Tunisian Parliament saves 70m Dinars from review of sugar subsidies

The Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure highlighted the unnecessary provision of sugar subsidies to industry as a result of one of its first enquiries. Members of the Committee used information supplied by the Tunisian Court of Audit to successfully argue for an end to sugar subsidies for corporations. The resulting policy change led to a saving of 70 million Dinars of public money. The Committee developed its approach based on the knowledge and experience of the UK Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) , shared by the Westminster Foundation.

Hon Hassen Laamari MP, Chair of the Committee for Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Expenditure that led the enquiry, said, “Now, only sugar that goes to households is subsidised. This allowed the government to make savings of 70 million Dinars which can be used elsewhere to improve the quality of services”. The Westminster Foundation has worked with this Committee since it was established in 2015. Based on its requests, WFD has provided information about and shared experience of the UK’s PAC through a series of workshops and targeted visits to Westminster. One of the key factors in the success of the UK PAC is its relationship with the National Audit Office – equivalent of the Court of Audit, Tunisia’s Supreme Audit Institution. This was picked up by the Tunisian Committee early on and has enabled it to achieve this recent success.

Working together on financial scrutiny

“Before the revolution and the establishment of this committee there was no relationship at all between the Court of Audit and the parliament” MP Laamari explained during a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament. He referenced his predecessor Hon Sofiene Toubal’s experience with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme in Tunisia as critical in encouraging this new relationship between parliamentary institutions. Going on to refer to the UK visit by a delegation from the Committee in 2015 facilitated by WFD, MP Laamari said, “This new methodology of work came as a direct result of the last visit. [The delegation] learnt about the benefit of having a direct relationship between the supreme audit institution and the parliamentary committee charged with the oversight of public money. When [the delegation] came back to Tunisia they took the initiative to contact the Court of Audit and establish this working relationship”.

The Committee is currently working with the Court of Audit on five enquiries including the government subsidies on sugar for industry and individual households. The relationship with the Court of Audit and the auditors that work in the institution “is very important in reality, even more important than just reading the reports” Mr Laamari explained, “as when you meet with auditors you can ask them specific questions and they give you more knowledge about the topic”. He added, “The relationship with the Court of Audit allowed the Committee to get updated information [on the sugar subsidy policy], so that when members of the Committee interacted with the government during plenary sessions their questions and comments were evidence-based”. It was this improved relationship that revealed to the Committee the unfair approach that treated corporations in the same way as individuals when it came to the cost of sugar and led to 70 million dinars being released for other government projects.

Beyond sugar subsidies

The revision to the policy on sugar subsidies, that came into effect on 1 January 2017, will benefit Tunisian citizens through the redistribution of public money to other vital services. The Committee chair, MP Laamari, wants the work of the committee to be broader still. He explained how he felt the impact of the enquiries into organisations that use public money stretches beyond the current five enquiries. Media interest already generated by the Committee into publicly funded organisations, Mr Laamari hopes, will create a positive impact on the quality of management in those and other public organisations.

Greater scrutiny of public spending is a fundamental role for any parliament. WFD’s support to this Committee has enabled its current and former Members to understand the structures, relationships and knowledge used by the equivalent in the UK (the PAC), to successfully drive continual attention to value for money and good management of public money in the UK. The buy-in and commitment of current and former members of the Tunisian Committee and the whole People’s Representative Assembly is moving Tunisia closer to the type of inclusive and effective governance that will bring real benefits to the people of Tunisia. In the coming months WFD will provide on-going support to the Committee while it concludes its first five enquiries and pushes for further policy changes that benefit Tunisia as a whole.

(Photo: Members of the Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure visit the UK National Audit Office to find out how they work with the Public Accounts Committee.)
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From Georgia to Westminster: The reform of human rights committees

(Above, Left-right: Nicole Piché (Coordinator All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights), Eka Beselia (Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia),  Anthony Smith (CEO, WFD), Les Allamby (Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission))

“Parliaments share a responsibility to protect and realise human rights,” notes WFD’s new research paper sizing up parliamentary performance on this critical issue. As Georgia’s positive experience shows, effective oversight of human rights can make a big difference.

The findings of the report were the subject of the fourth meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice in the Houses of Parliament this week.

