Directive in Tunisia to Facilitate Publishing of Government Data

30 May 2012

By Ibrahim Elbadawi

Elbadawi runs the blog @iBadawi, subtitled, “eGovernment across Arab countries.” This article was published May 14. His twitter handle is @iBadawi.

The Tunisian government has issued a new directive to regulate public access to government information and documents. The directive (Arabic only),  signed by the Tunisian Prime Minister Mr. Hamadi Jebali and directed to government officials on various levels from Ministers to Directors of Municipalities and Public Organizations, says it aims to: Foster transparency and standardize the ways and procedure of access to public documents.

This directive reflects the seriousness and commitment of the post-revolution Tunisian government to deliver on its promises to foster a major shift towards open government practices (you can check out this list of promises in my earlier Arabic post).

In its introduction, the directive confirms:

The right of every natural or legal person in the access to administrative documents that are set up or saved by the public organizations of the central government, regional and local agencies, enterprises and public institutions, regardless of the date, type or container of this document and regardless of whether the document is published as an initiative by the public organization or in response to a request of the person concerned.

The directive provides details on the various legal and procedural aspects relating to the information and documents the government organizations should publish and how they should do so. This covers both granting access to the public documents as a voluntary action by the government organization and in response to a request made by a “natural or a legal person.”

The directive lists the documents and information all government organizations are mandated to share with the public. Examples of the items included in the list are: the organizational chart and mandate; services provided by the organization; location and contact details; and the list of public servants and their contact details, including their phone numbers and email addresses.

When it comes to government data, which is my main concern here, the directive allocates an article to the “Specialized Public Organizations” which are defined as the organizations that are “specialized in the economic, financial, social or statistical domains and which as a result of their activities produce economic, financial, social or statistical data.” The directive mandates that these specialized organizations  publish the following data on a regular basis:

  • Social and economic statistics, including detailed surveys.
  • All data related to public finance, including indicators related to Tunisia’s macro economy, national accounts and public budgets, state debt, government expenditure data and detailed data on the government budget at the central, regional and local levels of government.
  • All data related to social programs and services, especially in the areas of employment, education and training, social security and health insurance

With regard to how these data should be shared, the directive offers the following instructions:

  • All government organizations are mandated to prepare a list of the information and documents they have and fall under the scope of this directive and publish them online before the end of May 2013.
  • All data and documents mentioned above should be published in a format that is “easily accessible by the public.”
  • All data and information must be updated at least on an annual basis.

According to the directive, government organizations are requested to offer training and awareness-raising programs to their employees.

In my opinion, this directive represents a very important improvement for the open government shift in Tunisia that comes only a few days after Tunisia’s participation in the Open Government Partnership Annual Meeting in Brazil.

However, when it comes to opening up government data I highlight the following two important issues not covered by the directive:

  • Offering a more specific explanation of the “easily accessible by the public” statement. The directive should have explicitly tackled the possible business and technical barriers that could hinder the public’s access to these data.
  • Appointing a government body that can provide other government organizations with the much needed know-how and support in implementing the requirements of this directive.  This body could also help in monitoring and assessing the progress made by various government organizations in implementing this directive.

However, these omissions do not undermine the value of the directive. Let’s not forget that all these developments, including the issuance of this directive, have happened in less than six months since the first post-revolution elected government took office last December.

I’m pretty optimistic that the community of open government in Tunisia, led by civil society organizations like the OpenGovTN, will leverage this directive to continue building a healthier environment where the shift toward open data and open government in Tunisia can continue to grow and flourish.

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