A few days ago, it was published in the official Tunisian newspaper Command Related to the creation of a new public institution in the country under the name: “The National Feed Office”. This office was created according to: Official notification“In implementation of the instructions of the President of the Republic, Kais Saied, on the necessity of ending the fodder crisis in Tunisia and breaking with the monopoly in the field, at a time when the fodder crisis is worsening with the continuing years of drought and lack of pastures.”
An incorrect solution to a real problem
The problem of providing fodder for livestock and cow breeders is real and has been ongoing for many years. The crisis has worsened in recent times. Because of the recurring years of drought, and because of the state’s financial crisis, which led to a reduction in grain imports. The problem of monopolistic and speculative practices committed by feed supply and manufacturing companies is a real problem that causes feed scarcity and skyrocketing prices, resulting in a significant increase in the cost of animal production, and a serious threat to the country’s livestock. The scope here is not to enumerate the causes of the crisis and its consequences, but rather to study the feasibility of the solution chosen by the executive authority to get out of that crisis.
There is no doubt that the worsening crisis in recent years is the result of a lack of will, action, and proactive policies. It is necessary to initiate effective solutions to address it and find solutions to end monopoly, reduce prices and prevent smuggling.
Does the solution lie in creating a new structure in the state, as the head of state decided?
of course no! This decision is the wrong solution to a real problem.
The state does not lack structures to accomplish the tasks assigned to the newly created office. The powers of the new structure are already under the supervision of institutions, such as: the Bureau of Livestock Breeding and Pasture Provision, the Bureau of Grains, the Bureau of International Lands, the General Administration of Agricultural Production, the National Committee for the Fodder System, the institutes of studies and research structures in the Ministry of Agriculture, and other institutions.
What is the motivation for creating a new structure?
An old mentality that resists change
Creating a structure to address a problem is a decision that reflects the traditional view of the calcified state, which continues to think and act with the mentality of the 1960s, rejecting development and resisting change.
In the face of every new challenge or new need, the state’s subconscious mind goes directly to creating a new structure to address the issue. Because this is the easiest and theoretically fastest solution to achieve, which avoids moving or shaking the accumulated structures on top of each other and changing their working rules and inherited habits.
This mentality led to the establishment of a very complex structure within the Tunisian state that includes at least 220 public establishments and institutions in all sectors, including public establishments and institutions that do not have an administrative nature, companies wholly owned by the state, and companies in which more than 50% of their capital is contributed by the state or one of its partnerships. Or local groups, in addition to administrative institutions, professional associations, and others.
Added to this complex fabric of institutions is a complex structure of public administrations and structures within each of the ministries, in which there is, in many cases, an overlapping of responsibilities, a conflict of powers, and an expansion of bureaucracy. For example, there are approximately 150 public departments in the Ministry of Agriculture, according to one expert!!
This web of structures has been built in a cumulative manner since the colonial period. The impact of independence intensified at the stage of consolidating state institutions and launching central development plans to program and organize public investments in various sectors for the purpose of achieving economic growth, by supporting activities that produce wealth, added value, and provide employment, as well as reducing poverty, improving the standard of living, and supporting regional balance. This approach continued steadily despite the transition of the Tunisian economy from nationalization (1956-1961) to socialism (1961-1969), to liberalism and openness (1970-1982), to externally imposed structural reform (following the crisis of the 1980s) to liberalization and integration into the international market ( since the 1990s).
As a result of this institutional inflation, the state in Tunisia has become a huge entity that is constantly growing in size, even though it stands on weak legs. Its tasks have expanded beyond the service and vital sectors to reach fields and tasks that will amaze you. The state monopolizes the supply of coffee, red and green tea, rice, and vegetable oil, produces tobacco and hookahs, operates highways, digs wells, manufactures cement, alcohol, and paper, packages sugar in bags, runs sports bets, produces meat and chicken chicks, and organizes horse races… and today it is intended for To produce fodder for livestock and cows.
It should be noted that the vast majority of public enterprises in Tunisia are in a catastrophic financial situation, and some of them are in a state of bankruptcy and depend almost entirely on state support to pay the wages of their employees, invoices to their suppliers, and guarantee their loans, with the deterioration of production and productivity, including those that are active alone in their sector of the market. . The common reasons for this situation include weak management, deteriorating governance, lack of oversight, and the spread of corruption and nepotism.
Sometimes arbitrary coordinates
The creation of institutions and structures sometimes turns into arbitrary, ill-considered decisions, or intentional ones for the purpose of obtaining personal benefits for the decision-maker, or monopolizing a specific market in competitive sectors, or rewarding or appeasing a person close to the decision-maker, and granting him a position, privileges, a job car, favor, and prestige.
For example, we have already gone through… Battle in the Tunisian Parliament Against a government decision in 2016 to create the “School Services Bureau” institution in an urgent and unjustified manner that contradicts the state’s trend towards decentralization. We considered that the real goal behind that decision was to unify deals for supplying schools, middle schools, and high schools throughout the country with food supplies and other services into major central deals, after the supply had been local and under the supervision of directors of educational institutions, with the aim of senior officials obtaining commissions from major suppliers. The events were passed by force, after which accusations of corruption and deterioration of school services arose in various parts of the country.
as Consider us In November 2019, the decision to create the “National Office of Land Border Crossings,” which took place at the beginning of 2016, was linked to designations that opened the door wide to nepotism, clientelism, appointments based on loyalty and knowledge rather than competence, and manipulation of assignments, attachments, and deals.
These – of course – are only simple examples that illustrate how increasing the burden of bureaucracy by adding new structures stimulates climates of corruption, reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of social services, and increases the degree of societal tension and political instability.
