1 October 2012

Tunisia: NGO Keeps Watch On Parliament

Tunis — Tunisian NGO Al Bawsala will launch the second edition of its electronic monitoring centre October 23rd to track the work of the National Constituent Assembly.

The goal of the monitoring centre, marsad.tn, is to give citizens a free and easy access to information online related to the political activities of the deputies and the drafting of the new constitution.

"The idea of launching the monitoring centre is to promote transparency and citizen participation in political affairs and to increase the involvement of MPs in dialogue with citizens," explained Al Bawsala President Amira Yahyaoui.

She explained that "the Tunisian monitoring centre will rely on a question and answer format that will allow citizens to ask their questions and to establish a regular dialogue with the deputies. It will provide the media with a directory of MPs and their interactions with citizens and will offer a source of articles, discussions and journalistic analyses."

"The observatory will also rely on a 'Council of Elders'; composed of three personalities known for their competence, impartiality and expertise in several areas, including law, management and the internet," Yahyaoui added.

Al Bawsala, which first launched the electronic monitoring centre on August 30, 2012, filed a lawsuit against the National Constituent Assembly that was elected on October 23, 2011. Al Bawsala accused it of non-compliance with Decree Number 41 allowing access to administrative documents of public institutions that the government ratified last May.

"We have requested on two occasions from the President of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar the application of the law and the publication of minutes of meetings held by the Assembly on the website of this institution. We have not received a response yet," Yahyaoui said.

She clarified, "On the other hand, some deputies of the Constituent Assembly support the principle of transparency and are co-operating with us in a positive way. They are providing all the minutes of meetings held within the Assembly and are asking that these will get published."

She admitted, however, "The number of those few does not exceed 7 out of the 217 deputies in the Assembly."

Al Bawsala was founded by a group of young Tunisian activists last October. The organisation aims to support the democratisation process and reinforce citizen awareness in Tunisia.

"It makes no sense for democracy to give political power to those elected and to be satisfied with a passive approach to follow-up of their activities," commented Lotfi Sbayhi, a Harvard graduate and a member of the Council of Elders specialising in management and leadership.

He stressed "the need for citizens to have mechanisms such as the monitoring centre, allowing them to track politicians and to follow them in a timely manner".

The Tunisian observatory is the fruit of a partnership with the German NGO Media in Co-operation and Transition (MICT) with funding from the German Parliament Watch (Abgeordnetenwatch).

Gregor Hackmack, co-founder of the German Parliament Watch, said at a September 10th press conference in Tunis that the initiative was basically to monitor politicians and deputies in the German Parliament.

It functions by transmitting citizens' questions to MPs and politicians and then posting both the questions and the answers on the website of the observatory. He explained, "The aim of this initiative is to support political transparency and to reinforce citizen participation in public affairs."

"About 90 per cent of parliamentarians in Germany are involved in this initiative," Hackmack said. "We are very pleased to co-operate with the Tunisian Organisation Al Bawsala and to share best practices."

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