This article was originally published by Huffpost Maghreb.When I arrived in Tunis almost a year ago, one of my colleagues at the World Bank office tried to explain to me how the rules in effect had made it impossible to export high-quality olive oil. I found it difficult to understand what she was saying, as it seemed to me that the export of high value-added products should be a major goal for the country. However, to date, the problem persists...
The investment authorization system is another problem that is also difficult to understand in a country where investment is urgently needed for job creation. This system reminds me more of the outmoded Soviet system of the 1970s that stifled innovation of any kind than of a modern system of economic management. Fortunately, we have finally received good news on this front.
The publication on May 11, 2018 of Government Decree 2018-417 regarding the economic activities that require authorization represents a major step forward in redefining relations between the administration and the private sector. The innovation of this long-awaited decree lies in its simplification and clarification of relations between entrepreneurs and the administration. In the maze of current legal provisions, the 221-page decree provides the complex list of all the economic activities subject to or exempt from authorization, the relevant decision-making authorities, and the maximum time periods for granting these authorizations.
In addition to the clarification provided by the decree, 27 authorizations have been eliminated and replaced with specifications to be published in the next 6 months. Lastly, by introducing the legendary “silence means consent” principle for many administrative authorizations and shortening the deadlines for a response from the administration, the decree signals the desire of the Tunisian Government to move toward new public management techniques aimed at improving the responsiveness of administrative offices and their efficiency in the provision of services.
Why simplify? Is this urgently needed for Tunisia?
Simplification means greater competitiveness and innovation for Tunisia, for enterprises, very small enterprises (VSEs) and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, and self-employed persons who, until now, have been spending far too much time on administrative procedures. Simplification also makes Tunisia more attractive and serves to convince foreign enterprises that the country is no longer the land of complexity. Driving the need for reform is the country’s drop by 46 notches in the Doing Business ranking in the past 7 years, owing in particular to a lackluster business environment characterized by cumbersome procedures, an unresponsive administration, and a difficult macroeconomic context.
Tunisia urgently needs to shift gears and change the approach. Because the country stands at the crossroads of two key challenges—State modernization and business competitiveness—simplification is central to its economic recovery. Simplification is conducive to growth. By removing the obstacles that can stymie initiatives and worsen the business climate, the Government will expedite the recovery process and encourage greater job creation.
How can tangible results be obtained through simplification? What method should be used to guide and implement this project that is of national interest?
The Tunisian administration is grappling with the major challenge posed by this decree. Beginning July 1, 2018, the effective date of this government decree, it will have to apply the new rules to its processing of authorization applications. This challenge is heightened by the fact that the simplification process is just beginning and is expected to continue and facilitate the simplification or elimination of more than 290 procedures.
Some years ago, several countries adopted the “simplification shock” program. A number of success stories such as Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Portugal can serve as a reference point for Tunisia.
The World Bank Group is currently assisting the Tunisian Government with the reform of its administrative procedures. By learning everything we can from past and recent experiences and drawing on the good practices observed in countries around the world, our team is focused on helping the Tunisian Government build a sustainable approach to simplification that can produce results within the allotted timeframe.
I see this decree as merely a first step but a critical one in an important national process that is expected to give rise to a veritable "simplification factory" in the coming years. This will provide the country with the fresh impetus so yearned for by the youth, who are currently leaving a country they view as a model of an antiquated economy.
If simplification is to become an active exercise rather than a slogan, the administration will have to change its operational practices and the Government will have to provide strategic guidance for the process and equip the administration with innovative and efficient tools to achieve the objectives.
If this process proves successful, it should have an impact on thousands of enterprises, resulting in cost savings, greater transparency, and less latitude for administrative offices, with a view to more inclusive and solid growth for Tunisia.