MOSES MAGADZA, Windhoek
MEMBERS of Parliament belonging to the Standing Committee on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (TIFI) of the SADC Parliamentary Forum are calling for concerted action towards macroeconomic convergence within the SADC region.
They made the call when their committee met virtually this week under the theme: ‘The role of Parliament in mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on the trade and business environment for the SADC region.’
The MPs noted with concern that COVID-19 and associated travel restrictions that Member States imposed in the second quarter of 2020 had negatively impacted trade flows and business. They agreed that in the face of depressed economic activities, dramatised in some instances, by panic-buying, unpredictability and loss of employment, the need for parliaments to provide leadership was more pressing now than ever.
Macroeconomic convergence is already on the SADC agenda as the regional bloc is implementing the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2015-2020) which was adopted about five years ago. The SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan is premised on economic indicators that include rates of inflation, economic growth rates and unemployment to bring about economic growth and sustainable development.
As the committee held its meeting on Monday, it became apparent that inequalities and exclusion from sustainable regional economic growth and longer term sustainable opportunities to attract foreign direct investment to the SADC region were jinxing socioeconomic development and efforts towards much-needed industrialisation.
Deputy chairperson of the TIFI Committee, Tsepang Tsita Moseta of Lesotho, recommended that regular updates be provided to MPs on the SADC region’s progress towards macroeconomic convergence.
She suggested that TIFI members should be copied in when the SADC secretariat communicates with national parliaments through the office of the clerk on work done by the TIFI Committee. This, she argued, would prevent a situation where some MPs would be “totally ignorant of what’s happening”.
A lawmaker from Botswana, Dumelang Saleshando, concurred and said a culture of reporting against set timelines would keep the region’s parliaments focused.
He said: “It may be necessary to agree on a timeline on which we want MPs to report back on progress to ensure that resolutions are implemented in our respective parliaments.”
A South African MP, Hlengiwe Octavia Mkaliphi, called for “well-coordinated” activities and suggested that chief whips of political parties be kept well informed on resolutions made by the TIFI Committee so that they could support the implementation of projects.
Executive director of Trade Law Centre NPC (TRALAC) Trudi Hartzenberg, who took part in the meeting, said it was “extremely appropriate” that MPs were keen to know how far the SADC region had moved towards macroeconomic convergence.
“COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on some of the challenges we face in terms of our over-reliance on imports of essential goods, medicines and food supplies for our food security,” Ms Hartzenburg said.
She said the monitoring role of the SADC PF which brings together 15 SADC Member States could never be overemphasised.
“The SADC PF is uniquely positioned – from a regional perspective – to have oversight of what is happening in our communities. COVID-19 has enabled countries to realise how interconnected they are,” she said.
She added: “If one country faces significant challenges or adopts a motion to close its border posts, for example, that immediately impacts neighbouring countries. Therefore, the issue of macroeconomic convergence has to be a regional focus.”
Outgoing chairperson of the TIFI Standing Committee, Egbert Aglae of Seychelles, officially opened and chaired the meeting. He called for enhanced parliamentary leadership as the world grapples with COVID-19.
“Parliaments act as agents of social transformation and are to be directly involved to facilitate social change through robust legislative, policy, budgetary and oversight action,” Mr Aglae said.
He appealed to SADC national parliaments “to be pro-active rather than reactive” and share experiences to better contextualise COVID-19-related parliamentary responses.
He noted: “The SADC economies rely on a variety of sectors and industries, ranging from textile industry, handicraft, tourism, mining, global business, agriculture, financial services, etc. While all sectors have been hit by COVID-19, there will be no one-size-fits-all formula for all SADC Member States since every economy has its own specificities.”
SADC PF secretary general Boemo Sekgoma briefed the committee on efforts to deepen and broaden collaboration between the forum and TRALAC, especially on developing a SADC model law on the digital economy.
MOSES MAGADZA, Windhoek