The Reconciliation Bill is the Tunisian Government’s Failure to Fight Corruption

It has been almost two years since the Manish Msemah (I will Not Forgive) campaign took to the streets to protest what is known today in Tunisia as an example of the government’s failure to stand against corruption.  This example is displayed in the “Reconciliation Bill”, a bill that has ignited criticism and protests ever since it was proposed.

Many Tunisians are aware of the issues at stake: corruption is at the heart of our governmental crisis, and was also a propagating phenomenon that resulted in the popular movement known today as the “Arab Spring”. However, we still see corruption in Tunisia. It is not only attached to all institutions; it is also trying to regenerate itself in the name of ‘Reconciliation’.

The Reconciliation Bill is an economic Bill that was written in 2015 as a response to Tunisia’s increasing economic crisis. It amended the Transitional Justice Law, all the while arguing that it comes as a pragmatic solution to kerb this crisis. Initially, the Bill was presented to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in such a way, but what the bill represents is a direct treason to the values of the 2011 Revolution. It gives corrupt officials from the previous regime, including those who have also been implicated in political repression and the businessmen who conspired with them, the chance to offer the state a portion of their self-identified illicit gains.  Every Tunisian knows that Ben Ali and some of his relatives, who led direct assaults on the country’s democracy, are the first to be exonerated. Such a Bill would, as it is put into practice, defeat all possibilities for asset recovery, and destroys the chance for substantial transparency in the process.

In the light of the debates over the Bill’s value, the Manish Msemah (I will not forgive) Campaign was organised as an outspoken refusal and a lobbying power against the Reconciliation Bill. The main argument was that the Bill represents a full amnesty for people who have contributed to oppression and the economic crisis in the first place in and after the Ben Ali regime. Not only that, the campaign also sought to legally hold the corrupt accountable for their illegal practices and crimes.

The efficiency of such a campaign appeared when the Bill was withheld; with the efforts of the campaign comes the fact that Tunisia signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2004. Under Ben Ali, enforcing the convention’s principles on asset recovery was impossible. Now, with Ben Ali exiled in disgrace, the government must not ignore international standards against impunity. Instead, it should use the treaty’s tools to recover stolen assets.

In April, 21st, 2017, the Tunisian online news outlet, Nawaat, leaked a governmental strategy to recover the Reconciliation Bill, stating that the government is willing to resort to all ‘possible measures and convenient strategies’ to pass the Reconciliation Bill, even if it means presenting the Bill as the most suitable decision for Tunisia at such moment of crisis, using the help of a full media campaign that supports the Bill. The leaks hold the name of eleven government officials, including the government presidency.

Accordingly, the Manish Msemah Campaign has decided to operate again to stop the Bill from being passed. Being a campaign fully composed by independent individuals and social activists, there has been a massive support to ‘Manish Msemah’ through protests and manifestations against the Bill all over the country. With the help of many civil society components, such as the I Watch Organization against corruption, and a coalition of Human Rights associations, these protests are still taking place today.

The issue, however, does not stop there. There are investigations going on and interrogations with the Nawaat Founder and activist Sami Ben Gharbia, a significant figure of independent Media and digital human rights activism, concerning the article that was published by Nawaat. This interrogation was condemned by the human rights organisations in the region as a transgression of the rights of journalists and whistleblowers.

With President Caid Essebsi’s speech on the country’s general situation on Wednesday 10th of May, 2017, he explicitly threatened a military intervention to stop the Manish Msemah Campaign’s ‘acts of violence’, and to put Tunisia on the right path. But does the right path entail forgiving people who have contributed to the deviation in the first place?

Article written by Manel Khedim

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