Ms Eka Beselia, Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia, kicked off the discussion by explaining how WFD’s programme supporting the Committee to engage with civil society had benefited from the assessment.

She spoke of the absence of “institutional experience” within the Georgian Parliament to tackle human rights abuses when she started in her role as Chair in 2012. But now, she said, people see the work of the committee “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The paper, ‘Strengthening Parliamentary Capacity for the Protection and Realisation of Human Rights’, presented the findings of assessments into the effectiveness of parliamentary human rights committees in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia.

The research is based on the outcomes of an ‘assessment tool’ developed by WFD, in partnership with the Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights project at the University of Oxford.

Reform was “very difficult”, Ms Beselia added, “but if you want to change reality, it is possible.” The Georgian Parliament’s acceptance of the recommendations from the Georgian Human Rights Committee based on the WFD assessment tool demonstrates this.

However, this success does not detract from the difficulty of seeking initial reform on a sensitive and decisive subject. This was something which Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Nicole Piché, the coordinator and legal adviser for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in Westminster, both had experience of.

Les recalled the “long and slow, but nonetheless important, journey with bumps in the road” that Northern Ireland embarked on following the end of conflict there. He spoke passionately about engaging parliaments on human rights work. Rather than dictating views on human rights, he urged the importance of starting “where people are, and gently persuade them over to international standards.”

This approach was supported by Nicole, who outlined how the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights participates in “frank but respectful exchanges” with representatives from countries with poor human rights records. Giving “credit where credit is due” is essential, Nicole believes, especially when considering the “long road, with obstacles that can be frustrating, unpopular and time-consuming” that developing countries have to embark on.

Both praised Eka Beselia and her colleagues for their work on the Georgian Human Rights Committee, agreeing that political will was vital when seeking any reform to the parliamentary response to protecting human rights.

Ms Beselia explained how the political will in Georgia changed after the 2012 elections. The systematic problems with key institutions like the judiciary, police and penitentiary in Georgia led to “society wanting to change human rights standards.” Nicole Piché added that “entrenched vested interests are hard to change” without political will and the support of citizens.

Engaging citizens in the work parliaments do on human rights can be challenging. However, Les Allamby suggested that placing an emphasis on economic and social rights, can help put civil and political rights on the agenda. He emphasised the need to find out “what resonates with people’s lives, and start there.”

And this applies in Northern Ireland as much as it does in Georgia or Uganda, demonstrating what WFD has to offer transitioning and developing countries the most. “The UK,” as Anthony Smith concluded, “has a real diversity and richness of experience working on human rights which is good to share and learn from.”

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Towards effective financial scrutiny in Tunisia

“It’s the first time in the history of Tunisia that we have a parliamentary committee that is charged with the oversight of the management of public money,” Sofiene Toubal, chair of the financial oversight committee, says. “We believe the fruits of these achievements will come in the near future.”

The committee in question – on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight On The Management of Public Money – was created by the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) with the support of Westminster Foundation of Democracy (WFD).

WFD’s work on financial scrutiny in Tunisia began, though, at the end of 2014, when the Parliament was drawing up new rules of procedure as part of the country’s broader constitutional settlement.

Mr Toubal recalls: “Most of the members of our committee didn’t have enough knowledge about the Westminster system of parliamentary financial oversight that relies on a committee of oversight of public money management which cooperates with the Supreme Audit Institution. The benefit we got was providing this basic knowledge to the committee and its members.”

Tunisia flags jpg squareAfter WFD’s first induction workshop, which took place in December 2014, a small group of its members sought the creation of a committee which would focus on this work. This was achieved at the beginning of 2015.

But the Committee’s first year saw its work focus on other tasks, and not the oversight of public spending – the core tasks of a traditional PAC.

“Unlike the committees responsible for oversight of public money in Britain and Scotland,” Mr Toubal explains, “our Committee is charged with additional tasks – especially the fight against corruption, administrative reforms and follow-up of looted money and smuggled and disposed assets.”

The length of the Committee’s title reflects the breadth of its responsibilities and the prioritisation decisions which had to be made during its first year. “The weight of these tasks, because of their political importance and public opinion, made it more difficult for the Committee to establish its priorities, at the expense of the oversight of public money management,” Mr Toubal adds.

