Calls for SADC Parliament ring much louder

Ernest Moloi BG reporter
Tuesday, 31 July 2018
SADC Parliamentary Forum President, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santo SADC Parliamentary Forum President, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santo

SADC Parliamentary Forum President, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos and his team are lobbying member states to support the transformation of the SADCPF into a SADC regional Parliament.

 The intense lobbying happens as the region braces for the 38th SADC Summit of heads of state and government slated for 1 - 18th August in Windhoek, Namibia, which is expected to endorse the request. Immediately after the 43rd Plenary Assembly Session of the SADCPF in Luanda, Angola late June, Dias dos Santos jetted into Zambia’s capital, Lusaka to lobby President Edgar Lungu to support the transformation of SADCPF into a fully-fledged SADC regional Parliament.

Dos Santos, who doubles as Speaker of the National Assembly of Angola, was accompanied by SADC PF Acting Secretary General, Boemo Sekgoma. When opening the 43rd Plenary Assembly of the SADCPF, Angola’s President, Joao Manuel Gonçalves Lourenco reaffirmed his country’s commitment to integration agenda and in supporting the role of Parliament.

According to press reports, Lourenco assured delegates gathered in the Palace of the National Assembly of Angola that the issue of SADC PF’s transformation into a SADC Regional Parliament was being considered at the highest level in Angola and would be discussed at the next summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Namibia.

SADC Parliamentary Forum, which currently boasts 14 national Parliaments and some 2500 MPs, was established under Article 9(2) of the SADC Treaty by the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held on 8th September 1997, in Blantyre, Malawi. The Forum was set up to “constitute a Parliamentary Consultative Assembly, the ultimate goal being the establishment of a Regional Parliamentary Framework for dialogue on issues of regional interest and concern”. Twenty-one (21) years later, it will appear this is finally coming to pass.

But it has not been a walk in the park for SADCPF.SADC PF first presented its request for transformation into a Regional Parliament to the SADC Summit in August 2004 in Grand Baie, Mauritius, but the request and subsequent others at the February 2008 SADC Council of Ministers’ Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia; the August 2011 SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Luanda, Angola, and the August 2015 SADC Summit in Gaborone, Botswana – were all rejected.

The reasons advanced by SADC Summit for rejecting the transformation of SADCPF into a regional integration were that “Member States should firstly aim for the consolidation of the Pan African Parliament (PAP); that Member States should, first of all, finalise the process of rationalisation of the African Union Regional Economic Communities (AU RECs); Member States should endeavour to define the relationship between the RECs and the African Union (AU) more broadly as this may help to better understand both the role and the scope of the Regional Parliament, and lastly, that the idea of establishing a SADC Regional Parliament may be considered in the distant future.”

According to documents seen by this publication, the second time the Forum presented its request for transformation was during the February 2008 SADC Council of Ministers’ Meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia. The third time was in August 2011 in Luanda, Angola during the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government; and the fourth time was during the August 2015 SADC Summit held in Gaborone, Botswana.

On all these occasions, the Summit repeatedly adopted the pre-conditions laid down in 2004, when SADC PF presented its request for transformation for the first time. As a result, an ad-hoc Committee of the Executive Committee of the SADCPF was established to scrutinise the issue of transformation of SADCPF into a regional Parliament and report back, which it did on June 3, 2016 in Ezulwini, Kingdom of Swaziland (now Eswatini).

The Ad-hoc Committee was made up of Adv. Jacob Francis Mudenda, Speaker of the National Assembly of Zimbabwe, as Chairperson and members, Justice Dr. Patrick Matibini, SC, MP, Speaker of the National Assembly of Zambia; and Prof. Peter Katjavivi, Speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia.

When reporting back its findings, the Ad-hoc Committee made it unambiguously clear that the pre-conditions cited for not transforming the SADC Parliamentary Forum into a Regional Parliament, were not “ample justification”. On the excuse that member states should first aim for Consolidation of the Pan African Parliament (PAP), the considered view of the Ad-hoc Committee was that, except for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), all other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) of Africa have Regional Parliaments, hence the pre-condition to first aim to consolidate the PAP is, therefore, “untenable and not justifiable”.

The Ad-hoc Committee said it was interesting to note that all the other Regional Parliaments were in fact established regardless of the establishment/consolidation of the PAP. It said that in any case, PAP in its constitutive Protocol, acknowledges that the Regional Parliaments are the building blocks of the Continental Parliament, which was established by Article 14 of the Abuja Treaty of 1991, which established the African Economic Community.

The Ad-hoc Committee reported that the consolidation could therefore be better achieved through the establishment of Regional Parliaments, including the SADC Regional Parliament as one of the building blocks of PAP.

In addition, it was the Ad-hoc Committee’s humble view that SADC cannot arrogate itself the responsibility of consolidating PAP before establishing its own Regional Parliament, “as this is a matter or mandate for the African Union (AU) Commission”.  It found that there was therefore, no nexus or corollary between the consolidation of the Continental Parliament and the establishment of the Regional Parliament.

As for the second precondition regarding the need to finalise the process of rationalisation of the African Union Regional Economic Communities (AU-RECs), the SADC PF felt that If SADC is one of the defined Regional Economic Communities of Africa, “it is not clear how as a community or any of the other Regional Economic Communities would need to be rationalised” as a condition precedent to the establishment of the SADC Regional Parliament.  

