Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Africa Region President & Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of Rwanda, Rt. Honourable R Mukantabana
The Vice President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Africa Region and Speaker of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Honourble Lindiwe Maseko
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General
The Chairperson of the Executive Committee and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces of South Africa, Honourable Johannes Mahlangu
The Premier of the Gauteng Provincial Government, Honourable Nomvula Mokonyane
The CWP Chairperson and Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Rt. Honourable Rebecca Kadaga
The Regional Secretary
Rt. Honourable Speakers
The Regional Treasurer, Honourable Request Muntanga
The Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Executive Committee, Sir Allan Haselhurst
Members of the executive committee
Delegates, observers and other participants, and
Members of the media.
On behalf of the President Jacob Zuma, the government and people of the Republic of South Africa, we extend a warm and fraternal African welcome to all guests and delegates to the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Africa Region Conference, on this brisk winter day. We are very happy to receive you today in this democratic country and during the year in which we commemorate the Centenary of the continent’s oldest liberation movement the African National Congress.
This was made possible by, amongst others, your contribution to the struggle against apartheid. We therefore commend and pay homage to the role of African and the Caribbean Groups in particular, in ensuring the Commonwealth plays a positive role in ending apartheid.
The victory over forces of apartheid in 1994 was therefore a victory of the people of South Africa as much as it was a victory of the people of Africa, the diaspora and indeed progressive humankind the world over. As the people of our country today celebrate the centenary of the African National Congress, we do so conscious that despite the physical distances between our countries, you saw it befitting and indeed your duty to share trenches of struggle with us as we fought for our emancipation.
As we consider the theme of these deliberations, it is fitting to recall that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa's "Economic Report on Africa 2012" said that "the first decade of the twenty-first century has been characterised as the decade of Africa's economic and political renewal. The continent has achieved remarkable progress in economic growth while at the same time expanding the scope for democratic governance in a large number of countries."
The 2005 African Governance Report published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa notes that: "In terms of enacting laws, debating national issues, checking the activities of the government and in general promoting the welfare of the people, these duties and obligations are rarely performed with efficiency and effectiveness in many African parliaments. According to the household survey, in many countries the performance of the legislature is not highly rated albeit for various reasons."
It is therefore very encouraging to note the progress made between 2005 and now as evidenced by the "Economic Report on Africa 2012" produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The report suggests that the past few years have nonetheless witnessed numerous efforts across many parliaments to engage more effectively with the public and to improve the way they work:
to become more genuinely representative of their electorates
more accessible and accountable to them
more open and transparent in their procedures, and
more effective in their key tasks of legislation and scrutiny of government.
In this regard, we should remain conscious that parliaments, remain one of the central pillars of democracy, embody the aspirations and will of the people, while serving as a bridge between constituencies and institutions of governance.
As the elected body that represents society in all its diversity, parliaments have a unique responsibility for reconciling the conflicting interests and expectations of different groups and communities. As the key legislative organ, parliaments have the task of adapting society’s laws to its rapidly changing needs and circumstances.
As the body entrusted with the oversight of government, they are responsible for ensuring that governments are fully accountable to the people and that they do indeed, deliver on the promises contained within their electoral manifestos.
Parliaments are also responsible for the approval, allocation and oversight of national budgets to areas that will most benefit the peoples of countries. These include, amongst others, education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure. The oversight provided by parliaments must also extend to serving as a continuous bridge between the citizens of the country and the government.
In this context, the establishment of Africa's Pan-African Parliament is one giant step forward in ensuring a common platform for all the peoples of Africa and their grassroots organisations to get more involved in discussions and decision-making on the problems and challenges which beset Africa.
While Africa continues to grapple with a number of challenges, it has even greater opportunities, which used strategically will certainly ensure that the 21st century is indeed the African century. Africa accounts for more than one-quarter of the world's arable land and is a source of livelihood for 70% of our people. However, it currently generates only 10% of global agricultural output and imports tens of billions of dollars of food each year. Using our land resources more effectively will enable us to not only contribute to our economic growth but to ensure we can feed our people ourselves.
We will also be able to contribute towards job creation and income distribution. It will also enable us to use the foreign currency which at the moment is being used to import food for other developmental imperatives on our continent. Food security must therefore be something we strive to achieve immediately.
Africa is the continent with most possibilities and potential, with its vast mineral and natural resources including sunshine, wind and biodiversity. Amongst others, Africa has about 12% of the world’s known oil reserves and 40% of its gold. We must use our natural resources more efficiently to benefit our countries and its people.
We committed ourselves in the Lagos Plan of Action to, amongst others, cooperate in the field of natural resource control, exploration, extraction and use for the development of our economies for the benefit of our peoples and to set up the appropriate institutions to achieve these purposes; and develop indigenous entrepreneurship, technical manpower and technological abilities to enable our peoples to assume greater responsibility for the achievement of our individual and collective development goals.
We need to take control of our mineral resources, in terms of extraction. We should beneficiate and also ensure that we do get sufficient benefit from these mineral resources. At the moment, the company doing the extraction/beneficiation gets the resources while the country and its people receive very little. Simultaneously, we have to confront the challenge of illicit outflows of capital that rob the continent of the much needed resources for its own development.
