Corruption & Climate Change in Tunisia

Climate Change is the most important issue of the 21st century. The phenomenon is threatening the life of millions of people, animals and plants on earth. The impact of Climate Change is affecting the Earth’s atmosphere, causing severe weather conditions and inducing the spread of life-threatening diseases. The impact of Climate Change is affecting the most vulnerable poorest countries in the world, like the MENA region and African countries. Due to corruption these countries have a weak immune system and are unable to fend themselves against apocalyptic events such as famine, epidemic diseases and mass emigration. Whether they are geographically doomed or politically and economically instable these countries will bear the most of the burden of Climate Change and corruption induced problems.

Unfortunately, Tunisia is both geographically doomed by sharing a border with the Mediterranean Sea and having limited water resources. Also Tunisia is politically and economically unstable for several reasons, mainly for not having completed the transitional justice process.

Post-revolution Tunisia is going through a phase of instability and insecurity. Politically the country witnessed a number of governmental changes. From 2011 to 2016 the emerging Tunisian Second Republic had five consecutive governments; most of them had a short period in office. Therefore achieving economic or political progress was difficult.

These governments inherited a deeply corrupted State. For the last decade the Tunisian State was swamped by a wave of corrupted national and international money. Before the revolution the regime allowed petrol companies to frack for oil and gas threatening the local environment and the biodiversity in the country. International petrol firms are working relentlessly to gain more money. These deals with corporations are inducing the environmental threats imposed by Climate Change. The Tunisian State’s policies are inclined towards a pollution economy rather than a green one. Thus, instead of investing the money on a more environmentally friendly economy, the Tunisian officials prefer to invest more in fossil fuel friendly economy.

The Archipelago of Kerkennah and the corrupted Climate Change.

Kerkennah is a set of small islands lying off the east coast of the Tunisian Gulf of Gabès (a Southeastern Governorate). The livelihood of the people on the archipelago is mainly based on fishing. However the agricultural activities on the islands are limited due to arid land so the people tend to fish for a living. The marine life in Kerkennah is important; first because it is part of a rich marine biodiversity and second because it is a lifeline for the archipelago inhabitants.

In March 2016 Kerkennah witnessed popular movements against the British fracking company British Petrofac, demanding its body to stay faithful to their commitments and resume their payments to the employment fund. However the officials of this company are infamous for their corruption. Its corrupt involvement is displayed by handing a 2 million dollar bribe to Moncef Trabelsi (the brother-in-law of the former president Ben Ali) in order to acquire 45% of the Chergui gas concession in Kerkennah. Despite the fact that in October 2011 Mr. Trabelsi was convicted by the Tunisian court for receiving the bribe the British Company continue to enjoy impunity.

However, the bad news is yet to come. At the same time as these movements there were protests led by fishermen against the TPS, a Tunisian-British company that is exploiting offshore oil concessions in Kerkennah. The fishermen accused the company of polluting the seawater and threating their livelihood. These Kerkennis were protesting an oil spill, they claimed, was a leak from a submarine pipeline. However, TPS challenged these allegations by publishing photos showing that it was not a pipeline leak but rather the spillage was just a leaking wellhead.

Whether it was a leak from a wellhead or the submarine pipeline, the fishermen were angry because the fish were dying which imposes a direct threat to marine biodiversity, and the livelihood of these people. Moreover it shows the irresponsible behavior of the company; as if a leak from a wellhead is not as dangerous as a one from a submarine pipeline. This displays the weak maintenance system that led to the pollution of more than 2960 kg of onshore vegetation, more than 72 cubic meters of seaweed, and 3000 kg of rocks near the shoreline and more than 3200 kg of sand according to the ANPE (The National Agency of Environment Protection).

The Minister of the Environment Department, Mr. Hatem Ben Kedim, announced that TPS would be fined up to 50,000 TND. However there is no information about the real costs of the damage. The real question is; would the company pay the fine? [Rather, did it pay it at all?]. Knowing that the fishermen claimed that it was not the first accident, it actually happened three times before.

Ignoring the urgency of environmental matters the government officials prefer to sugarcoat the inconveniences of foreign companies. By these decisions the government is not helping the economic growth of the country, but rather helping these money-driven companies to gain more profits and rubbing salt in the wounds of the already corrupted system.

Post-Revolution: The Whereabouts of Environmental Loans.

The Tunisian Revolution was based on a set of demands; one of them is to terminate corruption. However none of the five governments that led the country in the last five years has been able to make the first step not only to terminate corruption [which is a popular demand], but even to stop its flow.

In order to mitigate Climate Change the Government needs funding. The Tunisian economy is facing chronic instability since the revolution. The country needs financial aid to fight the impacts of Climate Change. The burden of borrowing money from different parties and NGOs is slowing any kind of improvement. However most of the loans investments are not transparent for the people to examine.

For instance in 2015 the Tunisian House of Representatives ratified a loan agreement for the Urban Water Supply Project from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The fund is projected to help improve water supply systems in urban zones. Knowing that water shortage is one part of Climate Change, the decreasing water resources in the world is projected to affect millions around the world and Tunisia is no exception.

During the 2016 summer season many Tunisians were forced to endure the heat of summer without having water for hours and often days. The performance of the government is questionable. Despite borrowing €31 million to fund a project that aims at providing people with water, families around the country still suffer from critical levels of water shortage.

Since 2007, with the help of the United Nations Environment Program, Tunisia was able to join a project that aims at spreading the use of solar panels for heating water among Tunisian society. The project “Solar Water Heating Loan Facility in Tunisia” is a joint initiative between the STEG (The Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas) the Tunisian National Agency for Energy Conservation and the United Nations Environment program. The project was based on providing Tunisians with the best conditions so they could afford the expense of the solar panels. An analysis conducted by two experts concerning the progress of the project between 2007 and 2010, it is noticeable that all the displayed numbers and figures are positive. However the reality is different. Knowing that the analysis was done before the revolution we can safely say that it is an obvious fraud; since the former regime’s officials were infamous for corrupted practices. The prices of solar panels are still high and most Tunisian families cannot afford such technology. Some of them still cannot get hold of electricity and water so we can safely assume the numbers shown in the analysis are not accurate.

The STEG is in a tough position since they have financial problems and the post-revolution Governments have never mentioned the progress of this project. Which make us wonder about whether Tunisia is still part of this project or not?

Tunisia and Climate Change: After the COP22

The Tunisian Prime Minister will head to the Climate Summit in Marrakesh with a new project with regard to adapting a green economy. The Tunisian delegation is hoping that the bill concerning recompensing the countries that are damaged by Climate Change would be ratified and Tunisia would get its share of that fund.

With this green economy project, Tunisia is aiming at having financial aids in order to implement its environmental reforms. However the real question would be; would the government stay true to its commitment to use this money in developing its green economy project?

After the revolution the State of Tunisia received billions in financial aid, yet no significant economic growth has been noticed. Many government owned establishments are witnessing tough financial situations. Concerns about the projected aid that the Tunisian delegation might receive is justified. The weak communication between the Government and the Tunisian people is behind this instability. We simply cannot blame the people for being cynical towards their Government because the officials have never been transparent and forthcoming when it comes to loans and financial issues.

Will Tunisia be a strong partner in the process of mitigating Climate Change? I, personally have no clear point of view about this matter. However trusting the Government to fight Climate Change is not an option for me. It is hard to trust a Government that is not willing to send the files of those who were involved in the misuse of public money to court. Corruption is an enemy to progress; therefore the Government will not be able to mitigate Climate Change when it is not willing to fight corruption.

Imen Al-Nighaoui


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