“We thought of using a survey to get indicators from stakeholders,” said Narjess Sellami, “as a tool to ascertain the extent to which the government has involved civil society in the process.” The SAI Tunisia’s SDG preparedness team therefore selected 108 NGOs with which to conduct the survey, by using three main criteria:
The NGOs’ actitivies being involved with the 17 SDGs, to make sure that all areas of sustainability would be covered in the results;
The NGOs’ regional scope, to ensure that each governorate of Tunisia would be represented by at least two NGOs;
And their local reach, to cover as much of the Tunisian territory as possible and take into account the demographic disparities.
On one hand, the survey was met with a lot of enthusiasm and motivation from regional and local NGOs; but they also confirmed that the extent to which they were involved in for example prioritisation in the SDGs is not optimal.
48 NGOs responded to the survey, which consisted of questions regarding:
- general information about the organisations, including what SDGs they are working on;
- how they think they can help with the implementation of the SDGs;
- their opinion on the government’s implementation of SDGs, the mechanisms of follow-up;
- the reporting phases and data framework.
“Some organisations were surprised to be involved in the audit – pleasantly surprised,” said Sellami. “They felt encouraged and it created more dynamism in their activities.” A handful even reported having devised conventions between the NGO and regional or local governments in order to implement additional SDGs activities.
While the survey revealed a wide range of opportunities to develop the SAI’s reach on a local and regional level, it also highlighted some big challenges. One of the main difficulties, of course, being to contact and involve all the smaller local NGOs.
In parallel, the broadness of the 17 SDGs covers so many aspects of life (health, education, poverty) that the necessity to find common goals and approaches was revealed to be an obstacle to their development.
Another challenge that the survey revealed is that people are not familiar with SDGs, a relative novelty. Interestingly, many of the stakeholders reported that they were made aware of SDGs not because of official government communication, but thanks to the media – especially social media.
On the more negative side of the survey’s findings is that 54% of the NGOs felt that the extent to which they were invited by government to participate in the SDGs is weak, and just as many, because of this lack of communication and public involvement, felt that they were weakly informed about the priorities set by the official authorities, and that these priorities didn’t respond to actual local needs.
Their recommendations included creating partnerships with other NGOs; and of course, an increase in funding.
According to Sellami, the Tunisian SAI’s report will be sent with recommendations to the Tunisian government and parliament; but also, in order to increase the public’s awareness, the team is planning to prepare a citizen report focused on issues that interest them on a local level.
Neila Akrimi’s presentation also shed the spotlight on the importance of this engagement of local stakeholders. “The French say that local government is the lowest form of government,” she said, “but in the Netherlands we say it’s the first.” Akrimi reported that “as SDGs are replacing MDGs, we learn more about initiatives across the globe, and we stand behind these global goals.” But these goals can appear overarching on a local level, where SDG projects have to be translated by the stakeholders and the local governments alike into something real and concrete.
All of this leads to the question of openness: in order to localize, SAIs need to have a better grasp of these concrete needs, and therefore be more open to their environment. “it’s a must, now,” said Akrimi, especially as the trend is going towards the decentralization of government, new budgets, new contracts, new procurements – so… new opportunities and new dynamics. “Without that openness, you won’t be able to perform and meet your expectations.”
For SAIs, that involves embracing a new role, understanding what is happening locally and then making statements in sometimes conflicting situations. Monitoring the situation and assessing the quality of the NGOs’ performance should also be part of the mandate – but of course all SAIs do not have that mandate.
If some see the role of the SAIs as distant from the executive branch of the government, relegated to a position of criticizing and at the same time giving recommendations, many also find that it’s a much more proactive balancing act than just “observing from the top”. According to Akrimi, this role is valid in regards to local government, too, where SAIs can take advantage of the municipalities or regions’ independence and their accountability to the citizens which is more pronounced than on the national level.
If they are challenging, local and regional stakeholders are also an incredible opportunity that could bring SDGs a step further.