It was a cold and rainy afternoon in Tunisia in February of 2011. My colleagues and I were on mission, driving from the Ministry of Employment to our next meeting. We got stuck! The street was blocked with hundreds of youth chanting “3amal” (“work” in Arabic). They were outside one of the biggest public employment offices in Tunis demanding work, often violently.
In Tunisia, around 40 percent of youth are unemployed, many of them with only a secondary education or less. To help them find jobs, the government is undertaking a comprehensive reform of its active labor market programs. The JKP recently spoke with Mohsen Bentouati—Sub-Director of Employment Programs, Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment—about the planned introduction of a biometric identification card. It will be used to monitor the operation of the programs, the use of services, and to make payments, along with ensuring that the people targeted are those most likely to benefit.
Asset recovery is helping to restore justice for Tunisia's citizens (Credit: European Parliament, Flickr Creative Commons)
It is welcome news that Tunisia has received $28.8 million corruptly acquired by the country’s former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The money emanates from a Lebanese bank account held by M. Ben Ali’s wife, and was handed over in the form of a check to Tunisia’s current President Moncef Marzouki, by Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, Qatari attorney-general and the UNODC Special Advocate on Stolen Asset Recovery.
Blood pressures are rising in the Middle East and North Africa and they show little sign of cooling down. They began simmering over shishas in el kahawi (coffeehouses) in Tahrir Square, Eqypt; steaming over fried malsouka snacks in Habib Bourguiba Street, Tunisia; and bubbling over smoke filled debates at Pearl Roundabout, Bahrain. People from all classes and walks of life are equally affected.
One day on a recent mission to Tripoli, Libya – after an early start and a hectic morning of meetings – I went with the World Bank’s Representative to a wonderful Turkish Restaurant in the heart of Tripoli to have lunch and to discuss the progress of the mission. As we were dinning, our waiter engaged in polite conversation with my Tunisian colleague in French.
The Middle East and North Africa region is 60 percent urbanized compared to the global average of 52 percent and is home to one of the world’s most rapidly expanding populations. By 2030, a 45 percent increase of MENA’s urban population will add another 106 million people to urban centres.
“If we are able to say that a poor, majority Muslim, and conservative society is capable of making a democracy of international standard, other countries in the region will have no excuse not to follow us,” says Amira Yahyaoui. “But Tunisia won’t succeed unless we continue to be bold. We must be audacious in our ambitions.”
A forthcoming World Bank report entitled “Building Effective Employment Services for Unemployed Youth in the Middle East and North Africa”, concludes that in order to help unemployed workers in the region obtain the skills required for the available jobs, there is an urgent need to reform existing employment programs.
For defenders of women’s rights in Tunisia, the figure of Tahar Haddad looms large. For generations of women’s rights activists in Tunisia, he has been seen as the brains and heart behind the country’s progressive legal status of women. Houda Bouriel, director of the Cultural Center of Tahar Haddad in Tunis, notes that for Haddad, “a society in which women are not liberated is not truly free.”
People are talking about a relatively new financial instrument — called social impact bonds (SIBs) — that can help governments implement social programs without using taxpayers' monies, that is, unless the programs work. In fact, the Economist magazine recently had an article about SIBs. These bonds were introduced by the British in 2010. New York City, working with Goldman Sachs, launched a SIB last year. The White House is exploring SIBs to finance some Department of Labor programs. And emerging markets, with the help of international development agencies, are also showing an interest.