By Timo Shihepo and Innocent Gore
PRETORIA – SADC’s Council of Ministers incoming chairperson Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says she is honoured to be the new chairperson and immediately called on the region to implement SADC’s integration agenda in order to improve the livelihoods of the people.
Nkoana-Mashabane, who is the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, took over from Swaziland’s Minister of Economic Planning and development, Prince Hlangusemphi.
Speaking at the 37th SADC Council of Ministers on Tuesday ahead of the 37th SADC Heads of State and Government Summit later this week, Nkoana-Mashabane said the journey towards regional integration was very critical.
She said they recognised the relationship and interconnectedness of the regional priorities and the agreed aspirations of the Africa Union’s African Agenda of 2063.
SADC’s objectives are informed by the SADC common agenda, which in essence, comprises of the agreed blueprints such as the Regional Indicative strategic Development Plan (2015-2020), the Regional industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap and the Regional Infrastructure Development Master plan.
Nkoana-Mashabane said as the leaders of the region, they carry a burden of responsibility to substantially improve the quality of life for the people of the region and to realise sustainable economic development.
“To this end, we cannot be found to be wanting or to have failed. As such, we must commit to appropriate resources and make a concerted effort to cooperatively work towards the SADC we want. Further to this, we must, as Member States, support the SADC Secretariat to deliver on its annual work programme and strengthen the Secretariat’s institutional capacity and effectiveness,” she said.
Nkoana-Mashabane also said guided by identified priorities as well as the leadership demonstrated by previous chairpersons, South Africa’s theme picks up on the already identified importance of industrialisation and economic transformation through partnership with the private sector.
This year’s SADC summit theme is “Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains”.
The outgoing chairperson, Hlangusemphi, said there must be commitment to ensure that the incoming chairperson gets the full support as the region continues with the implementation of the SADC Agenda.
Hlangusemphi said there was a need to remain resolute to the eradication of poverty to improve the welfare of the people in the region.
“I wish to acknowledge that due to your (ministers) support and commitment, my task as the chairman of SADC Council of Ministers was made easy. I am confident that the incoming chairperson will succeed and even take us to greater heights.”
SADC, he said, continued to deliberate on the major focus areas in the SADC Agenda, that of industrialising the region by implementing the industrialisation strategy and roadmap of 2015-2063. The outgoing chairperson called on the region to work very hard in implementing this strategy in the respective countries.
He added that the Action of the Strategy had been simplified and it outlined the milestones to be achieved so that there are clear outputs and outcomes to meet the objectives that had been set.
“I am hopeful that once implementation takes off in all our countries, the opportunities for job creation, wealth and sustained economic growth and development will open up in the SADC region,” he said.
Hlangusemphi also said he was sure that the incoming chairperson would fast-track the construction of a SADC University of Transformation in Swaziland. He also highlighted the decision to develop a SADC Regional Resource Mobilisation Framework as a big step to look for options of alternative sources of funding SADC programmes.
“It is pleasing to note that since August 2016 when we took the decision, some research work has commenced and progress will be reported.”
He then called for the SADC Secretariat, as the institution tasked with the responsibility to coordinate the work of the SADC region, to be strengthened in order to be efficient and effective.
In her remarks, SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said through the continued guidance and unwavering support from the outgoing Chairperson of Council, Prince Hlangusemphi, and his technical team led by principal secretary Bertram Steward, and with the commitment by the SADC Member States, SADC had made tremendous progress during the past 12 months.
Key milestones had been made during the year.
The Industrialisation Costed Action Plan was approved by the Extraordinary Summit in March 2017.
“I am confident that the approved Costed Action Plan will increase the momentum established in pursuing our industrialisation agenda. The rolling out of the Action Plan in all Member States, which has started, provides a good opportunity to, among others, derive national indicative public coordination costs so that each Member State can appreciate the extent of resources required to optimally drive SADC industrialisation.
“Moving forward, the Secretariat in consultation with Member States will undertake detailed value chain mapping, and develop regional value chains. During the year, the mineral and pharmaceutical sectors have been profiled, with the agro-processing sector anticipated to be profiled by the end of this year,” she said.
The Executive Secretary said the operationalisation of the Industrial Development and Trade Directorate of the Secretariat as part of the revised structure that was approved by Council in March 2017 would strengthen the institutional set-up to effectively coordinate the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy.