During this period, WFD provided the Committee’s members with insight into the key functions of a PAC and the benefits which can result to the management of public money.

Committee Clerk Khalifa Ouriemei recalls: “WFD’s diverse activities, which included a study visit to the British Parliament and the Scottish Parliament allowed learning about the British leading experience in the field of the oversight of the public money management”.

“There were also ,a number of targeted workshops dedicated to emphasising topics very tightly linked to cooperation with the Supreme Audit Institution (the Cour des Comptes, equivalent to the UK National Audit Office)”.

“They also focused on the methods of benefiting from the audit reports and the conducting of inquiries. These are indeed very important topics for the development of the work of our committee, leading towards good management and respects of the principles of good governance and transparency and effectiveness.”

MPs are now fully aware of  the positive benefits of their relationship with the Supreme Audit Institution and have mastered the technical aspects of undertaking inquiries from the experiences of the UK, Scottish, Moroccan and Indian PACs.

The chair of the Committee, the rest of its members and its clerk were all convinced that something needed to change. MP Hela Hammi was among those who has played an important role in reforming the ARP’s financial scrutiny.

IMG_7431(2)“We’ve managed to include all of these achievements in the current by-laws,” she says, “and now myself and a group of MPs will submit a draft amendment to the by-laws to bring out the oversight of public money to a specific committee.”

This, Ms Hammi confirms, is necessary “because the combination of oversight with administrative reform and anti-corruption efforts reduced the time dedicated to oversight”.

The Tunisian committee was established along more traditional Public Accounts Committee lines. Meanwhile, on April 4th, MP Jamila Ksiksi, rapporteur of the Tunisian PAC, reported proudly on her Facebook Page that the Tunisian PAC have agreed with the Cour des Comptes to collaborate on the oversight of public expenditures. Four inquiries are set to begin work soon.

This and future inquiries will make a big difference to Tunisia, it’s hoped. The PAC’s work is expected to help optimise the use of public money and reduce Tunisia’s national debt, benefiting public service users. It will reduce corruption and underutilisation of public assets, two problems believed by many in Tunisia to be at the heart of the country’s public sector reform targets.

Helping strengthen parliaments’ ability to conduct financial scrutiny forms a big part of WFD’s ongoing work in the MENA region and beyond. We aim to improve accountability in the countries where we operate – and in the process contribute to the UK’s drive against corruption.

This is an area which Tunisian politicians are committed to addressing, as the creation of the Tunisian PAC shows. Mr Toubal puts it best:

“We believe that we cannot talk about good governance of public money without an effective parliamentary financial oversight.”

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How WFD helps fight corruption around the world

By working to increase the accountability of both parliaments and political parties, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping establish the conditions where corrupt politicians and officials find it hard to flourish.

Corruption, according to the Department for International Development, is “often a symptom of wider governance dynamics and is likely to thrive in conditions where accountability is weak”.

That makes WFD a part of the solution to the issues being grappled with in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Global Anti-Corruption Summit taking place this week. World leaders, business figures and civil society representatives are coming together to agree a package of practical steps to expose corruption, punish the perpetrators and drive out the culture of corruption. It’s by addressing the latter that WFD makes its contribution.

“Instead of being a source of the problem,” Chief Executive Anthony Smith says, “parliaments and political parties – both vital for a healthy, functioning democracy – can make the transition to being a source of momentum in tackling corruption, often with WFD’s support.”

Where there are parliaments and parliamentarians that want to make a difference, WFD shares practices from Britain and elsewhere which can work. Take Ukraine, where corruption often tops the list of public critiques facing the parliament. WFD, in partnership with GIZ, has helped launch a Financial and Economic Analysis Office with the Verkhovna Rada to ensure that MPs have better access to information and can make evidence-based decisions about public spending.

Parliaments and MPs face a reputational challenge of their own in countries around the world. The UK has learned a lot about the need for transparency and handling personal finances, as the 2009 expenses scandal showed. We also understand that in some countries, parties require payments for individuals to become candidates. In others, parliamentarians are often expected to support their constituents because public services are poor. We can work with reformers to help introduce better systems and tackle behaviours that shield corrupt behaviours. Our inductions for new MPs – like the induction we carried out in Kyrgyzstan last autumn – are examples of this.