On the danger of institutional inflation
If we want to provide a definition of institutional inflation, we can consider it synonymous with the increase in the number of institutions or government structures or in bureaucratic procedures, which leads to an exacerbation in administrative complexity and conflicts of tasks and powers, an increase in costs, ineffective consumption of financial and human resources, and a shortage in effectiveness and efficiency, and a deterioration in governance and transparency climates.
Adding new structures results in additional financial burdens related to the operational budget of the added structure, such as renting and equipping headquarters, hiring employees, acquiring functional cars, allocating privileges, and other expenses. This contradicts what Tunisia is now heading towards – and all countries experiencing crises, including some developed countries, under duress – of a forced reduction in wages and austerity in state expenses.
This also results in an increase in bureaucratic burden and complexity of operations, which weakens efficiency and effectiveness, and causes delays in decision-making. Especially since new structures require a lot of time to gain maturity, harmony, and interaction with reality. It also takes a long time to resolve conflicts of powers and tasks with existing structures.
This is what we saw in Monitoring Observatory This was clearly demonstrated when the “National Authority for the Health Safety of Food Products” was established in Tunisia in accordance with the requirements of Law 25 of 2019. This is the body that was intended to bring together all the structures, tasks and employees concerned with the health safety and quality of food products and animal feed in the Ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Health. However, the conflict of interests, powers, and disputes regarding privileges continue to hinder the actual launch of the Authority’s work, which has caused a serious deterioration in the control of food products in the country, especially the food supplies supplied, as we lost the previous system of control, and we have not yet succeeded in establishing the new system.
All of the above confirms that institutional inflation would disrupt the achievement of the main desired objectives of the public utility, and would spend a lot of resources and efforts on administrative procedures, practical complications, and absurd disputes instead of focusing on achievements and development.
Returning to the decision to create the “National Feed Office”, it undoubtedly falls within the framework of institutional inflation that has lost meaning and effectiveness. It will not result in resolving the feed crisis, ending the monopoly, lowering prices, or stopping the bleeding of cow smuggling that is devastating the local economy in the foreseeable future.
Rather, it will result in greater disruption to the feed system for a long period, which is the period that will be required to build a new institution, resolve the conflict of overlapping powers between it and the various existing structures, and establish effective work systems. In experience, all of this may take from three to five years. It is not guaranteed that the new body will not be infected with the virus of corruption spreading throughout state structures, and the office intended to end monopoly, nepotism, and corruption will turn into a structure that practices a monopoly more dangerous than the monopoly of the private sector, and practices nepotism, corruption, and bribery in managing all stages of supply, production, and distribution of feed. In accordance with what we previously called “Corruption of the beginnings“.
What is the alternative to institutional inflation?
Instead of resorting to creating new institutions to address specific challenges, the state can take many alternatives to improve efficiency and effectiveness in dealing with these challenges, without having to take unsecured risks, financial costs, and additional bureaucratic burdens.
First, a fundamental diagnosis must be made of the factors that produced the targeted situation and the deeper causes that contributed to it. Accurate diagnosis is the first step to the solution. In relation to the fodder file, any decision was supposed to be based on a diagnosis of the reasons for the scarcity of fodder in the market and the high prices, the legal and regulatory factors that led to the dominance of some rentier groups over the fodder system, what are the overlapping lobbies, what is the secret of their influence, and what are the imbalances in the production and supply system. And the marketing of grains and the pasture system, which allowed the deterioration of the provision of fodder, etc.
The precise answer to all these and other questions clearly shows the deficiencies that must be addressed to solve the problem, and then identifies the necessary reform doors to end all these deficiencies.
When all the necessary reforms are put on the table, it will be possible to see the scene with a comprehensive eye, and determine what structural, institutional and legislative changes are required.
Before thinking about creating a new institution, one must think about the extent to which the governance and efficiency of existing structures can be developed so that they are able to address the new challenge. This is done by clarifying the powers and perhaps redistributing them within a comprehensive vision in a way that covers all aspects of the issue, ending cases of conflict or conflict of interest between structures with overlapping tasks, and establishing traditions of cooperation, harmony and integration between those structures.
What is also required is the introduction of renewed regulatory policies to reduce the burden of bureaucracy, simplify procedures, and stimulate innovation within these structures in order to find innovative solutions to the observed violations. Investment must also be made in developing the skills and capabilities of executives and agents within the relevant structures to enhance their readiness to deal with increasing challenges.
In return, stimulating transparency and accountability for them, and developing the oversight system for all aspects of the challenge at hand. Investing in control tools is much more beneficial than investing in building a new structure that is vulnerable to the same diseases. The most important investment that must be made is in digitization and information systems and applications capable of establishing oversight, transparency, and good governance, and reducing the relationship between the administration, economic actors, and citizens.
The reasonable and effective solution to address the emerging challenges must be within the framework of repositioning the state around its main tasks in formulating sustainable development policies, providing basic services, working to achieve a fair distribution of wealth, encouraging employment, maintaining economic balances and prices, and providing infrastructure and business climates. Information systems that encourage competition and initiative, enhance oversight and transparency, and combat monopoly and corruption. With the necessity of working to reduce unjustified government spending, reduce state interference in competitive sectors, and limit it to vital areas.
President Saied's recent decision to create a national fodder office is a step in the wrong direction. It reflects the absence of vision, the rejection of change, the arrogance in acknowledging the state's crisis, the impossibility of continuing the old, dilapidated structure, and the lack of awareness that “the alley stopped at the fugitive,” as the Tunisian proverb says, which means reaching a dead end. .
This is what makes the responsibility of working to achieve a future vision for reforming the state and developing its governance a crucial task placed on the shoulders of elites who are convinced of change, without wasting time waiting for a vision that will not come from those who lack it.