She said in order to increase agricultural production, productivity and competitiveness in the region, the Regional Agricultural Investment Plan 2017-2022 was endorsed in March 2017. This would contribute to the region’s industrialisation efforts, by facilitating agro processing projects, and would go a long way in ensuring, among others, long term food security, and the reduction of social and economic vulnerability of the region’s population.
Dr Tax said trade liberalisation remained a key component of the Regional Integration Agenda.
“I am happy to report that negotiations on trade in services continued during the year and 14 Members States have presented their offers in the first four priority sectors covering financial, tourism, transport and communication services. Of the offers presented, technical negotiations have been concluded on nine offers submitted by the DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia in the four priority sectors and cross-sectional commitments, including the movement of natural persons.”
Negotiations, she said, were close to conclusion on the offers presented by Botswana, Malawi and South Africa, while those for Namibia and Zimbabwe were still in progress. Angola was expected to do so soon.
Financial Integration was key to the Regional Integration Agenda and Dr Tax said the region had made positive strides in the area of financial integration during the year.
“To this end, five Member States, namely Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Seychelles joined the SADC Integrated Regional Electronic Settlement System (SIRESS), bringing the number of Member States participating in the SIRESS to 14. The system has improved access, uptake and utilization of quality financial services and products. The system has also reduced number of days of settling transactions from three to four days to about four days, thus contributing greatly to the facilitation of trade in the region.
“During the year, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy on Financial Inclusion and SMEs Access to Finance for 2017-2021 was also developed. “
Dr Tax said the roll-out of regional projects contained in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP), especially in the Energy, Transport and Water sectors, continued to be on course.
Overall access to electricity in the region increased from 36% in September 2015 to about 45% by the end March 2017. The mid-term review of the RIDMP would provide the much needed information on how SADC would re-calibrate its strategy, in order to enhance infrastructure development in the region.
An Energy Investment Forum was organised in July 2017 in Swaziland, as one of the activities to operationalise the theme of the 36 th Summit “Resource Mobilisation for Investment in Sustainable Energy Infrastructure for an Inclusive SADC Industrialisation and for the Prosperity of the Region”.
The Forum provided an opportunity for the region to showcase investment opportunities in the energy and water sectors to international cooperating partners, development finance institutions, the private sector, and other stakeholders.
“At this forum, financiers and development partners expressed their commitment to invest in and support regional energy projects, which will enable the much needed industrialisation, and in so doing, improve the quality of lives of the SADC citizens. We therefore request Member States to help us follow through with the necessary steps to operationalise the projects identified at this forum,” said Dr Tax.
She said effective implementation of SADC programmes required adequate and sustainable financing. To achieve this noble course, SADC had to expedite the finalisation and operationalisation of the SADC Regional Resource Mobilisation Framework on alternative sources of funding.
The SADC Regional Development Fund remained an important vehicle to facilitate the financing of regional programmes and projects, she said.
“You will recall that the Roadmap and Action Plan towards the operationalisation of the Fund was approved in March 2016, and it was envisaged that the Agreement on the operationalisation of the Fund would have entered into force by March 2017, with the Fund formally commencing operations by April 2018.
To date, only seven (7) Member States have signed the Agreement, and the Secretariat with support from the African Development Bank, is finalising the requirements to fully operationalise Phase 1 of the Fund. It is expected that these processes will be finalised in the course of 2018.
“I am confident that Member States will hasten their efforts to sign and ratify the Agreement.”The Executive Secretary said efforts to achieve deeper integration and sustainable development would be meaningless if the region failed to safeguard political stability, and the peace and security in the region.
It was therefore pleasing, she said, to state that the region had, largely, continued to remain peaceful and stable.
“We have witnessed continued adherence to democratic values and practices by holding regular national democratic elections by Member States. Between August 2016 and July 2017, elections were held in the Republics of Zambia and Seychelles and the Kingdom of Lesotho. May I congratulate the governments, and people of these Member States for the successful and creditable elections,” she said.
Dr Tax also said conditions that fostered the participation of citizens in the region’s activities were being strengthened and key among these initiatives was the strengthening of SADC National Committees (SNCs), which were increasingly becoming more functional and more effective in coordinating the implementation of SADC programmes.
SNCs were an important platform for facilitating the participation of Member States, and in coordinating and overseeing the implementation of programmes.
The Secretariat would continue to provide technical assistance to Member States to strengthen, and establish SADC National Committees as will be required.