SADC regional parliament to deepen integration

Parliamentarians from the Southern African Development Community have again called for a regional parliament to strengthen integration among Member States. The initiative to set up a regional assembly was mooted a few years ago and has the support of many leaders. However, regional parliamentarians noted at their recent meeting that little progress has been made to make sure the project becomes a reality. SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) chairperson, Prince Dlamini, said a regional parliament has the capacity to cement relations among Member States, as it would discuss economic and political development from a regional perspective. Dlamini, who is also the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Swaziland, said the forum has since resolved to take an active role to ensure that SADC Heads of State and Government seriously consider and approve the plan. “We have resolved as the SADC Parliamentary Forum that a delegation be sent to meet the current SADC chairperson to discuss the matter,” he said. Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila is the SADC chairperson. He took over the rotating chair from his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma at the 2009 Summit held in Kinshasa, DRC. “The forum will propose that the establishment of the regional parliament be put up for discussion at the forthcoming SADC Summit,” Dlamini added. Namibia is scheduled to host the Summit in August. A regional parliament is considered important for development as it has potential to widen SADC citizenry participation in regional integration as well as guiding ratification, domestication and implementation of SADC Protocols and other decisions. SADC PF Trade, Development and Integration Committee chairperson David Matongo also said the establishment of a regional parliament was crucial to address some of the socio-economic challenges facing the region. He said a number of challenges that affect individual countries also have an impact on the whole region. “As such, a regional parliament is best placed to deal with regional issues. We cannot speed up the implementation of regional integration benchmarks without a policy maker to guide that process,” he said. At the meeting, the parliamentarians also deliberated on issues such as the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), status of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and the smooth movement of goods, services and people across the region. “Mindful of the MDGs and the targets set for 2015, the plenary emphasizes the need for governments to scale up efforts towards the attainment of these goals and the need for Parliamentarians to increase oversight on this matter,” the parliamentarians said in a statement. With regard to the adoption of the Protocol on the Facilitation of Free Movement of Persons by Heads of State and Government in August 2005, the plenary said it is sad to note that the protocol is yet to come into force as only four countries have ratified it. The parliamentarians urged Member States to speed up the ratification process in order to strengthen socio-economic cooperation and regional integration. Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland are the only four countries to have ratified the protocol. At least a two-thirds majority of the 15-member regional community should ratify the protocol for it to have binding force. While a number of Member States are still to ratify the protocol, most SADC countries have, however, signed bilateral agreements between themselves to encourage the smooth movement of SADC citizens within the region. On the current status of EPA negotiations, the plenary reiterated the need for governments to consider the long term benefits of the deal and urged national parliaments to continue to play the oversight role on the matter. The meeting also noted that the gender imbalance in regional parliaments where women continue to be the minority, posed a challenge to the pursuit and attainment of the 50/50 gender representation in politics and decision making positions in accordance with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. “The plenary recommends that greater effort be put into the advocacy for the engendering of the structures and processes of political parties especially ahead of primary elections. The plenary further urged countries that are still to do so to ratify the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development”. The 27th Plenary Assembly of the SADC Parliamentary Forum was held on 27 May to 5 June in Livingstone, Zambia. Zambian Vice-President George Kunda officiated at the meeting, which ran under the theme “Towards Facilitation of Free Movement of Persons in SADC. -sardc.net

July 2010
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