NRGI: With the passage of the new constitution, what do you think are the greatest challenges that Tunisia faces?
FO: There is no doubt that Tunisia once again faces major challenges—adopting implementation texts for articles of the constitution; fulfilling new constitutional rights, such as socioeconomic equality, political freedom and stronger gender equality; mitigating political and social tensions; and improving the ranking of the national economy.
The expectations and needs of the population must also be met, in particular those of the youth, by deploying greater efforts to curb unemployment and attract investment. In the short run, democratic transition should be supported and the coming elections handled properly.
NRGI: Could Tunisia’s oil and gas sectors help bring opportunities?
FO: Yes, the oil and gas sector could help through the income it generates. But given the current state of governance, natural resources do not drive effective and sustainable development. In fact, the industry is not built on international or even local standards. The sector has a weak legal framework, and contracts are poorly drafted. In such a context, the sector is threatened by corruption, which I fear will only bring subsequent trouble to the country.
At the same time, oil and gas can truly spark investment and create more jobs if managed well. I believe that this carries with it many challenges: aligning the legal framework that governs the extractive sector the with new economic and social realities of a post-revolution state; reforming the fiscal system and the rules for collecting and managing natural resource revenues; ridding the main contracts of their many shortcomings and instituting amendments; creating a fund that combines all the different revenues and ensures proper auditing by competent control bodies; and increasing environmental requirements. Moreover, there should be balance between the development needs of production regions and the volume of energy resources they supply. All this must fall under a strategy that encourages the emergence of other renewable energy sources.
The current post-revolution and transitional context requires an unprecedented level of transparency and public accountability. Major energy choices must be explained to an increasingly aware civil society. To that end, petroleum and gas revenues must be disclosed to the public, which owns these riches. In this regard, joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative can help, but it should be accompanied by a more decisive fight against the corruption that plagues the management of the sector.
NRGI: How can an organization like yours address these challenges and make the most of the opportunities that oil and gas bring?
FO: The association I belong to includes professionals tasked with auditing public funds. We aim to channel these efforts to urge the government to expand our audits of the oil and gas sector. Of course, the purpose of any audit is to improve management through good governance and transparency, pursue the corrupt and ensure proper implementation of the laws and international conventions.
NRGI: You have just attended a course that NRGI and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies jointly organized under the Middle East and North Africa regional hub. What was the biggest lesson you learned from the course and how do you think it will help you in your work as an activist?
FO: The biggest lesson I learned is that EITI is a means to fight corruption and guarantee transparency and the disclosure of key data related to the oil and gas sectors. I believe that the training I received from NRGI will help me strengthen my fight against fraud in the oil and gas sector. The training has already helped me identify technical, legal and management data. With my increased knowledge and awareness of the issue, I will play a more efficient role as an activist.
NRGI: Like many activists in Tunisia and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, you are a volunteer with a full-time job. What kind of challenges and advantages does this situation bring?
FO: Being a working public auditor and an activist is challenging because I’m always trying to find the time to perform both tasks and reconcile my two roles. The advantage of this situation is that, as an activist with a background in economics and academia, I can use my expertise to further the goals of civil society. I’m also better informed about the degree to which the government respects civil society and is ready to work with us and cooperate on ending corruption.
NRGI: How do you think an organization like NRGI can best help activists like you in Tunisia?
FO: NRGI, in my opinion, can help Tunisian activists through training, guidance and financial support, as well as by backing their activities and reinforcing their interventions. The fact that a global organization such as NGRI supports local Tunisian associations lends strength, credibility and weight to our cause.
Fattoum Oueslati represents the Tunisian Association of Public Auditors.
This posting is one of three participant perspectives from “Fundamentals of Oil and Gas Governance in the Middle East and North Africa,” a foundation course held over two separate weeks in June and October by NRGI and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). This year marks the first such training on natural resource governance for civil society and media from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. To learn more about the knowledge hub, or to read the other participant perspectives, please visit our MENA hub page.