Our collective resources, along with rising demand for raw materials from emerging economies especially, make Africa an attractive destination for direct and portfolio investors. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Africa reached US$62 billion in 2009, an almost seven-fold increase in a decade. This trend is expected to continue.
Meanwhile, rigorous implementation of the African mining vision adopted by African Heads of State and Government at their February 2009 Summit will strongly improve the development effectiveness of the continent's natural resources.
We must develop infrastructure that facilitates connectivity between and amongst ourselves by road, rail, air, sea and telecommunication systems. This infrastructural development must lead to the promotion of inter and intra-African trade. Work has already begun in the form of NEPAD which is the economic blueprint of the continent and lays the basis for the political and economic renewal of Africa.
It cannot be that a continent surrounded by two oceans and many seas has no ship-building capacity. In the long term we should also look at the possibility of owning maritime transport facilities. This will increase our competitiveness as it will be cheaper for us to transport our goods within the continent and beyond.
It is critical that we ensure that we build the North-South Corridor, from Cape to Cairo and the East-West Corridor, from Senegal to Djibouti. The construction of these, and other, roads must be accelerated. We must speedily implement our continental and national infrastructure plans to ensure we accelerate our development.
How can we improve tourism amongst ourselves if we are not connected by road, rail, sea and air? But it is not only the physical infrastructure. We need to align some of the regulations and laws while strengthening our institutions in order to be able to facilitate free movement of people, goods and capital flow.
Current trends suggest that Africa has the youngest population in the world, which is continuing to grow rapidly. The May 2012 African Economic Outlook report entitled "Promoting Youth Employment" notes that Africa currently has a population of 200 million young people aged between 15-24. This number is expected to double by 2045.
Critical however to note is that the same Report cautions that unless we address the challenges facing the youth of today, this "could also present a significant risk and threat to social cohesion and political stability if Africa fails to create sufficient economic and employment opportunities to support decent living conditions for this group."
Consequently we need to ensure our young people have access to education, healthcare, nutrition and skills development to enable them to participate in the mainstream of our economies and to become a skilled workforce. Our national budgets must support such priorities.
Our role as parliamentarians must necessarily be to create an enabling legislative environment to empower our youth to participate as equals and partners in the development of our continent while also becoming a market for our goods and services.
As President Nelson Mandela said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children," and may I hasten to add, its youth. The high rate of urbanisation and the rise of the middle class in Africa will play a major role in growth. By 2030 the top 18 African cities will have a combined spending power of US$1.3 trillion.
Policy makers and legislators alike must further ensure that women increasingly participate in Africa’s developmental processes. In July 2004 African Heads of State and Government adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality to promote gender equality and women's empowerment in all spheres of life. In addition, the African Union has declared the decade 2010-2020 as the Decade of Women.
African initiatives to ensure gender parity and the emancipation of women must also be seen within the context of the Beijing Platform for Action which serves as an agenda for women's empowerment. It aims to remove all the obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.
With women constituting more than half of the continent population and working force, democracy cannot be fully realised without their empowerment and involvement. Entrenching good governance is therefore a precondition for Africa’s development and social progress.
Although political and economic governance are improving, much more needs to be done, and key elements include strengthening the institutions of the State to foster predictability, accountability and transparency in managing public affairs, promoting free and fair electoral processes, fighting corruption and inefficiency, enhancing service delivery, and expanding social protection programmes. Africans should begin to drive their own development. We should rely more on ourselves to ensure we achieve our priorities using our own resources.
However, since Africa does not exist in isolation from the rest of the world, we must strengthen our strategic partnerships with the rest of the world to advance our own objectives. In this regard, the more developed members of the Commonwealth should contribute to developing member states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Working together with other arms of government and non-government roleplayers, parliamentarians must ensure we achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In all of this, the key to our success will be the role played by parliamentarians in ensuring that legislatures:
draft and adopt legislation that seeks to benefit the lives of the people they represent
In all their deliberations, guarantee that the voices of the electorate are heard and listened to, and that opportunities are created for citizens to participate in the legislative processes
indeed hold government accountable for delivery on the mandate given to it by the people
represent the collective will of the people we are meant to serve.
We must recognise that although we are different arms of the state, the goal of government, public institutions and oversight institutions is essentially the same – to ensure the business of governance is conducted in the best interests of all citizens while safeguarding the democracy that was earned at great cost.
Although there is a separation of powers between the executive, parliament and the judiciary, we must ensure our relations are co-operative rather than antagonistic and confrontational. While legislatures are independent and should do their work without fear or favour, they must not lose sight of the fact that ultimately theirs is to collectively work for the goal of creating a better life for all.
Once more and on behalf of the President, the government and people of our country, South Africa we take this opportunity to wish you well in your deliberations. Similarly we express the hope that the recommendations of this Conference must necessarily make a positive impact on our efforts to strengthen legislative oversight to improve accountability, deepen democracy and consolidate growth in Africa. We hope you will find time in your busy schedules to enjoy the hospitality, ubuntu and diversity of our country and its people. While the weather may be cold we wish you will enjoy the warmth of our hearts.
I thank you.