Corruption may pose an obstacle for businesses investing in Tunisia. The country suffers from a culture of nepotism and cronyism, which are found throughout the government. These practices spurred popular upheavals in 2010, leading to the fall of the government in early 2011. Tunisia's Penal Code criminalises several forms of corruption, including active and passive bribery, abuse of office, extortion and conflicts of interest, but the anti-corruption framework is not effectively enforced. Businesses may encounter bribery, extortion or facilitation payments, particularly in the public procurement sector. Even though gift-giving and gift-receiving are criminalised, these practices are commonplace in Tunisia.
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The judiciary in Tunisia is criticised for a lack of independence, a lax prosecutorial environment and corruption (HRR 2013). The same assessment is reflected in popular opinion: Most households perceive the judicial system to be corrupt (GCB 2013). Businesses contend the judiciary does not efficiently settle disputes or challenge the legality of government actions and/or regulations (GCR 2014-2015). Nevertheless, the judiciary is highly professional (BTI 2014), and the time and costs required to enforce contracts through Tunisian courts are lower than regional averages (DB 2015).
Commercial disputes involving foreign companies rarely take place. In cases where disputes have occurred, foreign companies have generally been successful in seeking redress through the local judicial system. However, it is advised that all commercial contracts contain an arbitration clause detailing the handling of disputes and the applicable jurisdictions (ICS 2014). Tunisia is a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and is a signatory to the New York Convention 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
The police is ranked as the most corrupt institution in Tunisia. More than two-thirds of households perceive the police to be corrupt (GCB 2013), while one in ten report having resorted to bribery to avoid problems (AB 2013). Investigations into police corruption and abuse by government authorities lack transparency (HRR 2013). However, companies are confident in the reliability of Tunisian police forces to protect from crime and to uphold law and order (GCB 2014-2015).
Corruption and practices of favouritism are pervasive in Tunisia's public administration (BTI 2014), and inefficient government bureaucracy is reported as the largest impediment to doing business in Tunisia (GCR 2014-2015). More than one-tenth of businesses report encountering at least one bribe payment request, while 5% expected to give gifts to obtain an operating licence or to 'get things done' (ES 2013). More than one-quarter of firms report that they provided officials with facilitation payments to accelerate a transaction (ICAT 2014), and bribes can on occasion be used to obtain a document or a permit (AB 2013). The practice of wasta (the use of connections) has built a network based on nepotism and cronyism. Everyday administrative procedures become favours, and positions within institutions or enterprises are connection-based rather than merit-based. These shortcomings have negatively impacted the professionalism of basic administrative structures (BTI 2014).
The uneven application of regulations is also cited as a major concern for businesses, and dealing with administrative requirements is found to be time-consuming and costly for businesses, ultimately facilitating corruption (ICAT 2014). Tunisia has made starting a business more difficult by increasing company registration costs (DB 2015). A one-stop shop, the Agence de Promotion de l'Industrie (API; Industry Promotion Agency), and an online portal, Portail de I’Industrie Tunisienne (Tunisian Industry Portal), provide comprehensive information related to starting a company.
Corruption within Tunisia land administration is a problem. The head of Tunisia's national anti-corruption agency expressed his concern after magistrates refused to launch investigations into cases involving the transfer of state-owned land into private ownership (The Economist, July 2013). Bribery within this sector is also a problem as almost one-tenth of companies expect to give gifts in return for obtaining a construction permit (ES 2013).
Property rights and the acquisition of property are legally well-defined in Tunisia, but foreign investors face a cumbersome process when acquiring land as prior permission is needed (BTI 2014). Businesses perceive the legal framework as fairly efficient in terms of the protection of property rights (GCR 2014-2015); however, commercial cases take a long time to resolve, and legal procedures are complex (BTI 2014). Registering property in Tunisia is more costly and time-consuming than regional averages (DB 2015).
Bribes within the tax administration constitute a problem for businesses operating in Tunisia. Favouritism is a problem among tax officials as the best-connected firms are found to bargain their way out of tax payments (ICAT 2014). There is no legislation providing for the non-deductibility of bribes, which can be disguised as legitimate expenses or paid through ‘slush funds’ held abroad (OECD 2013). Businesses identify tax regulations and rates as being among the most important impediments to business in Tunisia (GCR 2014-2015). Tunisia has lowered the corporate income tax rate in the past year, and the total time and cost required to pay taxes are lower than regional averages (DB 2015).
Tunisia's customs clearance process is lengthy and opaque, constituting a competitive disadvantage, and investors complain of the inconsistent application of regulations (ICS 2014). However, these procedures are still less time consuming and less bureaucratic than regional averages (DB 2015). Companies should be aware that irregular payments at the border may occur (GETR 2014). Almost one-tenth of businesses expect to give gifts in return for an import licence (ES 2013).
In 2012, 20 custom officers were fired because of allegations of misconduct. One of the Port's customs officers claimed that corrupt members from the former ruling family still enjoy influence within customs and that corruption within this sector has not changed since the old regime (Tunisia Alive, June 2012).