WFD also helps build the ability and responsibility of parliaments and political parties to tackle these systemic issues effectively. In Iraq, we are encouraging cooperation between the Integrity Commissions based in Baghdad and Erbil.

Often this work involves brokering relationships. “Lack of skills in building good relationship with law enforcement agencies is preventing us from implementing our follow-up efforts appropriately,” Mr Bassim Jasim Hajwal, Director General of the National Integrity Commission in Iraq, says. “The Integrity Commission needs to strengthen our relationships with different organisations.” WFD offers assistance in this work.

Earlier this year Mr Hajwal and colleagues journeyed to Jakarta to learn about Indonesia’s reinvigorated anti-corruption efforts – an example of south-south learning facilitated by WFD. Later this month WFD will support the Indonesian Chapter of Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to deliver a trial run of the best practice workbook they have developed to help parliaments tackle corruption. The regional event, organised with GOPAC, will allow parliamentarians from across South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia where WFD is developing country programmes, to test and refine the guidance.

More broadly, parliaments and political parties have an important role to play in championing an independent judiciary and enforcement of the rule of law. They perform a crucial task in supporting the main institutions that do anti-corruption work on the ground: the police forces, investigators, prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies. If there is evidence of state interference with independent probes, say, it is up to MPs and political parties to confront them.

Finally comes the responsibility of parliaments and political parties to listen to and honestly represent the views of citizens who overwhelmingly find corruption to be the source of many of their problems. In our programmes, we share with partners the importance of transparency – because even the best politicians working in a bad system will not be able to make a difference unless they can rely on public support. That only comes about if parliaments can provide an open understanding of the way in which the system is working.

Many of our programmes are taking positive steps in parliaments determined to respond to public opinion. Often public expectations can be met by setting up committees responsible for keeping an eye on where money is being spent. Our previous programme in Tunisia saw the establishment of a committee tasked with both financial scrutiny and anti-corruption work. Among its tasks was “recovery of the looted money, and the issues of managing the confiscated money and properties, as well as the auditing of public banks and public enterprises”. That set in stone MPs’ commitment to delivering more oversight and accountability to Tunisian citizens, which is taking place with WFD’s support.

‘No one can fight corruption alone’

WFD’s approach to programming aims to incorporate the very flexibility that is needed to develop effective approaches to combatting corruption. Context becomes essential when deciding how to combat corruption.

It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not end corrupt practice. As WFD’s University of Oxford post-doc Susan Dodsworth says: “Corruption is a product of the incentives people face. To eliminate corruption we need to change those incentives. We can only do this is if we understand the context that people are operating in, both at the micro and macro level.” That is why WFD’s country-specific context-analysis informs our programme design – and helps turn the UK’s goal of wiping out corruption around the world a reality.

Our aim is to deliver the multilateral approach called for by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu from Nigeria, who spoke passionately about how to eliminate corruption at our Westminster Community of Practice event back in March. Her key message was the need for a multilateral approach. “No one can fight corruption alone,” she said. “With technological advances and the development of a global economy the world has become a smaller place. No single country can legislate and succeed by itself.”

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Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

One of the thematic areas of parliamentary strengthening Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed in recent years is financial scrutiny – the topic of an event which took place in Tunis in March 2016.

The March 12-13th event brought together MPs and officials from three North African countries: Tunisia and Morocco, whose parliaments receive support in this area from WFD, and Mauretania.

The technical discussions explored in detail the fundamental principles which underlie scrutinising public spending, including both ex-ante budget oversight and ex-post financial oversight.

Margaret Hodge, the former Chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, offered her insights into what makes financial scrutiny work effective.

Attendees also benefited from the experience and expertise of Jeremy Purvis, the peer and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, also contributed by providing input about financial scrutiny in a devolved context. Lord Purvis has presented and facilitated discussions on this topic in Tunisia before. Dominique Boily, an academic from the Canadian School of Public Administration, also contributed to the session.

Two MPs from the Moroccan Parliament spoke about their work. WFD has supported the development of a Public Accounts Committee in Morocco – the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Tunisian MPs and around 20 staff interested in the legislative process also attended. WFD’s programme in the country focuses on strengthening the committee responsible for the oversight of financial expenditure.

