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FEATURE STORY

Communication and Engagement in Tunisia: a Dialogue Shaped by Citizens

March 25, 2013

It has been called the first revolutionary piece of legislation after the Tunisian uprising. Tunisia’s access to information law (2011-41) guarantees, for the first time in the country’s history, a citizen’s right to obtain information from the government. It is a representation of the country’s break with the past. It is also a symbol of the World Bank’s collaboration with civil society.

The World Bank has been interacting with civil society since the 1970s, but in recent years, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have become a fundamental part of the Bank’s strategy, lending operations, and safeguards. CSOs play a critical role in economic development by contributing local knowledge, providing technical expertise, and leveraging social capital through the recognition that social networks have value.  Furthermore, CSOs can bring innovative ideas and solutions, as well as participatory approaches, to solving local problems.

In the case of Tunisia’s access to information law, CSOs played an active role in drafting the legislation which was adopted by the transitional government in May 2011. Since that time, the Bank has continued to support local CSOs as they work with and provide pressure on the government to ensure that the law is implemented effectively. Though progress has sometimes lagged, there have been some achievements. One example is the ‘citizen’s budget.’

Starting earlier this year, a group of local transparency-focused CSOs has partnered, with assistance from the Bank, with the Tunisian ministry of finance to help prepare a user-friendly guide to the country’s budget. Awareness of where and how the government spends its tax dollars is an important way that citizens can hold their government accountable. CSOs in Tunisia have also played an active role in consultations for the drafting of the Bank’s support strategy to the country – the Interim Strategy Note –  for the period 2012-13. Feedback from CSOs has ensured that the strategy targets some of the most critical issues facing Tunisia, such as jobs, especially for youth and women in lagging regions, creating an enabling environment for the private sector to operate in, and gender equality.

These consultations also resulted in the inclusion of citizen scorecards as one of the key reforms supported by the Bank-financed Development Policy Loan.  CSOs were involved in what the Bank calls a citizen scorecard exercise, in which civil society organizations measured public service performance through scorecards in three interior regions of Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Jendouba. This gave direct feedback to the government on where improvements were most needed.

The Bank is looking for ways to scale up the kind of accountability that is integral to the community scorecard approach to government services. In February 2013, Tunisia became the first country in the MENA region to participate in the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA). The GPSA is a coalition of donors, governments and CSOs that aims to improve country-level governance reforms and improved service delivery. In practice, this could mean activities such as budget literacy campaigns, community oversight, input or expenditure tracking, procurement monitoring, or public access to information legislation. The Bank has agreed to finance CSOs working in these areas.  In its first call for proposals, the Bank received applications from 14 Tunisian CSOs working in social accountability. Winning bids will receive World Bank financing for up to three years to implement their activities. The selection process will wrap up by May of this year, when the winning bids will be announced.

In addition to these new initiatives, like the GPSA, the Bank has long worked with CSOs on the issue of environmental and social safeguards. Safeguards teams ensure the effectiveness of compliance in the projects’ development objectives. The Bank’s safeguards policies aim to prevent and mitigate undue harm to people and their environment in the development process. These policies provide guidelines for bank  and partner governments to ensure that social and environmental considerations are taken into account  in the identification, preparation, and implementation of programs and projects. Safeguard policies have often provided a platform for the participation of stakeholders in project design and have been an important instrument for building ownership among local populations.

The 2011 uprising in Tunisia opened new doors for CSO / World Bank engagement. This dialogue will continue to play an essential role for the Bank in its engagement in Tunisia.  The 2011 revolution reinvigorated the partnership between CSOs and the World Bank in Tunisia. CSOs have and will continue to be active members of the development process at all levels.