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CFAD Training Course on "Local Democracy and Citizen Participation in Municipal Action"
By Agnes Wiedemann*
Tunisian municipalities play a key role in the process of democratic transition of the country. The new constitution (adapted in January 2014) emphasizes that "local authorities shall adopt the mechanisms of participatory democracy and the principles of open governance to ensure broader participation of citizens and civil society [...]" (Art. 139).
This legal framework offers a real opportunity to municipalities, and encourages them to adopt participatory mechanisms. However, despite the political will of the Tunisian local authorities, their local and participatory initiatives are hindered by the various challenges they face. Municipalities are directly confronted with the social and political turmoil of the transitional period. Their abilities, their structures and their tools can be precarious (most Tunisian municipalities are currently represented by special delegations). In this context, it is difficult to meet the expectations and demands of citizens.
For this reason, restoring trust between citizens and municipalities is crucial. Transparent and participatory communication is a critical first key to fostering the future involvement of citizens. To this end, the Centre for Training and Support for Decentralization (CFAD), with the support of the GIZ-CoMun program, has organized workshops to raise municipalities’ awareness on citizen participation. These workshops were held from June 2013 to October 2014 in the north, center and south (to reach large, medium and small sized cities). The meetings provided a platform for exchanges on the participatory approach, regarding the constraints of municipalities and discussions on the establishment of participatory mechanisms despite their difficulties.
hese awareness workshops also highlighted the need to train new local experts in this area to become mediators in each region. To achieve this objective, the CFAD has launched a cycle of "training of trainers" for 30 people. Selected according to specific criteria, the candidates have an extensive field experience and knowledge of local issues. Some of these new trainers were involved in awareness workshops in autumn 2014 and their presence and experience have enriched the debates.
This training and awareness course was supported by a handbook (French, Arabic) on "local governance and citizen participation in municipal action", a support tool for participatory local democracy. This manual has been designed for all CFAD trainers, municipalities and civil society wishing to learn more about the concepts, framework and tools surrounding citizen participation at the municipal level. The proposed range of tools is divided into three levels of action: information, consultation and dialogue, as well as co-decision. These tools are illustrated through numerous examples referencing good Tunisian, regional and international practices. In this sense, the manual is a first in Tunisia. It serves as a base to be gradually updated by the CFAD and other national and international actors, during a more advanced phase of decentralization and institutionalization of participatory democracy in Tunisia. This manual has also been published in French and then translated into Arabic for better dissemination. It will be made available to Tunisian municipalities by the CFAD.
In total, this course on local democracy and citizen participation has mobilized 225 municipalities (out of the existing 264 in Tunisia). Participant feedback has been very positive and they have stressed the importance of organizing these seminars, which offer a forum for exchange and discussion among peers.
In parallel to the training course, we have seen the emergence of initiatives involving citizens within municipal action in several Tunisian cities. This is how participatory budgeting projects, round tables and public meetings strive despite the difficult environment that municipalities face. These projects demonstrate the desire of the municipalities to build trust between citizens and local decision-makers. We encourage municipalities to pursue these initiatives, undertake new projects, and promote citizen participation at the local level in the spirit of the new constitution, as well as those of "good" governance and local democracy.