Local Government History
The government of Tunisia has historically been highly centralized. The tradition of central economic planning has survived the international trend towards liberalization, and Tunisia is presently implementing its 10th plan (2002-2006). In recent years, the state has begun to move towards deconcentration within government ministries and decentralization through municipal councils. Some municipalities have developed a strong institutional framework, while other areas of the nation have no local representation.
There are 23 regions in the country composed of mixed urban and rural territories. Governors appointed by the central government lead the regional governments. The regional legislative assembly includes both elected and appointed members, as well as the mayors of local councils. Municipal governments, 257 in all, only exist in cities and towns where the UNDP estimates that 62 percent of Tunisians live. In rural areas, the Tunisian government has established regional development programs to build infrastructure. Additionally, it has created regional coordinating offices to decentralize management of development and anti-poverty programs.
Municipal and Local Government Budgets
The municipalities provide roads, streetlights, garbage, public markets, and some forms of public assistance. The central government retains substantial control over local fiscal policy and administration. Local revenues from central government fund transfers have decreased in recent years to 35-40 percent of total budgets. Taxes and fees are dictated by the national government, but are collected by both local and national entities. These taxes and fees account for 63 percent of local revenues. The central government contributes 25 percent of the total funds through major taxes, while 38 percent comes from local taxes. The remaining 37 percent of local revenue comes from subsidies set by the national government. Each year’s national budget determines municipal funding. This central tabulation has tended to amplify inequalities between municipalities by relying on property tax values to calculate allocations. Many municipalities have been frustrated by a lack of funds. The lack of a uniform or standardized municipal structure in Tunisia has allowed some local governments to push ahead, while others trail behind. The central government also retains staffing discretion over local governments, as the Ministry of Interior oversees the civil service.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
To meet international fiscal transparency standards the government is working to incorporate municipal budgets in a general government budget.
Reform: Fiscal Decentralization
“Quartier” associations, often associated with the dominant political party, have arisen as community groups that seek to mobilize public opinion on government affairs. These associations have influenced decision-making by applying popular pressure on local council members. The International City/County Management Association has established the National Municipal Training Center to assist local government in Tunisia.
The last municipal elections took place on May 9, 2010. More than 10,500 candidates competed in these elections for 4478 seats and the rate of participation reached 83.47%. The ruling Democratic Constitutional Grouping Party won 75% of the seats while the remaining 25% of the seats were distributed to the remaining competing lists. The Movement of the Socialist Democrats won 154 seats, the Popular Unity Party won 119 seats, and the Unionist Democratic Party won 66 seats, and the Liberation Social Party won 35 seats, and the Greens Party won 29 seats. Meanwhile, the independent lists won 15 seats. Thus the number of winners from the opposition parties of municipal members and independent lists reached 418. It should be noted that the number of winners of the opposition parties and independent lists rose by 150 seats compared to the 2005 elections.
Previous municipal elections took place on May 8, 2005. 2.8 million citizens voted in 264 electoral districts to choose 4366 municipal members for a 5-year term. The ruling party received 93.9% of total votes and its candidates captured 4098 municipal seats. Four opposition political parties received only 6% of total votes and captured 268 municipal seats. The Movement of Socialist Democrats won 107 seats; the Popular Unity Party won 88 seats; the Unionist Democratic Union won 51 seats; and the Social-Liberal Party won 16 seats. The independent list supported by the "Greens" won 6 seats. Three licensed opposition parties were not allowed to participate in the elections because their candidates did not meet the conditions of the elections law, according to the minister of interior.