Gaborone – The Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) convenes in Botswana on June 25-27 to discuss opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA).
Botswana’ Speaker of the National Assembly Mr Phandu Skelemani said the country would host the 49th plenary assembly virtual session under the theme “Leveraging the AFCFTA for Post-Covid Economic Recovery in Southern Africa: The role of SADC Parliamentary Forum and National Parliaments”.
Mr Skelemani explained that the theme was relevant since the region was still being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said each country would be represented by at least five parliamentarians. He said it is expected at the meeting that those in attendance would reflect on lessons learnt and how the region could leverage on opportunities presented by AFCFTA to “move out” of the woods.
The AFCFTA came into force on January 1, 2021 with the aim of eliminating over 90 percent of tariffs on goods and also to progressively liberalise trade in services in order to promote production of goods.
Mr Skelemani said representatives would also discuss how SADC member states could use opportunities presented by AFCFTA to lift millions of people in the region out of poverty and also making their countries competitive.
He said the representative would also be discussing how to strengthen regional integration.
“That is one of the roles that the forum plays. For instance we will discuss other important projects aimed at regional integration. For instance the commissioning of Kazungula Bridge and One-Stop Border Post is a case in point as it will bolster trade aspects of SADC region and it is an initiative that could aid in development and progress of the region,” he said.
Mr Skelemani dismissed reports that the SADC PF was not playing its role in advising SADC leaders on burning issues affecting the region.
“We will be sharing and exchanging ideas on how we can improve the lives of our people in the region. Botswana which lags behind in terms of women representation in Parliament will be benchmarking from other member states on how the managed to achieve at least more than 35 percent women representation in Parliament.
“Maybe there is something that we are not doing right. I mean when you look at the fact that majority of voters are women, but their representation in Parliament is still far below what we see in other member states” he said.
Mr Skelemani also explained that the meeting will be held virtually. He denied suggestion that a decision was taken to hold the event via a videoconferencing to avoid violence that was recently witnessed at the Pan-African Parliament’s session.
“I’m not trying to point fingers but ours is a peaceful region. Even if we were to hold an ordinary meeting, I don’t expect such kind of violence. We believe in resolving issues amicably.”
The SADC PF was formally established on September 8, 1997 in terms of Article 9(2) of the SADC Treaty.
It is a regional inter-parliamentary body currently composed of 15 member Parliaments, namely Angola. Botswana, DRC, Eswatini. Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.The Forum serves as a platform for SADC parliamentarians to deliberate and work on issues of common concern and interest to Southern Africa.