Tunisia: Developing local talent
In the wake of recent elections in Tunisia government officials have been taking a new look at procurement and local content requirements in the public works and construction sector, putting plans in place to boost the skill sets of local workers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to ensure that Tunisian firms are able to participate in upcoming infrastructure projects.
Tunisian contractors and engineering firms have a fairly established track record in the region. Firms such as engineering consultancies Comete International and Studi International, contractor Entreprise Gloulou Mohamed & Salem (EGMS) and project manager SCET have been extensively involved in the construction both at home and abroad of highway networks, sports complexes, housing developments, and water treatment and sewage plants. Such firms have exported their expertise on urban redevelopment across the continent to Algeria and Libya, and further south to Gabon, Cameroon, Benin and Mozambique.
But the recent appointment of Turkey’s Demtaş Group as the lead contractor on Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House’s $5bn flagship Tunis Financial Harbour project – a 520-ha development to include financial services, insurance and general corporate offices – indicates that while local firms have a high level of competency and expertise, there is still scope to increase their capacity, given that foreign companies are still sought out for more ambitious mega-engineering projects.
The government is hoping to change this, however, and is starting by focusing on developing local talent for the sector. Two conventions signed between Tunisia’s National Building Federation (Federation Nationale du Batiment, FNB) and the National Building & Public Works Entrepreneurs Federation (Fédération Nationale des Entrepreneurs de Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics, FNEBTP) and their equivalent French bodies from the Champagne-Ardennes region will see French officials support the local sector in developing more effective vocational training programmes for graduates.
France will also provide advice and support to the FNB and FNEBTP on developing better human resources strategies via professional exchange that will enable SMEs to get a leg up in the construction sector. It is hoped that the agreements will see increasing numbers of local firms involved in large-scale infrastructure projects.
Given the ambitious plans for upgrading and expanding the country’s transport, housing and energy infrastructure, there are significant opportunities for smaller local contractors and consultants, provided they are able to prove their ability to meet capacity requirements.
The 11th five-year plan for Social & Economic Development 2007-11, previously endorsed by the regime of former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kept in place by the Ennahda-led government, seeks to improve access to sanitation and power and transport networks across the country. The plan has the continued financial backing of international institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the French development agency Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD).
In mid-February, for example, the JICA and the Tunisian Highway Company (Société Tunisie Autoroutes, STA) and the National Water Supply & Distribution Company (Société Nationale d’Exploitation et de Distribution des Eaux, Sonede) signed loan agreements for new highways and water supply networks.
The Japanese bank will provide STA with €138m towards the construction of the Gabes-Medenine Trans-Maghrebin Corridor Construction Project, which will link Cairo, Egypt and Agadir, Morocco by traversing through Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunisia the section stretches for 84 km and will be built along the existing RN1 between the towns of Gabes and Medenine.
The JICA has also loaned Sonede €55.5m for the Local Cities Water Supply Network Improvement Project, which will see supply networks improved at 32 locations in 20 governorates to meet future demand. When finished, the project is expected to provide 297,000 cu metres of water per day to 2.2m people.
Other international institutions have also launched major infrastructure developments in the country this year. The AfDB signed a €32.5m loan agreement on March 1 with the National Sanitation Authority (Office Nationale de L’Assainissement, ONAS) for a new wastewater treatment project. Up to 30 treatment plants across the country will be upgraded, serving 4m people in urban and rural areas and 4000 farmers.
Treated water is currently used by the agricultural sector to irrigate 8500 ha of farmland. ONAS is aiming to increase the annual supply of treated water by 132m cu metres for up to 25,000 ha of land.
The amount of infrastructure schemes with funding agreements in place for new road networks and sanitation facilities under the recently expired 11th plan should be a major source of employment for international and local contractors over the short term. Indeed, local firms have the potential to play an increasingly influential role in building or designing the large-scale infrastructure projects, and with the forthcoming development of vocational programmes per the agreements signed with France, they should be well placed to help meet the needs of the local market.