The conference concluded with a declaration of ten recommendations. These were lodged with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and have subsequently been accepted in Tunisia – an excellent outcome from a successful event.

A parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is a step in the right direction for oversight and transparency, something WFD is ready and able to promote in parliaments around the world.

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A fresh start for democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa

Following last Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, WFD’s Dina Melhem has been reflecting on the impact the award can have across the Middle East and North Africa region.

“Across the region, political blockages create an urgent need for dialogue, the pre-eminent place of which in creating long-lasting solutions means there are many lessons to be learned from the Tunisian example,” she argues in an article for the Guardian’s Global Development blog.

You can read Dina’s full thoughts on the regional context of the win here.

As she stressed:

“The Quartet’s decision to engage all the parties demonstrated the need for inclusion rather than exclusion – a key principle for pluralist democracy and for prospects of a smooth democratic transition, in Tunisia or elsewhere.”

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Interview: WFD’s Nejib Jeridi on the Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet’s Nobel Peace Prize win

Nejib Jeridi, WFD’s Country Representative in Tunisia, was interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme. Here’s a transcript of the full interview with presenter Mark Mardell; or listen in to the version broadcast on the programme from around 22 minutes in.

Does the Quartet deserve this prestigious award?

Yes. The effort that they have made and the impact that they have had on the Tunisian transition towards democracy is so big that they deserve it.

What have they actually done? How did they operate?

It was an initiative they took in 2011 –  a moment where Tunisia was risking the failure of its process of transition towards democracy. In 2013 had faced a difficult moment. At that time there were difficulties and a crisis of legitimacy in Tunisia. They intervened at the right moment with an initiative to bring all the political actors together and to try to find a consensus solution – and they have succeeded to do so.

So they stepped in at a critical moment and they represent lawyers, big business, union?

It [the Quartet] is made by the four most influential and legitimate civil society organisations in Tunisia and they just stepped in to help legitimate institutions to find a solution for the problems.

So they stepped in at a critical moment. How did they do that? What did they do – bang people’s heads together, or what?

The initiative was to invite the key political parties – those who are represented at that moment in the constituent assembly; those who were not represented but still influential in the Tunisian political scene; then, in addition to themselves the four civil society organisations; and to come together and sit on a roundtable and try to reach a consensus in an informal way.

And how is the state of Tunisian democracy at the moment?

At the moment huge steps have been taken. The constitution has been adopted with a vast majority of 200 out of 216 MPs.  Three elections – the two rounds of presidential elections and the legislative election has been done fairly and successfully and the establishment of a new parliament, the election of a president for the republic and new government which is now making the rest of the steps that have to be done in order to make the transition towards democracy succeed.

And are the Quartet still active?

Not as they were before the adoption of the constitution, but they are still there.  They meet for time to time to find solutions for some problems and to try to support the achievement of consensus and I think they still have a role to play in Tunisia.

How are people reacting to the news in Tunisia?

I’m in London currently, I’m not in Tunisia to know how people are really reacting.  I guess people will be happy with this – they will see this as a recognition of the efforts that have been done, for the peaceful transition, and for the Tunisian model of reaching consensus. We have avoided bringing problems to the streets.

What were the problems? It was quite a violent time.

Actually in 2013, Tunisia has lived through some very difficult moments.  At that time we had two political assassinations. There was a dispute over the legitimacy of the constituent assembly and the government in place at that moment – a constitutional misunderstanding about the legitimacy of the constituent assembly.  There were some people that were afraid that what happened in Egypt at that time would be duplicated in Tunisia and at that’s why I said in the beginning that the Quartet stepped in at the right moment to prevent that to happen and to keep the solution political.

When we look across at what was known as the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the one place where it seems to have worked out well.

And I think this is what justified this Nobel prize award – I mean part of the credit for this peaceful transition comes back to the Quartet in addition of course to the other political actors.  But the Quartet also has the merit of bringing these two political parties together and helping them to reach a consensus.

For press enquiries about the Nobel Peace Prize or on WFD’s work, please contact Head of Communications Alex Stevenson on alex dot stevenson @wfd.org

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