Anouar Maârouf, Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy: Interview

Anouar Maârouf, Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy

Interview: Anouar Maârouf

How can digitalisation boost economic integration?

ANOUAR MAÂROUF: Digitalisation is the main pillar of Tunisia’s efforts to improve the performance of its public services. We are looking to integrate smart processes into government administration so that we can deliver fast, transparent and accessible services. We are also taking steps to eliminate negative practices such as corruption, favouritism and clientelism, which have proven detrimental to the relationship between state and citizen. These objectives are outlined in the Digital Tunisia 2020 strategy, which has provided a clear vision of the direction of the sector and will be subject to review in 2020 to create a new strategy for the period until 2025. The government is investing more in the digital transformation than ever before, increasing demand for services and creating an ecosystem where Tunisian tech companies can thrive. International collaboration has helped mobilise the funds needed to further the government digitalisation programme.

In addition, the government has spent $14.2m on projects to improve internal and external communication. This is part of the e-government initiative, which includes plans to create a unique identification system, digitalise the investment process and transition to using cloud technology. The latter will completely change the way the government processes public purchases, shifting from the acquisition of hardware and software towards services. Inequality between the coastal and inland regions stems from the differences in infrastructure, availability of services and professional opportunities. We hope that investment in digitalisation will bridge the gap between citizen and government, making services more accessible to all, regardless of location, sector of activity or social status.

In what ways will the new approach to public-private partnerships yield different results?

MAÂROUF: The state has substantially changed its approach to infrastructure development. It has chosen not to invest directly in projects, handing over the responsibility to private firms which can then sell their services back to the government to generate revenue for themselves. All of the current state-led ICT infrastructure projects are being conducted under this build-operate-transfer model.

This new approach should yield different results than previous attempts to work with the private sector, and we hope that it will lead to the development of a high-quality infrastructure network. The private firm can guarantee that the service it is developing infrastructure for is in demand, in turn encouraging increased levels of investment. In addition, the government is able to take advantage of the private sector’s expert knowledge, ensuring more efficient services can be delivered to citizens.

What role do you expect the Start-up Act, and other government policies, to play in facilitating a broader economic transformation of the country?

MAÂROUF: The Start-up Act has several levels of influence on the country’s economy. By facilitating the creation and development of new companies, the reform supports the emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. The law should also strengthen Tunisia’s footprint in the region, increasing our visibility to foreign investors and entrepreneurs. We aim to eventually convert this growing entrepreneurial spirit into a new economic culture.

However, the Start-up Act is only the legal starting point of the economic overhaul that will continue for the next few decades. Alongside the new legislation, the government also is taking steps to ensure students are familiar with new technologies from as early as primary school. Education is the largest current recipient of public investment in digital transformation, as it is an essential part of cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary for Tunisia’s economy to grow and keep up with ongoing technological developments.

Anchor text: 
Anouar Maârouf

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The Report: Tunisia 2019

ICT & Innovation chapter from The Report: Tunisia 2019

Cover of The Report: Tunisia 2019

The Report

This article is from the ICT & Innovation chapter of The Report: Tunisia 2019 . Explore other chapters from this report.