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Tunisia one year after the Revolution: which priorities should the World Bank support?

Eileen Murray's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français
Tunisia demonstrated one year ago that citizens' voice matters. Accountability is a must.  Government legitimacy is key. Starting from Tunisia, a wave of revolutions now commonly referred to as the "Arab Spring" spread to the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Citizens demanded voice, accountability and opportunity for all, not only for a selected few and mostly privileged. The World Bank has taken significant steps to support this rapid and positive change. 

The World Bank is keen on ensuring that its engagement responds to the concerns expressed during and following the Arab Spring and that it can be adapted to the pressing needs of Tunisian citizens as they make headway in better defining their priority and needs. However, challenges remain, due to economic and social constraints that, among other things, translate into a lack of sufficient jobs, which has the potential to absorb the increasing number of job-seeking youth.

This document (French - pdf) outlines the  World Bank's upcoming Strategy for Tunisia for 2012-2013.   For your reference, this presentation (French - pdf) provides an explanation as to what the World Bank does and the purpose and content of an Interim Strategy Note. The World Bank Group hopes to continue to support the change taking place in Tunisia during these exciting yet challenging times.   

Social media and online tools have been important media outreach mechanism for the Arab Spring particularly in reaching out to the youth in the region. We plan to utilize this medium to our advantage. In this discussion, we propose four questions to frame the discussion and seek your feedback:

1. How do you think the World Bank could best assist Tunisia during this transition period?

2. Do you think that the World Bank Interim Strategy adequately addresses the most pressing issues that Tunisians face today?

3. What risks do you think Tunisians face today?

4. What opportunities have been made available since the revolution?

Update May 2012: Thank you to everyone who made comments, it has enriched the consultations process as well as informed the drafting of the document. The Strategy will be available online shortly.

Comments

Submitted by Salah Mhadhbi on
1) We thank you first for just thinking about helping Tunisia, in this very critical time, we know that no money circulation in anywhere in world is far from the world bank reach, we know that you helped Ben Ali to acquire all the debts that he has stolen with his family Mafia, so help us to get our money back, because you know where it is saved and invested, before we even go into other debts and you know very well what I am talking about;

2) Yes, the issues addressed by the Bank are more or less the most pressing ones;

3) The risks that the new government and Tunisia in general are facing is the black mailing from outside and inside forces who do not want that the revolution will succeed to clean up and fix the damages of 130 years; and  

4) Just few because of the counter revolution evil and bad doers.

Salah, thank you for your comments. The January 2011 revolution was a momentous occasion for all Tunisians; and the World Bank is committed to helping this historical transition succeed.

With regard to how the Bank has supported the management of public resources in Tunisia and supported efforts to recover assets/funds that were stolen from Tunisia:

1) The World Bank and other development partners in 2010 conducted a Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability Assessment (PEFA), which showed that transparency and accountability failures were responsible for weaknesses in public financial management, more so than the legal and administrative framework. The Bank supports reforms and activities to help ensure that public resources benefit the citizens of Tunisia, most recently working with the interim government to ensure that the budget execution is published and that there is increased information made available on how government contracts are awarded, as well as more detailed national accounts.

2) With regard to the issue of stolen funds, the World Bank has partnered with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to create the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), which supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds. The StAR program aims to prevent, detect and return stolen assets to their country of origin. In particular, StAR plays an active facilitating role to help the concerned countries set and implement an effective strategy and engage into quicker and more effective international cooperation with financial centers where these assets may be hidden. The Bank’s StAR program is providing technical support to the Tunisian authorities to recover stolen assets. Under this initiative, seized airplanes were returned from France and Switzerland to Tunisia. We believe that encouraging progress has also been made in pushing forward international cooperation and exchange of information on stolen assets, which is a precondition to any successful return.

For more information on the initiative, you can visit: http://www1.worldbank.org/finance/star_site/

Submitted by bidules on
How do you think the World Bank could best assist Tunisia during this transition period?

The World Bank can help Tunisia in three axes: (1) Loans and donations to finance projects; (2) Recommendations, sharing knowledge and expertise; and (3) More flexibility in Tunisian debt payment during this critical period.

