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Tunisia: 5 ministries criticized for non-compliance with competition rules and for other banned practices

In its 2007 Report, The Audit Court criticized the management of the ministries of interior, equipment and housing, agriculture, health and education and training.. The audit focused on direct investments’ spending relating to bridges and roads, protection of cities against floods, dams and water facilities, as well as buildings and health and educational facilities.

Errors or mistakes picked up are pertaining to credits and expenditure allocation, expenses commitment and payment, implementation of these expenses in connection with allowance advance, to  procurements and final settlement of these procurements. Evidence is provided that some departments fail  sometimes to implement  administrative and procedural rules, even if some of these errors can be justified. But mistakes also, infringe certain codes, divert  rules of financial transparency as far as orders to launch and implement contracts are concerned. These errors and cost overruns have in some cases, violated the principle of competition. 

 “Free service”.

It has often been noted that some departments resort to transfers and additional appropriations to increase substantially the amounts allocated to certain budget sections. Money is thus taken from some budget sections to be injected in others. These departments are changing so freely and simply transfer, the use of the money allocated to other sections. During the monitoring period, two ministries, the Ministry of the Interior and that of Training did so. However, the Ministry of Interior justified its behaviour by the lack of funding in relation to real needs whereas the Ministry of Training referred to the need to purchase equipment for the school year. The Audit Court, however, does not mention whether the shifted money has negatively impacted other projects money had been yet allocated to!

Another practice that speaks volumes about liberties that some departments take vis-à- vis budgets  was checked by AC’s auditors in both  agriculture and equipment ministries. For two years, 2005 and 2006, both departments have moved money, from one purpose to another and always at the expense of something or someone. Both have debited pay expenditure on equipment credits. The ministries also “made use” of a simple allowance advance normally designed to secure tiny expenses, to pay agents and permanent employees for 622 million dinars in 2005  and 700 million in 2006.

Administration mars competition and transparency.

As regards expenses commitment and payment, AC targets the five ministries over an excess of authority pertaining to the role of public expenditure supervisor. The five departments have indeed issued orders without referring to him. They also carried out  commands that should not be done likewise.. Financial transparency and competition law have been flouted. AC also reported that the Administration has introduced, when implementing contracts, in some cases after the expiration of contractual deadlines, important changes in  quantities and sometimes on price and lead times. «For example, auditors mention the case of two contracts dealt with in 2002 relating to the project of the protection  of  Ariana city against flooding. The two projects’ costs rose by 6.9 MDT at a 46% rate while deadlines have been extended by 17 months. AC has taken note of the replies of the Ministry of equipment, but has not failed to point out to note that this “violates the competition principle.”

The Administration “in all its overruns”

The Report mentions “administrative procedures which have generally exceeded the regulatory maximum validity period of  tenders which is set at 180 days. Administration slow procedures that everybody including the ombudsman indicated with elbow  were highlighted by the report which said , for example, that this slow  caused the postponement of an annual program to equip schools for a period ranging between one and five years. «The same administration forgets to settle accounts relating to commands it ordered. AC pointed out that “the final settlement of contracts is experiencing some delays reaching several years. It also happens that this operation (the payment) is omitted completely, as in the case of certain contracts for the purchase of educational materials, awarded by the Ministry of Education and Training. ”

A belief emerges from all this: the Administration has not yet carried out its upgrade and has not completed its update to adapt to requirements  of the market economy, those  of transparency it advocates among  the private sector and finally to competition rules it has  normally the duty to guarantee.

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