Tunisian Constitutional Assembly Violates its Own Transparency

This article is cross-posted on OpenDemocracy.

Tunisia scored 3.8 on the 2011 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption around the world, through aggregated surveys and country reports.  The scoring is on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means that a Country is perceived as highly corrupt and 10 guarantees probity. Tunisia, with a score of 3.8 is ranked 73, along with Brazil. (Of the 183 Countries surveyed New Zealand, Denmark and Finland topped the list, while North Korea and Somalia are at the bottom.)

This was no surprise for Tunisians.  When Tunisians took to the streets, they called for an end to the authorities’ abuse of the system. For an end to bribery in public procurement, to promoting their own interest and misuse of public funds, through rendering all public data accessible to all Tunisians at all times – in one word, transparency.

The Constitutional Assembly plays a key role in determining the democratic transition of the new Tunisia, ensuring that Tunisians are aware at all times what bills their representatives are debating and voting for.  This remains a distant goal. 

Two weeks ago, a coalition of activist groups, namely, the transparency initiative OpenGov.tn, the collective activist group and blog Nawaat, and the pro-democracy group Al-Bawsala,  announced that they had filed a lawsuit against the Constitutional Assembly for violating its own transparency standards, articles 54 and 62, necessitating the publication of vote counts and committee reports:

‘Deputies must learn that their vote does affect all the people they are representing, it is not just about them and their names only’ – expressed 27 years old, Amira Yahyaoui, chair of Al-Bawsala on a TV talk show.

‘If they don’t follow their own laws (articles 54 & 62), how are we supposed to have confidence in their creation of our national laws?’ said Malek Khadraoui, a representative of Nawaat to Tunisia Live.

The activists’ decision to take legal action against the Assembly came after months of concentrated efforts to push them to be more open in their proceedings. However, the noncompliance by the Assembly which they attributed to an idiotic lack of technical support actually constitutes an implicit refusal to live up to its own standards, stressed Amira.

This transparency initiative is gaining support from a range of media outlets, politicians and members of the Assembly from various political affiliations. Ultimately it is the demands of the electorate and the compliance with the constitution that is important.

The current Troika government has put in place a corruption monitoring website for public administrations and a state TV channel broadcasting live the Assembly’s general sessions, but this is not enough.

The 3.8 CPI score was no shock. However for the Tunisian people to believe that their country is making great advances in their steps against corruption, the Government needs to improve on their transparency. This is our only guarantee that they have made a break with a past of corruption paving the way to truthfulness and prosperity.

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