US House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed on a $1.1 trillion FY2016 spending bill, to support countries on the front line of the fight against terrorism.
One of the biggest surprises in the bill was a $142 million allocation for Tunisia; while the Senate had resisted signing off on the State Department’s $134 million request, but in the end appropriators ended up giving the terrorism-plagued nation the full amount and then some.
This sum was inconsistent with the one that appeared to win favors from the Senate which would not want to hear of that sum and went as far as to cut, last July, the appropriations proposed by the Obama Administration by $ 50 million and approve only $ 84 million in aid to Tunisia.
Senators in charge of foreign aid, for most Republicans, have clung months and months to this position despite the incessant and insistent efforts of the State Department and even more of their Democratic peers, such as Florida Representative Ted Deutch who said “our support is a milestone in the future development of Tunisia in democratic transition, economic stabilization and strengthening of security.”
Members of the Senate committee responsible for funding foreign aid, always feeling good about themselves, offered $ 45 million dollars for support to the economy and governance, or $ 10 million less than what was requested by the State Department, while allocating a paltry $ 30 million in military aid despite the terrorist attacks in Bardo Museum and Sousse and infiltration across the porous border with Libya.
Senators refused to elaborate on this to the press. However, a congressional aide revealed that the State Department has caused a frown on Capitol Hill when it asked the doubling of aid to Tunisia, without providing further details. However, the Senate asked the State Department to transfer to Tunisia unused funds under previous years, including those allocated to programs suspended in Yemen.
Instead, the Senate committee noted that “economic growth in Tunisia could be enhanced by policies that reduce barriers to investment and growth.” It also believes that the “technical assistance has highest priority to support the institutional capacity of Tunisia to ensure that its reform program is implemented successfully.”
The Committee directs that funds be also made available to support young entrepreneurs, calling for “more efforts to help the democratic transition in Tunisia.” It noted that a paltry sum of about $ 21 million is allocated by the State Department to programs on democracy and governance, according to an analysis by the Project on Middle East Democracy.
“Building a democratic culture does not start, nor end, with an election cycle,” a panel involving the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems said in a note to the US Senate on the eve of a meeting attended by Tunisia’s new ambassador in Washington, Faysal Gouia.
“Renewed support to strengthen democratic behavior within Tunisia’s major political parties and to begin equipping electoral institutions and political stakeholders with know-how for local elections should occur without further delay,” the three foundations recommend.