The transformation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) into SADC Regional Parliament is now a question of when and not if it happens, as calls for the realisation of the long-cherished dream are becoming more strident.
The SADC PF was established in 1997 in accordance with Article 9 (2) of the SADC Treaty with the ultimate objective of transforming into a regional parliament. For more than 20 years, this aim has remained elusive but there are now strong indications that years of lobbying and preparation are now bearing fruits.
On Friday, the Executive Secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Stergomena Lawrence Tax hinted during the official opening of the 47th Plenary Assembly Session that the long-awaited SADC Parliament could be within sight.
“It is encouraging to note that the work on the transformation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum into the SADC Parliament is at an advanced stage, in line with the August 2019 decision of the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government,” the executive secretary said.
Although she did not give details, she commended experts from the SADC Secretariat and SADC Parliamentary Forum Secretariat “for the excellent work done to this stage.”
She added: “It is anticipated that this work will soon be finalised, in line with an agreed roadmap, and proposals will be submitted to (the SADC) Summit in March 2021.”
The executive secretary’s words were music to the ears of the approximately 150 delegates to the Plenary – which was being held virtually for the first time from Friday – and scores of the people who were following a live stream of the proceedings on YouTube.
Namibia’s Vice President Nangolo Mbumba officially opened the Plenary, which is the supreme decision-making organ on the SADC PF. SADC PF brings together 15 National parliaments in SADC. He reminded the delegates that many high-profile people who include Namibia’s President Hage Geingob and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa were in support of the Forum transforming into a SADC parliament.
The vice president recalled that in August 2018 during the 38th SADC Summit, President Geingob who was Chairperson of SADC said: “We believe that the SADC Parliament will not only help buttress the governance architecture of the region but will also be a key driver of our integration and development efforts.”
On his part, Mbumba said a SADC parliament would enable citizens to actively participate in regional integration processes.
“(It) will also complete the governance architecture of SADC. It will further provide a vital platform for the citizens, directly and through their elected representatives, to give inputs into the SADC’s integration agenda,” he said. Speaking at the same occasion, the Speaker of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) Ngoga Karoli Martin, also supported the idea of a SADC parliament.
In remarks made on his behalf by his compatriot Fatuma Ali Ibrahim, Martin said: “EALA fully associates itself with the SADC-PF towards looking into all aspects relating to the establishment of a strong regional Parliament. Further, we believe that together, we can transform Regional Economic Communities (RECs) into one United African bloc in the near future, for the common good of all people of Africa.”
Honourable Martin said Africa requires strong institutions to achieve “much-cherished unity and prosperity of a united continent”. He pledged EALA’s experience and expertise to SADC PF towards the envisaged “crucial and long-overdue transformation”.
Tax outlined many achievements of SADC, which was set up 40 years ago and said the region’s lawmakers had their work cut out in it.
“These include the adoption of about 33 Protocols, and various policies and strategies in a number of sectors, including for gender mainstreaming, as well as youth and women economic empowerment,” she said.
She said there was scope for closer collaboration between SADC PF and the SADC secretariat.
“The adoption, in August 2020, of the SADC Vision 2050 and the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2020-2030) presents an opportunity for the SADC Secretariat and the SADC Parliamentary Forum Secretariat to strengthen our longstanding cooperation, particularly in the priority areas as articulated in these two strategic blueprints.”
She outlined six strategic priority areas of Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan for 2020-2030, amongst which peace, security, and good governance are prerequisites for deepened regional development and integration.
“There are three interrelated pillars, namely Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in Support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. These pillars are interlinked with Gender, Youth, Environment and Climate Change, and Disaster Risk Management as cross-cutting issues,” she explained.
Advocates of the envisaged regional parliament say it would not only hasten regional integration but would foster unity and provide a platform for addressing socioeconomic challenges including the ongoing Covid-19, which has so far killed more than one million people all over the world.