Tunis, March 29, 2012 – Following the January 2011 Revolution in Tunisia, the new authorities signaled a definitive break with the past by embracing a number of governance reforms to set the path for a democratic transition. Experts and policy makers gathered in Tunis on March 28 and 29 to raise awareness about one of these important undertakings, Tunisia’s access to information law passed in May 2011.
“A strong access to information law is so important to answer the demands of Tunisian citizens calling for greater transparency and accountability from their government,” said Inger Andersen, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region of the World Bank. “But a law becomes alive for people only when it is thoroughly and determinedly implemented and that is what we are discussing in this workshop.”
The Open Government and Access to Information event, sponsored by the Tunisian Government, the World Bank and the European Commission, opened in Tunis yesterday with representatives from MENA governments, international experts and practitioners from Canada, France, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Mexico and Slovenia, Tunisian ministries, civil society organizations, media, the Administrative Tribunal, the National Archives, and local government, and development partners in attendance.
The workshop is designed to raise awareness among citizens of the new rights they hold and how to exercise them. It also focuses on the new obligations of public administrators and the importance of sharing experiences internationally and learning from how other countries have managed implementation and institutional implications.
After the revolution, the World Bank and other development partners joined forces to deliver a financial package supporting governance and other pressing reforms put in place by the transitional authorities in Tunisia. Enhancing public access to information was part of this drive and by May 2011 legislation for the disclosure of information had been developed and adopted in Tunisia. The government has also started to initiate disclosure of public financial and statistical information, such as budget execution reports, the court of audit’s full reports as well as household and labor force surveys.
Leading this reform in the Government, Mohammed Abbou, Deputy Prime Minister for Administrative reforms said: “The current government is fully committed to transparency and has decided to facilitate the effective access of public documents as it is convinced of its importance in the democratic transition process.”
Adrianus Koetsenruijter, Ambassador and Head of the European Union delegation said in his opening remarks: “Access to information is an essential pillar for democratic life”.
The new Access to Information legislation:
- Establishes the public’s right to access information held by public bodies, and
- Promotes the proactive disclosure of key information by government.
This is an important first step towards what is increasingly becoming known as Open-Gov in Tunisia. It aims at fundamentally strengthening the transparency of government activities and the accountability of government to the citizens. The main challenge is now to implement the provisions of the new law. This will require significant changes in the way the public administration operates.
Free access to information is key to build trust and confidence between the state and its citizens. It informs policy debates and opens them to the public, and ultimately brings public administrations closer to citizens.
Aware of high public expectations as well as the institutional and administrative challenges in meeting these, Tunisian authorities have requested the Bank’s technical assistance for the development of operational guidelines to accelerate the law’s implementation.