A Guide to Local Environmental Governance in Tunisia

Since the regime change of 2011 that saw the toppling of former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has engaged in a slow, yet consequential pathway towards democratisation and good governance. These processes have fueled a society-wide discussion on the role of subnational governments, and more specifically on that of municipalities. The adoption of the new constitution in 2014 has reflected these tendencies, as decentralisation constitutes a major theme of the course set by the new regime for the country’s future. However, limited progress has effectively been achieved in this regard since. A new Code on Local Authorities (“Code des Collectivités Locales”) was first drafted in 2014 but has yet to be fully approved by the assembly of representatives. This legislative delay has spurred renewed political discontent among civil society, further reinforced by the postponment of local elections, which had been initially planned for late October 2016 but, as of the time of writing, have been rescheduled to the Spring of 2018. Still, the Code on Local Authorities is expected to bring about substantial autonomy for municipalities, both financially as well as admnistratively, and, as such, will confer them enhanced control over the delivery of key public services.

A notable aspect of this decentralisation process revolves around the effective realisation of sustainable development. Under the dictatorial regime, the delivery of public services were subject to strict control from the central authorities, multiple overlaps, and pervasive corruption which constrained the potential for local environmental action. However, the years following the 2011 revolution have in fact seen municipalities being just as overburdened by inefficiencies, if not more in some cases. This has not only resulted in the perpetuation of unsustainable practices, as local governments lack both the administrative and financial capacity to improve services, but also in their deterioration. Taking the example of solid waste management, the coverage of collection services has become more uneven, while the number of uncontrolled and unsanitary landfills has risen, hence further worsening air and soil pollution. Therefore, the reconfiguration of competences between the central and local authorities and the re-evaluation of the current revenue-sharing scheme provided by Tunisia’s decentralisation framework are key for ensuring the modernisation and sustainability of local decisions responding to essential public needs. Lastly, the reinforcement of local capacities for supporting sustainable development will also complement the central government’s current efforts to tackle rising environmental threats such as desertification, coastal degradation, air pollution, and a loss of biodiversity.

The present guide hence aims at supporting local environmental action by highlighting the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of local authorities, as the new allocation of responsibilities provided by the Code on Local Authorities will enable them to drive environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The guide notably draws on the current economic, environmental, and institutional situation in Tunisia to assess the ongoing decentralisation process and its expected benefits for local environmental governance. Further, it builds on international best practices from three emergent nations (Chile, South Africa, and Jordan) where decentralisation further enhanced the contributions from local governments towards sustainable development in key sectors. Finally, practical recommendations for adopting environmental and sustainable policies and actions throughout six different domains (energy, water, waste, urban planning and infrastructure, transport, and agriculture/land) intend to support local policy makers in Tunisia.

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Heinrich Böll Stiftung Tunis
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