| SADC Parliament, a dream deferred?
20 June 2011, Southern Times
By Felix Njini
WINDHOEK - The absence of a fully functional SADC Regional Parliament is emerging as a major limiting factor in Southern Africa's integration matrix.
The idea of a SADC legislative organ was approved by Heads of State and Government in 1997, subsequently leading to the establishment of SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), headquartered in Namibia's capital, Windhoek.
A Regional Parliament, once operational, would become the legislative arm of SADC and complement the SADC Summit, Council of Ministers and a properly constituted Tribunal in integrating the region.
Ideally, the Parliament should have law-making powers to approve, for instance, the SADC budget.
A vital cog in the region's integration process, the envisaged Parliament should also be able to facilitate harmonization of municipal laws, ratification and implementation of agreements, and serve as a platform for public participation in SADC affairs.
This was the consensus reached by Parliamentarians attending the SADC Parliamentary Forum Plenary Assembly in Lubango, Angola last week.
SADC's peers, the East African Community and Economic Community for West Africa have functional regional parliaments.
The EAC has five members (Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) and its East Africa Legislative Assembly was established in 2001.
It has legislative powers to oversee implementation of the community's protocols, and to debate and pass Bills.
When the African Union established the Pan African Parliament, headquartered in Midrand, South Africa it was initially envisaged it would build its operations on the platform of five regional parliaments.
The SADC PF, in a communiqué issued at its June 12 Plenary Assembly, noted that the absence of a Regional Parliament had 'resulted in an ineffectual link' between the bloc and the PAP.
The SADC PF has been lobbying for the issue of the Regional Parliament be discussed at Summit level, and at its Angola plenary resolved to set up a high-level taskforce to drive the agenda.
'The 29th Plenary Assembly resolved to establish a taskforce comprising of political principals and technical experts to review and consolidate the documents on the case for a SADC Parliament for consideration and approval by the 30th Plenary Assembly in 2011,' reads part of the communiqué.
The Southern Times understands that the SADC PF will seek to have Summit discuss the issue of the regional parliament next year and thereafter approve the transformation of the Parliamentary Forum into a fully functioning Regional Parliament.
'Noting the greater consensus on the urgent need to establish a Regional Parliament as a legislative organ of SADC, the 29th Plenary Assembly therefore requests the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government to have the matter on its agenda,' SADC PF said in the communiqué.
This paper has established that the Angola Plenary attributed the slow pace of integration to lack of a legislative body to help harmonize laws, ratify protocols and conscientize ordinary SADC citizens on the importance of political and economic unity.
Parliamentarians who attended the SADC PF plenary are said to have expressed frustration that despite the region sharing a common bond dating to the days of Frontline States, its citizens are still struggling to move around the region freely. SADC is the successor of the Southern Africa Development Co-ordination Conference, born out of the Frontline States, as countries in the region united to fight colonial oppression and apartheid.
But despite the increasing calls for deepening integration amongst SADC countries, the process is seemingly floundering with little progress being made in removing obstacles to intra-regional trade and free movement of people among others.
Parliamentarians felt SADC countries had tightened immigration laws after independence, something that works against the integration agenda.