Summit approves transformation of SADC PF into regional parliament

SANF 21 no 32 – by Munetsi Madakufamba
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community have approved the much-awaited SADC Regional Parliament, bringing on board what has long been seen as the missing piece in the regional integration jigsaw puzzle.

“Summit approved the transformation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum into a SADC Parliament as a consultative and a deliberative body,” said outgoing SADC Executive Secretary, Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax, delivering the final communiqué at the closing session of the two-day 41st SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Lilongwe, Malawi on 17-18 August 2021.

A SADC Regional Parliament will ensure broader citizen participation in regional affairs. It will also facilitate more extensive debate on regional issues and thus accelerate the implementation of SADC protocols that need to be ratified and domesticated into national legislation.

This can become a key driver of integration and development, bridging the gap between citizens and policy makers.

The Summit decision is to establish the SADC Parliament as a “consultative and deliberative body” with no law-making or other binding authority in the initial instance.

The regional parliament is expected to observe and respect the sovereignty of SADC Member States while in operational terms it would consult and liaise with other SADC institutions and structures such as the Council of Ministers through which its recommendations would be channelled for consideration by Summit.

Regarding the relationship with national parliaments, the new regional parliament is expected to facilitate the drafting of model laws while the former will continue their legislative role in domesticating regional laws as well as oversight role on the effective implementation of executive programmes and projects at the national level.

The Legislature has long been seen as the missing arm of the three arms of SADC, the other two being the Executive, represented by the SADC Secretariat headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana, and the Judiciary, represented by the Tribunal, based in Windhoek, Namibia.

The SADC Secretariat was established through a decision of Summit held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1981 and operational from 1 July 1982.

The Tribunal was formally established through a Summit decision of 2005 in Gaborone with its first judges being sworn in later the same year. It would later be disbanded in 2010 and reconstituted in 2012 with its mandate confined to the interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States.

Thus, with the Executive and Judiciary firmly in place, SADC lacked a systematic and coordinated channel for the collective voice of Member State parliaments at continental and global fora, for example in processes and deliberations at the Pan African Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

It is widely acknowledged that the establishment of the SADC Parliament is an important milestone in SADC’s integration agenda. This is a crucial step that will also ensure that citizens’ views are incorporated into regional policy-making processes.

But even more important, the decision puts SADC in line with other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that have their own regional parliamentary assemblies.

Other African regional parliaments include the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), the Inter-Parliamentary Union of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development Member States (IPU-IGAD) for the Horn of Africa, and the Network of Parliamentarians of the Economic Community of Central Africa (CEMAC).

The first historic steps towards the establishment of a regional parliament were taken at a SADC Summit in 1997 in Blantyre, Malawi when the decision to form the SADC Parliamentary Forum (PF) was made 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.”

The SADC PF was established as an autonomous institution of SADC to bring regional experiences to bear at the national level, and to promote best practices in the role of parliaments in regional cooperation and integration.

It currently has a membership of 15 parliaments representing over 3,500 parliamentarians in the SADC region. The member parliaments are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

However, the SADC PF has not been functioning as a parliamentary institution but rather as an association of parliaments, discharging its mandate mainly through the convening of conferences, workshops and seminars. It had until this decision struggled to have its mandate transformed into a regional parliament.

The latest Summit decision has come following an extended lobbying mission championed by some Speakers of national parliaments who saw clearly the vision of transforming the SADC PF into a regional parliament. The lobbying missions were largely aimed at building regional consensus on the need for a SADC Parliament, and to expedite the process.

“We are delighted to finally witness the fruits of our long toil to have our status upgraded coming to fruition,” the SADC PF Secretary General, Boemo Sekgoma said, reacting to the historic decision of the Lilongwe Summit.

She added, “the SADC PF Secretariat stands ready to work with our colleagues at the SADC Secretariat to implement our proposed roadmap to transform the Forum into a regional Parliament.”

According to a SADC PF statement, Summit has also approved a roadmap that outlines steps to be undertaken to establish the regional legislature, including the amendment of the SADC Treaty and adoption of the Protocol establishing the regional legislature.

“To expedite the transformation process, the Summit directed the SADC Secretariat, in collaboration with the SADC PF Secretariat, to commence on the amendment of the SADC Treaty with a view to recognise SADC Parliament as one of the SADC institutions under Article 9(1) to be considered by Council during its next meeting in March 2022, and subsequently by Summit in August 2022,” says a SADC PF statement.

Further, the Summit has directed the two Secretariats to commence the process of drafting a protocol establishing the SADC Parliament. The details of the composition, powers, functions, procedures and other related matters of the regional parliament are expected to be prescribed in the protocol that is soon to be considered for adoption by Summit.

The SADC PF’s current headquarters in Windhoek are expected to serve as the headquarters of the SADC Regional

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