The speech below, written by Mrs. Mabrouka M’Barek, Constituent Assembly member, and Mr. Hedi Ben Abbes, Secretary of State Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Asia, has been delivered on April 18th 2012 during the annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership in Brasilia, Brazil. This speech marks the formal commitment of the Tunisian Government to be open, transparent and participatory.
“Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like first to convey, on my behalf and on behalf of the Tunisian government, which I represent today to the Open Government Partnership conference, my sincere thanks to the government of Brazil and to Her Excellency President Dilma Rousseff for hosting this outstanding event and for the warm welcome shown to the invited delegations. As I also extend my thanks to the government of the United States of America for showing guidance and support.
Our meeting as you know, is taking place at a very crucial moment for my country, Tunisia. The recently appointed coalition government is ushering a new era of reform and reconstruction as a result of the January 14, 2011 revolution and the initiation of a democratic process, whereby the October 23rd elections is only a milestone.
Hence, it is of utmost importance that my country participates in this new partnership mechanism that the international community is trying to set up. I would like to share with you the exciting and thriving experience we are leading in our small but yet ambitious country.
First of all, one year and a half ago, concepts like, good governance, openness, rule of law, transparency, accountability, zero-corruption tolerance sounded hollow and hazy words that meant nothing for Tunisian people. The revolution of January 14th is also a revolution about concepts and the main challenge lies in the way to make them significant to people even to make them their own and to build public life and public policies upon these concepts.
The President of the Republic Dr Marzouki, as a former human rights activist and as a fervent believer in the virtues of openness and transparency fixed a road map paved with these concepts as landmarks that will guide the government’s action and here is an excerpt of what he wrote in his letter to the OGP steering committee:
“On January 14, 2011, the Tunisian people emerged from long decades of dictatorship, censorship and opaque governance. During this time, we saw our liberties and dignity stripped from us and we were shunned from participating in civil society and government. The resilience of the Tunisian people brought the Arab Spring to pass and put Tunisia at the front of a wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East.
The dark decades of dictatorship taught us lessons on the importance of building a solid, transparent democracy that will protect future generations of Tunisians from the humiliation that we suffered. Alongside a new constitution that consecrates human values, Tunisia needs an independent judiciary system, an unfettered civil society, the rule of law and above all, an open government committed to transparency and participative democracy.
Our commitment has already been translated into innovative partnerships between the Constituent Assembly, Tunisia’s government and engaged citizens, nevertheless we do have a lot of work and learning ahead of us. The Open Government Partnership is a wonderful platform for Tunisia to open up to the world, showcase its savoir-faire and learn about best practices.
Please welcome this letter of intent to join the OGP as a commitment on behalf of my government and the people of Tunisia to build a post-revolutionary democracy based on transparency and participation.”
Before January 14th 2011, not too many people could find Tunisia on a map. Now, the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi who ignited the first spark of revolution came from, is internationally known.
Before the revolution Tunisia represented the polar opposite of open governance. The former regime avoided international engagement as much as possible and it excelled in monitoring, not its governmental officials, but its citizens. The goal was simple: giving the opportunity to a few to steal public money and to live in total impunity to the detriment of millions of Tunisians who saw their lives getting worse every day.
The consequences were disastrous. Long decades of dictatorship anchored a culture of secrecy that we are uprooting today.
The opposition to the former regime, which is in power today, itself lived in complete secrecy except for a few like Dr. Marzouki, the current president, who led an outspoken resistance. I remember my days in France where I would use a nom de plume on internet and secretly meet a political refugee and currently the President’s Chief of Staff, to build a base for our political party which was banned by the regime.
How do you transform such a closed society – government and citizens alike – into an open one? That is Tunisia’s challenge today.
In December 2010 and January 2011, the Tunisian people broke their silence, took to the streets and said “DEGAGE”, “Enough!” On January 14th, Tunisians brandished their ID cards and demanded that government should work for them. They said “enough!” to corruption, “enough!” to surveillance, “enough!” to opacity, “enough!” to a government that was serving a mafia, not the citizens.
Immediately after the revolution, we began to hear about openGov as a remedy to decades of dictatorship and a guarantee against its resurgence. After the election of October 23rd, with the first democratically elected Constituent Assembly, the concept really began to take off.
OpengovTN is a group of activists, including Constituent Assembly members from all political parties, who created the campaign “7ell!” which means “Open Up!” In the Assembly, if a law contradicts the concept of open governance, representatives brandish a placard that says “7ell”, “Open up!”
The President of the Republic, Moncef Marzouki opened up the Presidential Palace of Carthage to the public and renamed it the “House of Tunisians”. Since the beginning of his mandate, hundreds of ordinary Tunisian citizens from all faiths and backgrounds have been welcomed to visit and wander freely through a place that was once the centre command for a state built upon torture, surveillance and corruption. Today the Presidency presented an open data budget that people can consult on the Presidency web site.
For the first time, the Tunisian government, led by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, published a program which includes measures for open data and transparency. This important step towards government accountability was initiated by the dedicated minister of administration reform who has taken e-governance as his signature objective. We created a ministry named the Ministry of good governance and transparency.
In addition to existing legislature for the right to access to public information, the decree-law of May 26th 2011 reinforced that right and delegates to the Constituent Assembly are advocating to inscribing into the preamble of the new Constitution the concepts of open governance and transparency.
Despite the obstacles to transparency that we have inherited from the deposed regime, we are moving forward and swiftly taking steps toward greater openness.
I urge people listening to this presentation to visit the website for the Tunisian town of Sayada, a model of open governance, which publishes its budget and expenses online. Other Tunisian municipalities will follow Sayada’s lead.
There is no doubt that reaching these ambitious objectives is not easy and calls for a concerted effort at the regional and international levels. In other terms, cooperation and coordination between all those taking part in this process, which relies on an innovative approach to public affairs management, is of paramount importance. This is why, we deem it necessary that our cooperation embraces both the promotion of governance as well as the fight against corruption. By securing such cooperation Tunisia will better seize the formidable opportunity it has to build a genuine democracy.
At this very moment of our history, we are facing a critical juncture where we decided to blaze a path towards transparency and openness. I am here to announce our commitment to this most promising route thanks to our Tunisian citizen activists who will guide their government along the way.
If I am here today it is to formally express the commitment of the Tunisian government to be transparent, participative and a model for post-revolutionary democracies in the Arab world”.