presenting and explaining strategic management in municipal contexts. Participants worked in small groups, discussing the applicability of strategic planning in Tunisian municipalities. Performance management and human resources are considered essential to help an organization’s strategies reach or surpass predetermined targets. Roland Morin also demonstrated how transparency and benchmarking can become improvement tools for municipalities, and led exercises on the applicability of these tools in local Tunisian communities.
Participants were greatly enthused by the Canadian experience, and expressed the desire to pursue this type of training and to further assimilate the Canadian experience in the area of local management, crisis management in particular.