The Ad-ho Committee said the process of rationalisation of the RECs has “already been consummated” by way of the signing of the African Free Trade Zone (AFTZ) in June 2015, in South Africa.  Furthermore, the Committee reported that the African Union (AU) Member States in June 2014, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea signed the amended Protocol to the PAP’s Constitutive Act which paved the way for the Continental Parliament to assume legislative powers.

It said that when the Regional Parliaments of other RECs were established, the question of rationalisation of the AU and the RECs as a pre-condition for their establishment of their respective Regional Parliaments did not arise. “The SADC Parliamentary Forum is also of the view that the rationalisation of the AU-RECs is primarily the responsibility/mandate of the AU Commission.

To that extent, the issue of the establishment of the SADC Regional Parliament does not arise in the said rationalisation process,” the Ad-hoc Committee said in its report. 

As for the third precondition on the need to define the relationship between the RECs and the AU, the SADC Parliamentary Forum said it acknowledges and appreciates this need more broadly for the reason that such a clear definition of relationships would assist to better understand the role and scope of the Regional Parliaments being, East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), ECOWAS Parliament for West Africa, CEMAC for Central Africa, and the Maghreb for North Africa, which should “in any event include the proposed SADC Regional Parliament”.

The Ad-hoc Committee said there was no reason, therefore, why after Member States have defined the relationship between the RECs and the AU, the establishment of the SADC Regional Parliament should pose as an impediment, obstacle or challenge to its establishment. “In any event, the need to first define the relationship between the RECs and the AU appears not to have been an impediment, obstacle or challenge to the establishment of the other four (4) Regional Parliaments,” it said.

And regarding the last precondition that SADC Summit cited for declining the request for transforming the SADC PF into a regional Parliament, saying that the SADC Regional Parliament may be established in the distant future, the Ad-hoc Committee said that this reason should not arse at all. “Consequently, the establishment of the SADC Regional Parliament should not be forestalled as it is the only Regional Parliament that is yet to be established on the continent”.

The Ad-hoc Committee said while it appreciates that the headquarters of Pan African Parliament has been located in Midrand, South Africa within SADC, “that mere location of PAP should not deprive the SADC Region in establishing its Regional Parliament which the PAP requires as one of the five Parliamentary Regional building blocks”. 

Once these preconditions had been dealt with, the Ad-hoc Committee of the Executive Committee of the SADCPF suggested some strategies to facilitate the reconsideration of the matter. It was suggested that Speakers and Members of SADC Parliaments should engage their respective Heads of State and Government and ensure that Cabinets deliberate and agree to the transformation of the SADC PF into a SADC Regional Parliament.

It was further suggested that “a willing SADC Member State” be Identified and requested to move a motion on the Agenda of the Summit slated for August 2016 in the Kingdom of the then Swaziland (now Eswatini) for the establishment of a SADC Regional Parliament and to make a formal representation to SADC Senior Officials who are responsible for drafting the Summit Agenda. 

It is a trite observation that ever since the August 2016 SADC Summit, vigorous and intense lobbying for the transformation of SADCPF into a Regional Parliament has taken place, culminating with the courtesy call on Angola’s President Cde João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, on Tuesday 26th June 2018 by selected Speakers of SADC National Parliaments and leaders of the delegation at the 43rd Plenary Assembly to engage President Gonçalves Lourenço, as one of the champions for the transformation agenda to use his influence to convince other Heads of State to include the quest for transformation on the Agenda of the SADC Summit to be held in August 2018, in Windhoek, Namibia.  

The delegation also requested President Lourenco to lobby for the President of the SADC PF and selected Hon. Speakers to address the Council of Ministers/ Attorneys General at the August Summit. This would enable them to address first-hand any concerns that may be raised at the Summit instead of communicating through a lobbying document.

The courtesy call was in accord with the resolution of the Executive Committee which has been endorsed by the 43rd Plenary Assembly of the SADC PF. During their meeting President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço “affirmed his support as well as the support of the Government of Angola” to the SADC PF transformation agenda. The President advised the delegation to put in place the “necessary strategic preparatory processes” towards an effective lobbying effort which should lead to the ultimate goal of transforming SADC PF into a Regional Parliament at the next SADC Summit in Namibia this August.

The Speakers assured the Angolan President that the transformation of SADC PF will be cost-effective to Member States Parliaments because the headquarters of the proposed Regional Parliament will be housed at the current National Assembly in Namibia and that the proposed transformation of SADC PF into a Regional Parliament will not create an “autonomous organ” outside the SADC structures, but will be a “subservient organ” of SADC answerable to the SADC Summit’s authority.

It was finally agreed that every National Parliament must continue to galvanize support for the transformation by working closely with the relevant Government Ministries in their respective countries, in preparation for the SADC Summit to be held in Namibia in August 2018, when the Namibian President, Dr. Hage G. Geingob, is expected to take over the Chairmanship of SADC.

Among the Speakers that met President Gonçalves Lourenço were Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos of Angola also President of the SADC PF; Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe Senator & Vice-President of the SADC PF; Sephiri Enoch Motanyane, Speaker of the National Assembly, Lesotho; Professor Peter H. Katjavivi (Namibia); Nicholas Prea, Speaker of Seychelles); Baleka Mbethe (South Africa); Verónica Nataniel Macano Dlhovo of Mozambique and others.

The SADCPF has made considerable milestones such as the developing model laws on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already In Marriage, which provide benchmarks against which Member States can gauge the effectiveness of their national legislation; the Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC Region which have been used both in the region and beyond as part of the orientation package for election observation missions.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 July 2018 17:26

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