This first ever online Plenary was to evaluate “the Role of Parliaments in strengthening accountability during a pandemic: The case of Covid-19.” It drew over 200 participants, proving the dynamism of the parliamentary forum, currently transitioning to a fully-fledged parliament. Thirteen out of the sixteen Parliaments constituting SADC-PF participated. Out those thirteen, seven were even represented by their Speakers. Among those seven Speakers in attendance were those of Mozambique, Honorable Esperanca Laurinda Francisco Nhuiane Bias, who currently chairs SADC PF and Honorable Peter Katjavivi of Namibia that hosts this e-Plenary and the SADC-PF offices. The sister Parliaments of East Africa, ECOWAS and the Pan African Parliament were also represented whilst the Guest of Honor was the Namibian Vice President, His Excellency Nangolo Mbumba.
This first for the legislative body of SADC, marks a new beginning. Globalization and regional integration were remote concepts for most. These concepts have now painfully hit home with COVID 19. We not only saw infections and loss of lives but southern African economies, collectively, suffered terribly.
The “new normal” imposed upon us by the COVID 19 pandemic has also impacted institutions like the Parliamentary Forum of the Southern African Development Community (SADC-PF) which held a first ever virtual plenary, last month, from 9to 11 October 2020, from the Parliament of Namibia.
The Namibian Statistic Agency (NSA Namibia) says that 85% of companies surveyed, across 17 sectors, have lost most their revenue and will remain in the red in the short to medium term. The South African economy dropped by 51% in comparison to the second term of 2019. The driving sectors of economy like construction, manufacturing industry and mining saw their operations shrink by up to 70%. Tourism and hospitality sectors lost 99.9% of their activities due to Covid 19.
On the other hand, Botswana had, despite a stubborn drought, green economic indicators prior to the pandemic. Botswana is the second largest producer of diamonds in the world and its mining industry was meant to be the largest contributor to the 2020/2021 budget: 34% or 20 billion Pula (1,709,401,709. 4 US)
Unfortunately, with a drop in diamond sales estimated at 40% since February, the Government of Botswana is projected to lose over the course of the year between 5 billion (427,350,427. 35 US) to 15 billion Pula (1,282,051,282.1US). Botswana also saw its service sector (tourism, hospitality, entertainment and civil aviation) collapse. By March of this year, 90% of hotel bookings and flights reservations were cancelled. Tourism on its own represents 20% of Botswana’s GDP and 30% of Non-mining revenue. The loss of tourism revenue has been felt throughout southern Africa. This industry is not just a major regional income earner. It also provides an avenue for sustainable development by supporting local communities and national parks. Nevertheless, the silver lining that can come from this crisis should be that COVID 19 becomes the catalyst that will spur SADC PF and the rest of the SADC institutions, to genuinely embrace science and new technologies which, as proved by this e-plenary, will improve effective cooperation for the 16 countries members and reduce dependency on external partners.
Vice President Nangolo MBUMBA said on COVID 19: “Self-reliance is paramount as the chain of supply was disrupted by border closure”. The Guest of Honor also called for funding for coordinated medical regional response and research for communicable diseases not just COVID 19.
Finally, he commanded SADC PF for its endeavors and the theme chosen for this e-plenary “as a clear understanding of the management of pandemics is the only way for Parliament to monitor the use of the resources allocated to address such ills”.