The World Bank announced today US$130 million in additional support for decentralization in Tunisia, which is putting local governments in charge of addressing the development needs of their communities. The ongoing Urban Development and Local Governance Program has focused on building up the capacities of local governments to manage their own budgets and engage citizens on investment decisions to promote local economic development. The additional financing will extend the program by three years to 2023, expand the number of Tunisians served by 2.7 million to keep pace with municipal border extensions, and increase the ambition of the results sought through the program.
The Government has achieved several milestones through the program to date. With the support of the program, a new system for transferring funds from the central government to municipalities was successfully launched. The new system is based on a set of minimum requirements that municipalities must meet to receive funds, that works as an incentive for improvements in financial management, budget planning and involving citizens in decision making. Last year, 76% of municipalities surpassed that year’s annual performance assessment targets and local governments have begun or completed infrastructure projects in municipalities serving approximately 7 million Tunisians. The program has also supported the introduction of grants to encourage investments in especially under-equipped neighborhoods, targeting approximately 450,000 Tunisians. This has included investments in street lighting, a demand expressed by women residents in particular, which not only increases security but creates opportunities for businesses to stay open later.
“The key to decentralization is helping municipalities become empowered players in planning, implementing and effectively delivering municipal infrastructure and services,” said Zied Ladhari, Minister of Development and International Cooperation, “Our partnership with the World Bank has been instrumental in operationalizing a new approach to transferring grants to the regions and building the capacities of municipalities to take on this new role, and the expanded Program will help us reach our goal of ensuring all citizens have access to quality services and can hold their elected officials to account.”
Tunisia has made significant progress on decentralization this year, with the holding of municipal elections and the passage of a new law strengthening the autonomy of municipalities. The progress will create additional demands from citizens, and the additional financing will support municipalities in meeting those demands. The expanded program will adjust the annual local government performance assessment to make it more ambitious in terms of target results. Local governments are also given greater discretion in implementing urban upgrading projects in underequipped neighborhoods. The aim is to create even stronger incentives for local governments to improve their financial management and delivery of services, and include citizens in planning for infrastructure investments that will both improve the quality of life and create economic opportunities.
“Ever since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has placed a priority on addressing the spatial disparities in access to basic services,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for the Maghreb and Malta. “Empowering local governments, which are closest to their citizens and best equipped to understand their needs, to deliver on their mandates will not only promote social and economic inclusion, but will also help build the trust that is the foundation of a new social contract.”
In terms of capability enhancements, the additional financing will strengthen the capacity of local governments to deliver services and respond to citizen needs by improving local governments’ management of human resources and investments. It will also support measures to increase transparency and access to information, as a way of encouraging local governments to be more accountable to citizens. This will include using technology to give citizens better access to information on decisions and spending, and more effective systems for lodging complaints.
Ayah Mahgoub, World Bank Senior Urban Development Specialist and Simon Carl O’Meally, World Bank Senior Public Sector Management Specialist, co-Task Team Leaders for the program, both emphasized that this is a unique moment for Tunisia and the greater ambition of the program reflects the achievements and further aspirations of Tunisians to have more responsive and effective local governments, and more vibrant cities.