Tunisia's public procurement sector is vulnerable to corruption (OECD 2013). Businesses demonstrate a low-degree of trust in government officials to make decisions objectively and to not favour well-connected companies or individuals when deciding policies and contracts (GCR 2014-2015). Firms report that collaborating with the ‘right connections’ helps overcome administrative obstacles that could delay or block procurement decisions (BTI 2014), while one-third of surveyed companies expect to give gifts in order to secure a government contract (ES 2013).
Public tenders in Tunisia require all bidding parties to provide a sworn statement committing not to promise or give gifts (even through third parties) or to influence the outcome of the tender (ICS 2014). Transparent public procurement systems are also in place but are not implemented in a systematic or transparent way (BTI 2014). Weaknesses in the Tunisian procurement system include the lack of redress mechanisms, a lack of professionalism and integrity among procurement officials and a lack of monitoring. In 2013, the government introduced an electronic public procurement system, ‘TUNEPS’. Companies are recommended to use a specialised public procurement due diligence tool to mitigate the corruption risks associated with public procurement in Tunisia.
Tunisia's natural resources sector lacks transparency and suffers from a persistent lack of budget transparency and average performances regarding corruption control and the rule of law (NRGI 2014). The lack of transparency within the sector may also be linked to the limited parliamentary oversight concerning oil revenues and the licensing process (NRGI 2014). Tunisia faces environmental challenges, but environmental issues lag behind other priorities. Coupled with pervasive corruption and poorly trained civil servants, environmental legislation is easily ignored or circumvented (BTI 2014).
Tunisia's Penal Code (in French) criminalises attempted corruption, active and passive bribery, using public resources for private gain, bribing a foreign official, money laundering and extortion. Tunisian legislation also addresses conflict of interest. According to the Penal Code, the offence of passive bribery or offering, promising or giving any undue pecuniary or other advantage to a Tunisian public official (directly or through an intermediary) carries a 10 year prison sentence and a fine equal to twice the amount of the bribe/gift received or promised; the minimum fine is TND 10,000 (approximately USD 6,000). However, Article 93 of the Penal Code provides that bribers or intermediaries who notify the public authorities of the offence before criminal charges are brought against them will be exempted from punishment. Tunisians bribing a public official outside the country may be prosecuted under Tunisian law. The government does not consistently enforce its anti-corruption laws (HRR 2013). Tunisia's Constitution guarantees access to information, but exceptions are reportedly so broad that they can undermine the law's ability to ensure transparency and accountability (FotP 2014). An online tool, Marsoum 41, has been setup to enable citizens to directly access public information and to allow an independent commission to monitor compliance (FitW 2015). Tunisia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and is a founding member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, which combats money laundering and terrorist financing. Tunisia is not party to either the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention or the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.
Post-revolution Tunisia has witnessed a much freer press. The media can now scrutinise the behaviour of government officials and bring government corruption to light. The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and media independence, but several of these provisions are described in vague and broad terms, allowing media content to be censored. During 2013, journalists suffered from increased pressure to censor published information; these efforts were met with strikes to protest the criminalisation of journalists’ reporting (FotP 2014). Journalists also face defamation charges. Internet freedom is respected in Tunisia, and websites are no longer censored (HRR 2013). Tunisia’s media environment is evaluated as 'partly free' (FotP 2014).
Freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed by the Constitution (HRR 2013). Associations are today easy to form, facing no oppressive legal impediments or obstructive registration requirements (IA 2013), but the government controls the funding of associations with a formal registering process (IA 2013). Civil society has been involved in the formulation of policies in post-revolution Tunisia but not in areas of policy implementation or performance monitoring (BTI 2014). Among the achievements of the cooperations between the state, civil society and the UNDP in Tunisia is the creation of the Portail National Pour La Lutte Anti-Corruption, which revolves around three principal elements: an information site, a space for constructive ideas contributing to the National Anti-Corruption Strategy and an interactive space for anti-corruption activists.
- World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015.
- US Department of State: Investment Climate Statement - Tunisia 2014.
- World Bank & IFC: Doing Business 2015.
- Bertelsmann Foundation: Transformation Index - Tunisia 2014.
- World Bank & IFC: Doing Business 2014.
- World Bank: Investment Climate Assessment: Enterprises' Perception in Post Revolution Tunisia, February 2014.
- Freedom House: Freedom of the Press - Tunisia 2014.
- Global Competitiveness Report: Global Enabling Trade Report 2014.
- Natural Resource Governance Institute: Tunisia 2014.
- Transparency International: Global Corruption Barometer 2013.
- US Department of State: Human Rights Practices Report - Tunisia 2013.
- The Economist: 'Tackling Corruption in Tunisia: An Uphill struggle', 25 July 2013.
- OECD: Integrity Scan of Tunisia, June 2013.
- World Bank Group: Enterprise Surveys 2013.
- Afrobarometer: Governments Falter in Fight to Curb Corruption: The people give most a failing grade, November 2013.
- International Alert: Transforming Tunisia - The Role of Civil Society in Tunisia's Transition, February 2013.
- Bertelsmann Foundation: Transformation Index - Tunisia 2012.
- Tunisia Alive: '20 Tunisian Customs Officers Dismissed Amidst Corruption Reform', 9 June 2012.
- Article 19: 'Tunisia: New Decree on access to administrative documents rolls back culture of secrecy', 11 July 2011.