In what is being hailed as a novel initiative in the history of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, standing committees of the regional inter-parliamentary body have started holding virtual statutory meetings.
SADC PF Secretary General Boemo Sekgoma on Monday confirmed that members of parliament from different SADC member states belonging to the standing committees on Democratisation, Governance and Human Rights (DGHR); Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR), and Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (TIFI) would meet virtually throughout this week.
Ongoing Covid-19 restrictions do not allow MPs to travel and meet face-to-face. This has prompted the SADC PF to innovate and enable the parliamentarians from across the SADC region to carry out their mandate, which now has new dimensions due to Covid-19.
Sekgoma said as the world wakes up to the stark realities brought about by Covid-19, it was imperative that parliaments be strengthened to be able to effectively carry out their mandate during the restrictions occasioned by the pandemic.
In some instances, states of emergencies were imposed as part of the public health and safety measures – and it important that parliaments step up their oversight role to ensure this is done in a manner that ensures accountability and the upholding of human rights, rule of law and constitutionalism.
“During this Covid-19 crisis, parliaments need to step in and enhance their oversight role. This week’s meetings will take place against that background. The meetings will, in this respect, provide a platform for sharing of experiences so that parliaments can learn from each other within the context of the SADC PF’s mandate to promote inter-parliamentary cooperation in the SADC region,” Sekgoma said.
Parliaments are mandated by national constitutions of member states to provide oversight, including concerning the budget and to make laws and represent citizens – many of who have grave concerns in this era of Covid-19. This is so because some restrictions that member states have put in place curtail normal economic activity, thus rendering significant proportions of citizens vulnerable.
There are, therefore, concerns about how member states are responding to Covid-19 in terms of putting in place social safety nets to ease the plight of the vulnerable. In some instances, some countries have come up with stimulus packages and parliaments have the responsibility to ensure that the intended purpose and reach are realised or that resources are utilised for intended purposes.
Sekgoma commended national parliaments for facilitating the virtual participation of their MPs through the provision of the necessary software and hardware to support the meetings.
Typically, SADC PF standing committees include a member of parliament from each of the 15 member parliaments of SADC member states as well as representatives of stakeholders and partner organisations. The other two standing committees of the forum and the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) met in March.
The standing committees that are meeting this week have their work cut out. In the standing committee on democratisation, governance and human rights, the focus is set to be on accelerated domestication of the SADC Model Law on Elections, which was developed as a tool to assist member states to rapidly domesticate the revised SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections adopted by SADC in 2015.
The standing committee on democratisation, governance, and human rights meeting will take place in the wake of a landmark decision by the Constitutional Court of Malawi that annulled results of a presidential election and ordered a run-off following a dispute related to how the elections had been managed.
The SADC PF did not deploy election observers due to Covid-19 restrictions and this week’s meeting will enable MPs to discuss the management of elections in the era of Covid-19 while delivering on electoral and transitional justice.
The food, agriculture, and natural resources (FANR) standing committee is set to discuss food insecurity occasioned by Covid-19. It is noteworthy that before the onset of Covid-19, the SADC region was already facing several climatic challenges that were impacting on food security.
Sekgoma said the roles of parliaments and members of parliaments would be game-changing as the region builds resilience in the area of food security and the natural extractive sector.
“Members of parliament can make specific policy recommendations in this respect.”
As the trade, industry, finance, and investment (TIFI) standing committee meets, discussions are expected to revolve around the impact of Covid-19 on trade and the informal sector. This is in the wake of the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
MPs are expected to exchange views on ongoing closure of national borders and the impact on accessing markets, the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and reflect on local responses.
Sekgoma expressed gratitude to the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ); the Austrian Development Agency (ADA); the Trade Law Centre) (tralac); the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation; the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation; the Amnesty International Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the SADC Lawyers Association for supporting these meetings.