Do you think that the World Bank Interim Strategy adequately addresses the most pressing issues that Tunisians face today? I think that the major challenges for Tunisia are security, education and economy. The main priority should be finding a solution to the increasing number of jobless people and subsequently poverty and exclusion. The Word Bank strategy is focusing on the two last point. The support for SME will create jobs and help young people, especially graduate, to have their own project. I think the World Bank and the Tunisian government should give more priority to west and southern regions and some poor quarter in big cities like Tunis and Sfax.

What risks do you think Tunisians face today? Poverty & unemployment, political instability, immature political class due to 50 years of dictatorship and luck of young leaders.

What opportunities have been made available since the revolution? Opportunities in media and arts (new TV channels, radio stations and newspapers). The elections campaign created a lot of temporary jobs - AMAL "hope" program for unemployed people (training and a kind of salary to help finding a job).

Thanks to revolution, Tunisia gained a certain notoriety and reputation. This will have a good impact on tourism once everything is fine. The Libyan revolution was profitable to Tunisia too.

Thank you for your comments. These are very much in line with the World Bank's program in Tunisia.

Submitted by Selima Abbou on
The bank should put conditions to the loans given to the Tunisian government. And one of the most important condition should be signing the international treaties for human rights and making these treaties be above any local law. Thus, by ignoring human rights, press freedom and individual freedom, Tunisia may face a completely unstable climate that would not help Tunisian stability. Security, education and economy would be very difficult to settle down without strong signals to guarantee the rights and freedoms.

Submitted by Nader Haddad on
Tunisia is facing threats more than challenges , World Bank and International Monetary Fund are supporting the Tunisian growth , however I don't see any perspective of government future plan for the high unemployment rate and poverty . No action plans had been set , implemented or deployed . This situation will remain unless security will be restored extremism and violent demonstrations will be banned by the government which it tend to be very tolerant and flexible. In the other side , the credit rating agencies and their negative perspectives vis-a-vis cash flow and solvency increase borrowing interest rate . The financial transparency in Tunisia is not enhanced and government is not providing a clear economics statistics  . Finally we cannot put our blame only to government that it has not competencies or experience but the Euro zone which is the premium Tunisian partner is suffering from tremendous financial crisis which could lead the world to Slow down in growth in Europe . I think that World Bank and IMF will stop giving loans without auditing the outcomes .  Loans and support must be spent to bring investors an tourist , enhance innovation and education not to finance election campaign . 

Nader,

Thank you for your comment. You have highlighted many of the fundamental tests Tunisia is facing. Indeed, the areas you've identified (debt sustainability, transparency, accountability, investments, etc.) must be addressed for Tunisia to not only resume faster-paced economic growth, but prosper in a way that is more inclusive for all Tunisians. We both agree that these are critical challenges to the country. Since I wrote this article last year, the Bank’s Board of Directors has approved the interim strategy for Tunisia (we’ve updated the links above as well). I think you’ll see that many of the areas you highlight are key to the World Bank’s partnership with Tunisia.

For example, the World Bank has encouraged the Tunisian government to continue with reforms to government transparency. As a result of these efforts, the Ministry of Finance now publishes monthly data on budget execution, and is preparing an interactive web platform to open access to data on public finances. For the 2014 budget, the Tunisian government has agreed to publish a citizen’s budget, which will help Tunisians see exactly how their tax dollars will be spent in the coming year.

Additionally, the World Bank is working closely with the Tunisian government on reforms that will help improve the business climate. As part its reform program, the government is simplifying regulations in partnership with the private sector. Reducing the red tape that bound Tunisia has been an important focus for World Bank support since the revolution. This is critical to reducing corruption and encouraging private sector investment, particularly for small and medium sized firms. Creating an economy of shared prosperity in Tunisia will take time, and there will be obstacles along the way. The Tunisian people have shown time and again their will to overcome the challenges that they face. And it is for this reason that we formulate the work to be done as challenges rather than threats.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to comment.

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