The Tunisian Government’s Policy Agenda Through 24 Draft Laws

2015-03-09    |   

The Tunisian Government’s Policy Agenda Through 24 Draft Laws

On February 16, 2015, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid presented a list of 24 draft laws to speaker of Parliament Mohamed Ennaceur in order for the legislative council to attend to them as a matter of priority. These laws had already been submitted by the government under its power to initiate legislation. The chairman of the Legislative Council has pledged to attend to the proposed legislation as soon as possible.


The bills in question may be categorized as those pertaining to the financing of the public purse on one hand, and those dealing with other matters on the other. Thirteen of the listed proposals are concerned with the urgent ratification of foreign loans, whereas five others are about economic reforms required by international institutions offering the loans. The considerable number of bills pertaining to these financial matters indicates that the government's request to expedite the passing of such laws is largely for the purpose of meeting formal and original requirements for liquidity. This confirms the government’s conservative approach to financial policy, which stands in contradistinction with reform scenarios, some of which are discussed below, that relate to other aspects of government policy.


The Government’s Priorities: Foreign Loans

The Tunisian government’s request to mobilize financial resources for the general budget was aimed at implementing the government’s projects that were included in the Finance Law of 2014 and 2015. In this context, as mentioned above, the government sought to pass 13 draft laws on the endorsement of foreign loans, and added ones that require approval by the lending institutions to enable financial credit for Tunisia. These draft laws are as follows:

Revision of the Law on Competition and Prices

This draft law was submitted at the request of the European Union, within the framework of the implementation of the agreement to grant Tunisia a distinguished partner status. The bill seeks to appoint the Competition Council as the body responsible for adjudicating competition disputes, with original and appellate jurisdiction; It also aims to expand the council’s powers thus transforming it into an institution of specialized judiciary.

Law on Collective Action

Lending institutions demand adoption of this law to ensure that the Enterprise Rescue Law does not become a means to impede the recovery of their debts. The draft law aims to give priority to the settling of debts in relation to enterprise rescue procedures, as opposed to the priority previously given to safeguard the enterprise in question as part of safeguarding operating businesses.


Law on Partnership Contracts Between Public and Private Sectors

This draft law is part of the process of privatizing the operation of public utilities through the setting up of shared funding arrangements for those facilities between the public and private sectors, in return for the latter gaining a share of the revenues incurred by the operation of these utilities. The World Bank calls for the adoption of this draft law as a condition to enable Tunisia to payoff loan installments.[1]


Law on Protection of Agricultural Land

Contrary to what its title suggests, the aim of this draft law is to reduce the legal protection of agricultural lands, by allowing the utilization of agricultural real estate in tourist projects without the need to alter their [legal] status, as stipulated by pre-existing laws. Lending institutions demand the adoption of this law in the context of reforming the tourism sector. This trend could lead to the depletion of Tunisian agricultural land, and may be used as a means to grant ownership of agricultural real estate  in Tunisia to foreigners.


Law on Strengthening Financial Foundations of Public Banks

This draft law proposes the distribution of public credit funds among public banks suffering from financial difficulties in order to raise their capital, and to improve their financial situation. The World Bank requires that such measures are subsequently followed by the privatization of these banks. The Tunisian government’s priorities in the economic context reveal a commitment on its part to the recommendations of the World Bank and lending parties. They also reveal its dependence on foreign loans to revive the Tunisian economy. This approach resonates with the developmental policy adopted by authorities before the the revolution, as well as the corresponding policies adhered to by governments preceding the current one following the revolution. The persistence of this approach goes contrary to electoral promises to revise such policies and render such promises mere slogans.  

The other proposed draft laws indicate that the government plans to promote its agenda of supporting human rights on one hand, and reaffirm its participation in the war against terrorism on the other. This is proposed while simultaneously working to overcome the fall out of a weak public administration that emerged following the revolution. Draft laws in this regard and which do not relate to the financial budget may be divided into the following two sub-categories:


Draft Laws Related to Human Rights and Freedoms

The Government has asked the legislative council to urgently consider the revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and to ratify the draft laws on access to information and the legal deposit of publications. Revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure aims to strengthen the legal rights of the detained through diminution of the retention period to 48 hours, with a one-time extension only, and grant the detained the right to hire a lawyer. On the other hand, the draft law on freedom of information obligates public institutions, including the judicial ones, to disseminate information and grant easy access to it. Meanwhile, the draft law on legal deposit of publications, which is the latest to be placed on the list of priority laws, changes the perception of legal deposit from an instrument of censorship to a means of documentation and development of national library institutions. These three bills are designed to augment the trend towards strengthening human rights, in line with the objectives of the revolution.


It is unclear, however, whether the “draft law against terrorism and money laundering”, which tops the list of priority laws submitted by the government, is part of the trend towards strengthening human rights. The previous government also assigned top priority to this law and requested the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to urgently review it. This draft law aims to abolish the Terrorism Law of the year 2003 which violates the conditions of fair trial, but it in turn prioritizes security over human rights. In this sense, this bill might serve as a gateway for compromising the principles of fair trial it claims to maintain under the pretense of restoring the authority of the state.


Draft Laws Related to the Law as a Supreme Instrument of Preserving the Environment

Draft laws under this category include two draft laws. The first pertains to the approval of construction projects that lack a permit; and, the second is a revision draft law on maintaining a clean environment in municipal areas to deter those who deliberately violate the construction waste-dumping system. The goal of the two draft laws is to resolve these violations that had occurred in 2011-2012 during the absence of a strong state authority, by legal means.


In sum, an overview of the bills marked as priority by the government indicates that the question of public finance remains the dominant concern. This reflects a continuity with the policies of previous governments and a deference to the instructions of international financial institutions, and the corresponding values of globalization and privatization. Values of freedom and the maintenance of environmental rights appear to be of significant interest to the government, albeit to a lesser extent, with the draft law regarding the war on terrorism casting doubt on such a commitment to human rights.


It is important to note that throughout its term in office, the now Tunisia’s NCA ratified no more than 138 laws while passing on 50 suspended state draft laws to the House of Representatives. The NCAs slow pace of legislation has impeded the work of the government that followed and hindered the reform of state institutions. Through the initiative of granting the government powers to produce a list of priority draft laws to be considered by the House of Representatives, the latter seeks to overcome the negative perception about MPs regarding their legislative work. However, it is feared that rushing the ratification of laws may negatively affect the need for a careful review of how suitable this persistent approach to development is, given that one of the primary goals of the revolution was to bring an end to such policies.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.

[1] A report about “The Difficult Economic Situation in Tunisia and the Exacerbation of the Tunisian Debt Crisis” issued in January 2015, and drafted by the international body active in the field of “cancellation of third world debt”. It states that “the International Monetary Fund refused to grant Tunisia the last installment of the loan agreed upon with the Mahdi Juma Government of  2014, because of the House of Representatives did not approve of some laws on re-capitalization of public banks, partnership between public and private sectors, and other “structural reforms””; An article by Ahmad bin Mustafa published on Nawaat website on January 15, 2015, titled: “Indebtedness: Imminent Danger to Tunisia’s Independence and Sovereignty”.

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