Military expenditure in Tunisia has increased to over 2% of the country’s GDP in recent years as counter-terrorism has become a government priority. The country has been under a state of emergency since 2015, due to continued conflict in neighbouring states and increased support for non-state armed actors and extremist groups. Despite this, Tunisia’s defence sector faces high corruption risks, largely due to its secretive nature and the difficulties for Tunisian citizens to access information on military spending and equipment. While the armed forces benefit from a high level of public trust and have made several commitments to strengthen integrity within the defence system, implementation of these commitments has, to date, been uneven. Moving forward on defence sector reforms would improve the military’s ability to respond to potential threats.
Strengthening governmental institutions, including through transparency and accountability to citizens, is also crucial in a nascent democracy such as Tunisia, to ensure that the government is capable of responding to the population’s needs. As part of this, Transparency International established a project in 2018 to advocate for the Ministry of Defence to strengthen access to information and accountability to Tunisian citizens.
We have been working in partnership with I WATCH, Transparency International’s chapter in Tunisia, since 2017. The primary aim of our Tunisia country programme is to promote improved transparency and encourage tangible reform within the Tunisian defence sector, by bolstering the capacity of civil society and supporting democratic civilian oversight of the sector. Transparency International – Defence & Security and I WATCH are keen to engage with the Ministry of Defence throughout the development of the Government Defence Integrity Index, all the while strengthening external oversight of the defence sector and raising civil society awareness of the importance of defence sector oversight.
In order to achieve these aims, we established an independent monitoring group comprised of Tunisian civil society and experts within the defence and security sectors in 2019 alongside I WATCH. The purpose of this group is to monitor the Tunisian defence sector’s progress in implementing reforms and improving transparency and accountability to Tunisian citizens. The group held its inaugural meeting in September 2019, where it identified its top priority issue areas to tackle in the coming year and developed an agenda for producing research and evidence-based advocacy.