Published on Arab Voices

5 Lessons learned from Public-Private Dialogues in Tunisia

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Independence Square, Tunis - By Valery Bareta| Shutterstock.comThe time needed to acquire a permit to market medicines in Tunisia has been significantly reduced from 2 to 3 years to under 9 months.  This was achieved between the years 2014 and 2017, and is especially remarkable considering the difficult political context in Tunisia and in its different industrial sectors. This administrative reform, along with many others, was the result of public-private dialogues (PPD) launched in January 2014 in various sectors with the support of the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program. As a sign of the importance placed on the process, it survives despite five recent changes of government in Tunisia. This new participatory approach, which was initiated on a pilot basis by the Tunisian Government with the support of the World Bank, aims to achieve a structural transformation in sectors with strong growth potential. The aim is to create the conditions for them to achieve their growth and export potentials. Four sectors/clusters were involved in the pilot:  IT services, electronic components, human medicinal products, and clothing.
To transform the dialogue into a powerful tool for reform, no fewer than five ministries, 16 agencies and technical departments, about 10 professional associations, and private sector representatives were mobilized over the past three years to participate in some one hundred meetings and workshops.
However, while public-private dialogues have been introduced in various parts of the world, driven by an interest in a  process that helps  create a climate of confidence and stimulates the economy, they are still in their infancy in Tunisia. This pilot project was the focus of the 9th Public-Private Dialogue Global Workshop held in Tunis in May 2017.
What is the status of the PPDs today and what can we learn from this innovative project in Tunisia?

PPDs are most productive when organized at the cluster and/or value chain level rather than at the sectoral levelThe Tunisian experience has shown that the PPD on clothing was less successful than the PPD in the pharmaceutical sector, where achievements included more rapid processing of marketing authorization applications, the upgrading of the regulations on the registration of medicines, the publication of a decree on clinical trials, the preparation of scenarios for the development of exports through 2030 and creation of a group of exporting enterprises to promote exports, as well as the facilitation of a consensus around the reform of the price-setting mechanism for medicines. The reason was that PPDs that mobilized enterprises at the level of a specific cluster or value chain (e.g., human medicinal products in the case of the pharmaceutical sector) were more engaging and effective than PPDs held at a broade sectoral level such as textiles and clothing. PPDs focusing on specific clusters or value chains result in more concrete conclusions, facilitate the implementation of key reforms, and engage enterprises on topics that directly concern them, encouraging them to play a collective role.
Well-structured sequencing between analytical studies and participatory workshops make it possible to align the dialogue with new market trendsThe methodology began with a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the respective clusters and market trends before beginning the participatory process. The aim was to accurately identify the issues and prioritize them based on a goal aligned with market developments so as to devise appropriate strategies. For example, in the case of the pharmaceutical sector, the solutions proposed were developed in small targeted working groups that included not only influential stakeholders, but also champions of change who could promote the implementation of reforms. Participants in the electronics PPD, for their part, opted for a format involving quarterly conferences, which were more appropriate given their identified constraints and led to the creation of an economic interest group called ELENTICA.  Moreover, the PPDs were continuously fueled by the intervention of experts, who could check the solutions proposed by the participants against international experience and verify their relevance.
The dedication and ongoing commitment of the stakeholders, along with flexibility in the face of the political agenda, are essential in ensuring the continuity of the PPDsEncouraging key stakeholders and champions of change to work together to prioritize the sectoral constraints to be tackled is one of the prerequisites to the start-up of PPDs. Moreover, placing the private sector in a co-leadership role with the public sector allowed the dialogue to survive the various successive governments and kept it on track. In this context, flexibility in the process made it possible to adapt implementation and ensure that the continuity of the dialogue produced results while mitigating the political risks.
Moderation and facilitation of the PPDs requires the intervention of a credible, neutral facilitator, both during the start-up phase and for the continuity of the processIn the case of Tunisia, sponsorship by the Office of the Prime Minister and the support of the World Bank made it possible to capitalize on credibility with the public and private participants and to launch this unprecedented process in the Tunisian context. The testimony of the participants on this subject was clear:  the direct involvement of the Office of the Prime Minister and the technical support of the World Bank significantly increased confidence in the process and strengthened the commitment to invest in it. The facilitation and moderation team consolidated the process between the working sessions and during the transition phases of the various governments. Finally, although the PPDs were strongly linked to specific ministries, the role of the Office of the Prime Minister was particularly important in the case of certain inter-ministerial reforms requiring the involvement of a higher authority to align the various ministries involved, such as the reform of the prices of medicines, which involved the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Commerce, and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Transparency and external communications enhance ownership of the PPDs and reduce the risk of resistance to changeThroughout the entire process, the documents, notes, and analyses were distributed to the private and public sector participants on a regular basis. This is important in that it introduces transparency in the discussions and reporting by the public and private sectors and between the public-public and private-private participants. It also ensures that any risk of manipulation of information or bias in favor of private interests is avoided. Moreover, ongoing external communications based on quantified results made it possible to track the progress made, take ownership of the results, and avoid challenges not based on specific aspects.
Beyond these five lessons, a key takeaway is that PPDs can be replicated in any number of clusters or value chains. They need no longer be limited solely to so-called strategic sectors, given that they require limited financial resources and the value added can be targeted in all areas of activity. To perpetuate the use of this approach and ensure that it is effective, a transfer of skills and improvement of coordination within the Tunisian technical departments are already taking place, owing in particular to the new investment projects financed by the World Bank.


Jade Salhab

Senior private sector development specialist

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