Tunis/Tunisia — Mayors and their assistants from Tunisia, Arab, Islamic and European countries, members of the Network of Mediterranean Cities, discussed Wednesday at the headquarters of the Tunis City Hall the issue of "Bringing Mediterranean municipalities closer to citizens, decentralisation and inter-municipal cooperation to improve services".
The participants underlined the importance of this issue in the process of establishing local democracy and citizen participation, which is still at the beginning of its experience in the southern Mediterranean, despite the progress of the Tunisian experience in the context of the Arab Spring and political transformations.
"The demand for democracy and the improvement of the quality of life is increasing on a daily basis in the Mediterranean region, and local authorities must be democratic to be able to meet aspirations," concluded the seminar in a summary given by Vincent Garces, president of the Mediterranean Citizens' Forum.
The seminar presented the experiences of municipalities from several European, Arab and Islamic countries, namely Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Carthage, Marsa, Sfax, Tetouan, Morocco, Dubrovnik, Cyprus, Larnaca, Izmir, Barcelona, Zarqa and Salt in Jordan, as well as the evolution of the experience of local governance, the creation of municipalities in Libya over the last eight years and the Union of Lebanese Municipalities.
The Tunisian experience in supporting municipal authorities and its independence from central authorities arouses the interest of Mediterranean and European countries as a way of consolidating democracy at local level and as an experience that can inspire countries in political transition and serve as a catalyst for cooperation between Mediterranean municipalities, according to the interventions of the seminar participants.
The Mayor of Tunis, Souad Abdelrahim, recalled that Tunisia is going through a process to bring power closer to citizens and to respond more to their aspirations and involve them in the management of local and municipal affairs, in order to free municipalities that are still subject to central and governmental power from isolation, a task based on a full chapter and 12 articles in the 2014 Constitution, and a course that has had several successes, the most important of which is the concentration of elected municipal councils that exercise their powers in a democratic manner, but face many challenges and difficulties.
She highlighted the main difficulties faced by elected municipal councils and their strategic development plans, related to the reduction of financial resources in the light of the persistent economic difficulties in the phase of democratic transition and the lack of finalisation of the establishment of structures to implement the decisions of local authorities.
Abderrahim also pointed out the shortcomings of the legal framework, such as those of the code of local authorities, the absence of organisational decrees ensuring protection for the mayor in the execution of his decisions, the weakness of the deterrent system of the municipal police and the environmental police, which the municipalities are demanding to place under their authority, and not under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior.
Ahmed Jalal Al-Banani, member of the Sidi Boussaid Municipal Council, gave an overview of the experience of tripartite cooperation between his municipality and the municipalities of Carthage and Marsa in the implementation of projects and the joint exploitation of resources and funds in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme. He indicated that this cooperation is expected to develop in the future, pending a pilot legal system in order to catalyse the rest of the municipalities of the republic willing to mobilize their own resources in the context of a reduction in dependence on the central authority
As Tunisian municipalities move towards greater independence from the central government and administrative authorities, other Arab and Islamic experiences presented, such as those of Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish municipalities, and the path of local and municipal governance in Libya, continue to face problems related to the absence or weakness of democracy, the domination of the executive power and the lack of skills, according to the interventions of participants who stressed that they are aware of the importance of decentralization and citizenship.
The seminar was attended by the Secretary General of the Mediterranean Cities Network, Joseph Molina, the Mayor of Tetouan, Mohamed Adaamer, the President of the National Federation of Tunisian Cities, Nazek Ben Jannat, the representative of the Ministry of Local Government in Libya, Salah Fateh, the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Jelka Tabsic, the representative of the "Regional Coalition of Cities", Touhami Rahim, and the Mayor of Mina in Lebanon, Abdelkader Alameldin.
The Network of Mediterranean Cities operates within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean path for development and peace in the Mediterranean region.