Published on Arab Voices

A private boost to cash-for-work programs in Tunisia

Is the World Bank working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to address high rates of unemployment in Tunisia? I remember this question clearly. It was asked by an NGO advocate during a recent workshop on public works in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. The World Bank team I was with had just finished highlighting the importance of developing public private partnerships (PPPs) for the delivery of employment services when the question was posed. We responded with an emphatic “yes!” The World Bank has mobilized grant resources from the Japanese government in support of a pilot project it is helping implement in Jendouba, one of the poorest governorates in Tunisia. It involves close collaboration with local NGOs to deliver income support to vulnerable households through labor intensive cash-for-work programs.

Kim Eun YeulOur team continued to explain how our project in Jendouba was designed, while the NGO advocate listened with interest. The World Bank, with a grant from a Japanese social development fund, is working with the Tunisian Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment to develop partnerships with local NGOs in Jendouba. The goal is to identify and implement about 100 sub-projects which will provide temporary employment and income support to about three thousand low-skilled individuals who are currently unemployed. The project also aims to enhance basic local infrastructure. NGOs will work closely with the community and local authorities to identify the sub-projects and will employ individuals from the community for a period of four to six months. The first call for sub-project proposals has already been announced, and we expect the Ministry to sign work agreements with NGOs by August, 2013. 

Another hand then went up and two very pertinent questions followed.  “Are you proposing that public works in Tunisia be delivered by NGOs?” asked a union representative taking part in the workshop. “Wouldn’t this represent a movement toward privatizing government agencies?” he quickly added.  The team explained that the goal of the Bank’s approach was not to privatize government agencies, but rather to build up their capacities and harness other existing resources to implement social programs – and ultimately address the needs of the most vulnerable segments of the population. Our team insisted that the Bank was fully supportive of national agencies, but that expanding their institutional capacities will take time and will require significant investments. The population of Tunisia wants to see results now, and these partnerships with NGOs are a way of delivering services quickly and effectively.

Public private partnerships for the delivery of employment services are certainly a new concept in Tunisia. Most of the country’s social programs have traditionally been designed, financed, and implemented by the public sector. Cash-for-work programs in Tunisia, for example, have been implemented by local authorities without much involvement or participation of local communities or civil society. These programs have traditionally been large (benefiting more than 150,000 every year) – with budget allocations reaching as high as US150 million per year. 

Following the political transition, cash-for-work programs in Tunisia became largely cash transfer programs and governance of these programs has since then substantially deteriorated. Currently, beneficiaries get paid but they often do not show up for the related work and sub-projects, like painting or rehabilitating a school, for example; are rarely completed. Program monitoring is largely lacking, which contributes to misuse of resources. There have also been instances of favoritism with program beneficiaries being selected at the discretion of local authorities, unsupported by any clear eligibility criteria.  

In such context, the Jendouba pilot intends to be an agent of change by making NGOs accountable for identifying cash-for-work sub-projects that are relevant to communities. NGOS would be responsible for verifying participant’s attendance at both work and training, and for assuring that sub-projects are not only properly completed but also that they meet quality standards acceptable to the relevant technical authorities. The project is also developing a state- of-the-art (web-based) system to monitor payments, attendance, use of materials, and complaints. This system would also enable NGOs to register and submit sub-project proposals for consideration on-line. This new community driven approach intends to provide mechanisms for promoting good governance and the effective use of public resources allocated in cash-for-work programs. This pilot project could also serve as a catalyst for a much broader effort. If it is successful, the methods and systems being developed could form the basis for a reform of the delivery of cash-for-work programs in Tunisia at the national scale.

For more information about this pilot project, please visit this site.

Follow the pilot project on facebook.


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