UNDP Tunisia recognized for work in country's political transition

11 Jun 2012

Washington — US Friends of UNDP today presented its annual Julia V. Taft Award to the UN Development Program (UNDP) Country Office in Tunisia in recognition of its exceptional work in supporting the North African country’s transition.

"In Tunisia, development partners had only small, if any, footprints prior to the change of regime in January 2011. Responses and capacities to support the transition had to be developed rapidly," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark told a reception here. “UNDP’s Country Office in Tunisia rose to the challenge, positioning itself to respond to historic events.”

“Our people supported Tunisia’s Independent Elections Commission, which oversaw the Constituent Assembly elections held last October. We were delighted to see 76 percent of registered voters turn out to vote in the country’s first free elections since independence.”

UNDP has also provided technical assistance for creation of new legal frameworks that guarantee freedoms for civil society and political parties and supporting reform of public administration, including through a new Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Our response in Tunisia was not only rapid; it was also highly relevant. We are helping Tunisian stakeholders address many of the very issues which the uprising wanted tackled,” Ms. Clark said.

“People around the region have called for justice and dignity, for the right to have input into the decisions which affect their lives, and for their human rights to be respected. They want the opportunity to work, to be educated, to have decent services, and to have governments which are honest, responsive, and accountable,” she said, referring to successive and subsequent 2011 uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring.

“Transitions from authoritarian to democratic governance are challenging…As change occurred in other countries in the region, UNDP in Tunisia was able to share its experiences with other country offices which were also seeking to respond rapidly.”

UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Mohammed Belhocine, accompanied by two national staff and Kamel Jendoubi, President of the body that organized Tunisia’s first free elections, accepted the award, saying “credit goes first and foremost to the people of Tunisia.”

“They decided to echo the call of the Tunisian poet Aboul Kacem Ech Chebbi, author of the Tunisian national anthem. He wrote, decades ago:‘If the people one day wanted to live,/Destiny must surely respond./Oppression shall then vanish. And shackles certainly break.’”Noting that “difficult economic times call for difficult choices,” Dr. Belhocine added, “From the field, I assure you, we recognize our responsibility to make every dollar count, and to work with the utmost transparency.”

“Elections were our entry point for more robustly supporting Tunisia in the area of democratic governance, which was previously off limits. This is an area in which UNDP leads the UN system, supporting an election somewhere in the world, on average, every three weeks,” he said.

In Tunisia, UNDP supports a range of programs including security, justice—including transitional justice—anti-corruption, support to constitutional dialogue, building the capacity of civil society, fighting poverty and joblessness, and mainstreaming women.

“The road ahead is uncertain. But development done right builds resilience and makes every citizen a stakeholder, in a country that can withstand sudden shocks and unexpected setbacks, however quickly and unexpectedly they occur,” Dr. Belhocine said. “This is what we strive for every day in partnership with the Tunisian people: a country that is well led, well fed, well governed, and well positioned, with its young, energetic, well-educated people, to thrive in the knowledge economy of the 21st century and beyond—whatever the future may bring.”

About the award

The Julia V. Taft Award is presented annually by a panel of prominent private citizen and development experts—formerly constituting the US Committee for UNDP—to a UNDP Country Office that has demonstrated the impact of teamwork to build a more democratic, prosperous, peaceful, and secure world in a particularly challenging location.

The award was established in 2009 in memory of Julia Taft, an active member of the US Committee before her untimely death from cancer in 2008.

A leading authority on humanitarian and international development issues, Julia Taft served as the Assistant Administrator and Director in the Bureau of Crisis Prevention & Recovery at UNDP from 2001-2004. She served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, & Migration from 1997-2001, and as president and CEO of InterAction from 1993-1997. She also served as USAID Director of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

The Julia V. Taft award was presented to the UNDP Country Office inSudan in 2009, the UNDP Country Office in Haiti in 2010, and the UNDP Country Office in Afghanistan in 2011.

UNDP is working with governments in the Middle East/North African region to adapt in the wake of the Arab Spring.  

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