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Tunisia: Can Tataouine Protests Catalyze Extractives Transparency Progress?


In late June, Tunisian Minister of Energy Mines and Renewable Energy Hela Cheikhrouhou announced a five-point plan to increase extractive industry transparency. Rooted in the country’s commitment to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), this is a watershed moment for Tunisia.

The move comes after months of turmoil and questions about how the North African country’s natural resources are managed. Protesters in the district of Tataouine have tried to impede oil and gas operations and demanded to share in the benefits of extraction. Over the past few weeks, similar protests sprouted in the neighboring region of Kebili.

NRGI has translated an English-language publication highlighting how national and subnational governments can work together to address resource governance challenges into Arabic to add to the conversation in Tunisia moving forward.

Like many resource-rich regions, citizens in the south of Tunisia believe that their district is wealthy because of oil and are upset they haven’t seen significant social and economic changes. In Tataouine, protesters demand that the national government channel 20 percent of oil and gas revenues derived from the region to local development, mandate local employment and move oil company headquarters from Tunis to producing regions to boost local employment.

In response, the head of the government announced the creation of a national committee to assess the management of natural resources in Tunisia. Some civil society organizations criticized the ambiguity of its composition, as well as its functionality, and called for adopting other measures.

“Tunisia will not reinvent the wheel in terms of transparency in extractives,” said Kouthier Bouallegue, the general secretary of the Tunisian anticorruption organization INLUCC. Responding to civil society criticism, the Ministry of Energy and Mines ensured its commitment to EITI and revising the country’s legal framework.

To tackle the EITI process, Cheikhrouhou announced the formation of a multi-stakeholder group she will co-chair, along with the head of the energy committee in Tunisia’s parliament. As the first test component of the EITI process, NRGI has identified consultative selection as an opportunity to position the initiative as a genuine tool to convene stakeholders and address voices of discontent from civil society and subnational actors. In the case of Tunisia, NRGI also proposes better coordination between different government entities, especially the Ministry of Finance, which is supposed to play a greater role in revenue sharing.

This is also a good opportunity for the government to clarify rules for subnational revenue sharing. Article 136 of the Tunisian Constitution of 2014 flags the importance of sharing benefits between the national and local governments. In the past three years, however, the government has yet to bolster this commitment with guidelines for achieving it.

NRGI has found that revenue sharing with local government works best when there are clear objectives about why the country is sharing revenues, those objectives are codified into detailed legislation, and the local government’s expenditure powers align with their revenue receipts.

Indonesia created a revenue sharing system amid political transition and has seen a reduction of violence in some resource-rich regions. Tunisia might do well to learn from its example.

Wissem Heni is a Tunisia senior officer with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). Rebecca Iwerks is the capacity development director with NRGI.