The SADC Parliamentary Forum is intensifying efforts to transform into a SADC Regional Parliament. Over the years the Forum, which has its Secretariat in Namibia, has provided a platform for the SADC Region’s elected representatives of the people to exchange ideas on how to tackle challenges facing the region. The Southern Times (TS) recently caught up with Ms Boemo Sekgoma (BS) who is the Forum’s Acting Secretary General and spoke about the Forum’s genesis, achievements, challenges and aspirations. Below are excerpts from the interview.
TS: What does the SADC-PF stand for and represent?
BS: The SADC-PF is the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum. It was approved by the SADC Summit of Heads of States and Government in September 1997 and was established as an institution of SADC.
It provides a platform where Parliamentarians of SADC Member States meet to discuss and exchange ideas on key issues of regional interest. In practice, this means that discussions at the level of the Forum are centred around parliamentary activity, meaning legislative, budgetary and oversight activities which constitute the business of every Parliament.
The themes to be discussed are decided by the organs of the Forum in consultation with national Parliaments.
Currently, the SADC-PF is composed of 14 Member Parliaments in the SADC region. This means that the Forum covers around 3500 parliamentarians. Normally, up to five MPs from each Member Parliament are designated to attend the SADC-PF Plenary Assembly and more MPs are involved in SADC-PF activities at the national level.
ST: What are some of the aims and objectives of the SADC-PF?
BS: The SADC-PF promotes dialogue around issues of parliamentary interest in Southern Africa. It is a platform to promote inter-parliamentary cooperation and heighten the competencies and knowledge of MPs so that they may better address the numerous challenges facing the SADC Region.
One of the main objectives of the SADC-PF is to develop legal and policy standards which are grounded in international best practices in the Southern African context. These standards then serve as yardstick to SADC Member States so that they are better capacitated to tackle issues at the parliamentary level. In that respect, it can be said that the SADC-PF aims at a harmonisation of parliamentary initiatives to ensure that Parliaments are constantly capacitated and are thus better equipped to address issues from a governance perspective. Issues surrounding HIV and AIDS responses, election observation and observance of human rights are but a few examples.
In a nutshell, the SADC-PF is a dynamic organisation which promotes parliamentary activism and assists Parliaments to adapt to the ever-changing socio-economic conditions of the SADC Region which call for targeted parliamentary responses.
ST: Among your objectives is also to facilitate networking with other inter-parliamentary organisations. How successful has this been?
BS: The implementation of this objective has been very positive. Within the mandate of the Forum to promote inter-parliamentary cooperation, we maintain strong bonds with other inter-parliamentary bodies such as the Pan-African Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly. In this respect, members of these organisations are often invited to participate at SADC-PF events to share experiences and discuss cross-cutting issues.
This cross-pollination of ideas is not only desirable but absolutely necessary to construct the ideal of a single Africa moving together in unison and as one people.
ST: What are some of the benefits of belonging to the SADC-PF?
BS: More than anything, the SADC-PF views its membership framework as an opportunity for participating Parliaments and not as an obligation. Accordingly, our membership is open to Parliaments of Member States in the SADC.
As alluded earlier, the SADC-PF holds capacity building for SADC MPs in various thematic fields which range from HIV and AIDS, use of natural resources, trade and investment and the observance of human rights. In order to appropriately cover all the relevant thematic fields, Standing Committees have been set up to oversee Projects implemented by the Forum with the collaboration of participating parliaments.
Moreover, the SADC-PF develops Model Laws which set standards for its Member Parliaments and thus facilitates the domestication of regional legislation. The SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage, adopted by the Forum in June 2016, is one such Model Law which is facilitating the enactment of relevant national legal provisions to better protect children.
The resolutions of the Plenary Assembly of the Forum also deal with several key governance aspects which are of relevance to all Member Parliaments and thus constitute constructive knowledge-sharing.
ST: What have been the main challenges in executing some of the SADC PF’s goals?
BS: Rather than consider issues as challenges, we instead consider them to be experiences and lessons learned. The SADC-PF exists since more than two decades now and is a mature inter-parliamentary organisation. Given the volume of parliamentary initiatives that are conducted, we feel it would be structurally more appropriate if the SADC PF transforms into a SADC Regional Parliament. The Forum would then be better able to address issues which are of utmost relevance to the SADC Region. The change in structure will revamp the organisation and facilitate its operations both internally and externally.
ST: The SADC-PF also aims to promote the participation of NGOs, business and intellectual communities in the SADC activities. How successful are you in attaining this?
BS: As far as the activities of the SADC-PF are concerned, the participation of NGOs, relevant cooperating partners and knowledgeable resource persons is always welcome and appreciated. The Forum encourages this synergy with NGOs and other partners throughout all its thematic activities. I am glad to report that this collaboration has always been successful and the Forum has triumphed in establishing a strong partnership framework.
ST: The SADC-PF is a body composed of 14 Parliaments representing over 3500 Parliamentarians in the SADC region. How do you keep tabs on such a big number of people?
BS: I thank you for this question because it allows me to thank the Speakers and Clerks/Secretaries of Parliaments of all SADC Member Parliaments who conduct a tremendous oversight and coordination work in assisting the Forum in liaising with SADC-PF MPs and other MPs involved in SADC-PF activities at the national level. They are the gateway facilitating our interactions with national Parliaments and the Forum relies on this robust administrative partnership to implement its mandate.
ST: Namibia will be hosting the 38th SADC Heads of States Summit in August. What are your expectations from this esteemed gathering?
BS: As mentioned before, it is felt that the SADC Parliamentary Forum will be better prepared to meet upcoming challenges if it is transformed into a SADC Parliament. Accordingly, the 43rd Plenary Assembly of the Forum has approved the new strategy to the transformation process and has called upon the Secretariat to apprise the SADC policy organs in this respect.
We have been informed that the transformation agenda will appear on the agenda of the SADC Council of Ministers meeting which precedes the SADC Summit of Heads of States, and we think that this consideration by the SADC Council bodes well for the Forum and for the SADC region as a whole.
Ideally, it would be appreciated if the SADC Summit endorses the transformation agenda of the SADC-PF into a SADC Parliament. This would indicate a significant step forward in the right direction and consolidate the SADC institutional framework.
ST: Final remarks?
BS: On behalf of the Forum, I thank you for your interest in the work that we do. This is a crucial time for the Forum as we look ahead to advancing the SADC-PF’s transformation agenda and elevating the Forum to the status of a regional Parliament.
This proposed transformation process befits the vision of the Forum which is “Moving Together as the Flag-Bearer of Democratisation and Socio-Economic Development in the SADC region.”
We believe that together, with all the institutions of the SADC well in place, including its parliamentary arm, we will rise together to greater heights and live to see Africa blossom and prosper.