Lesotho hosts SADC Parliamentary Forum’s first session as it transitions to a SADC Parliament

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…this after the 41st Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government approved transformation of SADC PF into SADC Parliament.

By Billy Ntaote and Mamello Mosaefane

Lesotho’s Parliament will from 10th-12th December 2021 host the regional 50th Plenary Assembly Session of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum; a first session marking its transformation into a SADC Parliament.

The Speaker of the National Assembly of Lesotho, the Rt. Hon. Speaker Sephiri Motanyane, delightfully announced that Lesotho is ready and committed to hosting the 50th Plenary Assembly Session from the 10th-12th set to be hosted virtually.

“From the beginning, the parliamentary forum had always wanted to be transformed into a SADC Parliament.

“I am pleased to remind Basotho that the Parliament of Lesotho will be the first to host the Forum after the last SADC Heads of States and Government meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi approved the transformation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum into a SADC Parliament as a consultative and deliberative body,” said Hon Motanyane.

The Speaker said the transformation “…is a huge achievement in the history of SADC Parliamentary Forum.

The Forum should carefully plan on how it shall function going forward in accordance with the amendment that shall be made to the SADC Treaty”.

The SADC PF‘s Plenary Assembly is the highest policy-making and deliberative body of the SADC Parliamentary Forum. composed of up to a maximum of six Members per Member Parliament, consisting of the Presiding Officer and a maximum of five other Members of Parliament, selected by national Parliaments to represent them at the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

The Parliament is built of 15 member parliaments of the region.

The Speaker will also be joined by members of the National Assembly and the Senate in the session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

Hon Lekhetho Mosito, Hon Mphosi Nkhase, Hon Nts’alla Mafa, Hon Senator Peete Ramoqai Peete, and Hon Ts’epang Ts’ita-Mosena are the Members of Parliament that will take part in the virtually held Plenary Assembly.

Ts’ita-Mosena has represented Lesotho as a Vice President of the Trade Industry, Finance and Investment Standing Committee of the SADC Parliamentary Forum in 2018-2020

Motanyane said the SADC region was the only region on the African continent without a regional parliament as the other African regions have been having their own parliaments for a long time.

The Eastern region of the continent has the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and in the west, there is the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).

The upcoming Plenary Assembly will be the second to be hosted by Lesotho since 2003. The Plenary Assembly will be centered around the theme: Celebrating a new era of democracy towards consolidating the vibrant voices of SADC parliamentarians.

The theme, according to the Speaker, will allow SADC parliamentarians an opportunity to reflect and take stock of the Forum’s milestones while mapping the future as a newly established SADC Parliament.

Motanyane, who will be leading five parliamentarians representing Lesotho’s Parliament, noted that the SADC Parliamentary Forum was first created in 1997 by SADC Heads of State and Government under the SADC Treaty.

He said the Forum was created to ensure that parliamentarians’ voices are included within SADC decisions as they represent the region’s people’s desires, as well as ensuring that SADC treaties, protocols, and declarations are implemented by SADC member states.

He said the Forum also ensures that representatives of member Parliaments meet twice a year to deliberate on issues of common interest to the region which may vary from issues of good governance, economy, politics, social and cultural issues.

Motanyane added that countries may discuss issues relating to human trafficking, free trade of goods and services, human rights, gender-based violence, and food security, etc.

The Speaker also said, “The Forum works exactly like parliaments, with two of the members selected for the positions of President and Deputy”.

Lesotho has, according to Motanyane held both positions of President (then Chaiman) and Deputy President, with Minister of Tourism Ntlhoi Motsamai having held the Chairperson post of the SADC PF between 2002-2003 and Hon Nthekeleng Mofolo a vice president in 2012-2014.

The SADC PF has five committees that have representation of one member from each of the member countries where they discuss issues in-depth, which are later reported to the Plenary Assembly for adoption.

Motanyane also said members are allowed to either vote for or against presented issues, with no country overriding or having veto powers over others as all member states no matter their sizes have equal representation.

He further emphasized that deliberating on issues of free trade is one of the reasons the Parliamentary Forum exists, also noting issues like cross-border travel as issues that can be discussed and decisions be made on how such must be dealt with to harmonize movement of persons between member states.

National Assembly Clerk, Adv. Fine Maema said other benefits of being part of SADC Parliamentary Forum includes collaborations on the formulation of laws for member states and Lesotho has enjoyed benefits such as an opportunity to discuss pressing issues with members from other countries and get more insight on SADC Model Laws.

“Such Model Laws include the formulation of laws that tackle things like Child Marriages, Gender Based Violence and presently as we speak, we have a bill before the National Assembly on gender-based violence that is informed also by the SADC model law.

“What is discussed at the region helps in the crafting of legislation that will function properly in the interests of the people of Lesotho.

“This also gives all members and officials exposure to how other parliaments perform their function,” Maema said.

The Clerk also said representatives get exposure on how things are done in other countries, and that being part of the SADC Parliament could be the beginning of a solution to Lesotho’s problems.

“We as chief accounting officers of parliaments are able to meet and share ideas and this goes a long way on the manner in which we advise our parliaments,” he said.

Hon Mosito, who is also a member of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, emphasized the importance of Lesotho being part of the Forum, saying that it gives them an opportunity to know how legislators in the region think about issues of common interests and or international conventions.

Mosito however said the SADC model laws are not mandatory, but a country picks those that are more relevant and implement them.

He also said being part of the SADC Parliamentary Forum helps tighten the gaps in the SADC countries’ laws, in such a way that they are not very different but get to be crafted in a common way as a region.

“Recently we were attending standing Committee meetings of SADC PF and we were discussing the Model Law on Gender-Based Violence and this helps us to be able to domesticate to our countries the international protocols.

“We get to have an understanding of various issues that are being approached by neighboring countries,” Mosito said.

The Speaker said that SADC has an agreement to have free trade that encompasses the free movement of people and goods.

“When all is agreed upon by the Forum Member, legal instruments that need to be formulated get formulated by the SADC Parliamentary Forum. And in future, we will probably have one SADC currency which will be regional.

“We already have a SADC Driver’s license and all holders know that there is no more a Lesotho Driver’s license but a regional driver’s license.

“Because of that, SADC as a Bloc, just like other countries that have come together to form Blocs they have a parliament so that when the heads of state and government are done on agreements then the parliament is given its task of the legislative function.

“Those are some of the benefits that member states reap from being part of the SADC PF. Some of these benefits we are already enjoying because we are SADC,” said the Speaker.

Motanyane said it is issues of cross border transportation of goods and persons are also meant to be dealt with by the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

“It is issues like the cross-border transportation that have resulted in the existence of the SADC for the formulation of laws to be a reality.

“When there are laws that are in place, there can be enforcement of such laws to deter crimes,” Motanyane said.

Maema said it is the bodies such as the SADC Parliamentary Forum that have stronger influence through their oversight functions to hold governments accountable.

He added that now that the Forum is transforming into a regional Parliament and deliberative body, it can hold any wrongdoers or service providers accountable through oversight to ensure compliance.