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The Speaker of the National Assembly Ms Baleka Mbete was among the Special Guests Panelists at the Commonwealth Africa Summit 2017 held in London from Monday 13 March to Wedneday 15 March.

The 2017 Commonwealth Africa Summit is an annual Summit organised as part of the activities to celebrate the Commonwealth Week in London. Ms Mbete was invited to speak during the Parliamentary Roundtable on Fostering Collective Growth through People Centred Legislation in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Africa Summit is a high level, multi-stakeholder event that annually brings together government and business leaders from across the Commonwealth, Africa and allied nations to facilitate dialogue and action on key and relevant issues

ranging from trade and investment, enterprenership and job creation, economic development, security and counterterrorism, energy and power among other matters relevant to Africa. 

 FOSTERING COLLECTIVE GROWTH THROUGH PEOPLE-CENTRED LEGISLATION IN THE COMMON WEALTH 13 MARCH 2017

PROGRAMME DIRECTOR
HONOURABLE MEMBERS
DISTIGUISHED GUESTS
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN

It is a humbling experience and great honour to be afforded an opportunity to share my thoughts with fellow legislators and other eminent persons on the pressing need to foster collective growth through people centred legislation.  The topic is much more relevant today than ever due to the growing income inequalities between the rich and the poor globaly, compounded by the  growing refugee crisis occasioned   mainly by civil wars in the Middle East.  We need to reflect on whether the people are at the centre of our collective efforts as legislators and whether they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the law making process in general.

I had to reflect deeply on this topic and chose to draw inspiration from a simple but yet profound statement made by one of the greatest African Statesman, Julius Kambarage Nyerere.  He said the following, “If real development is to take place, the people have to be involved”.   Embedded in this statement is the view that the people must always be at the centre of the legislative process and must be the main beneficiaries.  

The Commonwealth provides an appropriate platform to reflect on the work we have done individually and collectively as legislators coming from the whole area called the “Commonwealth”.  The critical question we need to pose to ourselves, as law makers, is whether we have been true to the commitments and declarations we have made in the Charter of the Commonwealth with regards to sustainable development.

Allow me to quote extensively from the Charter.  The Charter reads as follows with regards to sustainable development:

“We stress the importance of sustainable economic and social transformation to eliminate poverty and meet the basic needs of the vast majority of the people of the World and reiterate that economic and social progress enhances the sustainability of democracy.  We are committed to removing wide disparities and unequal living standards as guided by internationally agreed development goals”.

The Charter is correct and relevant in underlining the importance of internationally agreed development goals.

The United Nations sustainable development goals provide the basis of our common effort to foster collective growth through people-centred legislation among the Commonwealth Countries.  The United Nations sustainable development goals give a measurable and concrete expression to the declarations stipulated also in the Commonwealth Charter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to revert to the question I posed earlier regarding the impact and relevance of the laws we pass in our normal course of work, to the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. As Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chair of the Speaker’s Forum of the Republic of South Africa, I have commissioned a High Level Panel led by the former President, His Excellency Kgalema Motlanthe, to traverse the length and breath of South Africa to assist us in understanding the impact of our legislation on the lives of our people.   Establishing the High Level Panel was guided by our abiding view that our people are central to our legislative work and that they are the motive force for the struggle for the attainment of deep and lasting transformation of the lives of our people for the better.

Programme Director, allow me to remind ourselves of the various elements of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  I have to do so recognising that the Commonwealth Charter has made specific declarations with regards to gender equality, access to health, education, food and shelter.

I also believe its appropriate to turn our collective eye on issues affecting women as we have just marked International Women’s Day.  The Commission on the Status of Women is currently sitting in New York.

The Charter states the following with regards to gender equality  “We recognise that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights.  The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development”.

Having cited the Charter, I would like to deal with a particular issue that deeply troubles and shocks me.  The issue related to honour killings of women.  As an activist and freedom fighter, I am really aggrieved by the so-called “honour killings” of women.  There is no honour in killing your own sister for marrying a lover of her choice.  The family honour and democratic values we deeply cherish cannot be associated with the taking of a life.   Punitive legislation has to be passed to deal harshly with perpetrators of this kind of crime.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) correctly states that “ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it is also crucial to accelerating sustainable development.  It has been proven time and again, that empowering women and girls has a multiplier effect, and helps drive up economic growth and development across the board”.

As legislatures we must undertake, as stipulated by the UNDP, reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.  We need to share experiences on how we have dealt with this matter as different Commonwealth Countries.   That shared experience should provide a basis for collaborative efforts in this area.  It is only through collaborative work that we can foster collective growth with the people at the centre.

Ladies and Gentlemen we have all witnessed the rising income inequalities in our societies.  The UNDP indicates that the richest 10 per cent are earning up to 40 percent of total global income whilst the poorest 10 percent earn only between 2 percent and 7 percent of total global income.  Clearly, these levels of inequalities are unsustainable and pose a serious threat to the stability of our societies and legitimacy of our democracies.

Therefore, I fully support the UNDP’s goals of reducing inequalities by removing discriminatory laws, policies and providing appropriate legislation among other interventions.   We need to share experiences on how different Commonwealth countries have attempted to address this challenge.  I need to concede that South Africa is confronted with these problems even on a more complex scale.  Generally, income inequality in South Africa is defined and accentuated along clear racial and class lines.  We have attempted to pass various legislations to empower women, people with disabilities and historically disadvantaged groups.

 It is really an uphill battle to undo decades and centuries of racial oppression and exploitation that is further compounded by gender discrimination.

We will not be able to achieve collective growth we so much desire if we fail to stem the illegal outflow of money from developing countries   The 4th Joint African Union Commission/United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning Economic Development held in 2011, established the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial flows from Africa.  According to the Report of the High Level Panel, it is estimated that more than $50 billion (i.e. 50 Billion US Dollars) is leaving Africa illegally on an annual basis.  This is money that could have been used to develop the continent’s social and economic infrastructure.

These illegal outflows originates mainly from three channels: commercial activities, criminal and corrupt government practices.   The commercial channel involves serious tax evasion activities.  It is reported that commercial activities are by far the largest contributor to unlawful financial outflows from Africa, followed by organised crime.  Public sector corrupt activities is the third contributor to these illegal financial outflows from Africa.

Therefore, it is important that we share experiences on how other Commonwealth countries are combating these practices through tax legislation and other anti-money laundering legislation.  I can report that South Africa is in the final stages of amending its anti-money laundering legislation.  The ultimate victims of these illegal practices are the poor and vulnerable in society.  The erosion of African Countries tax base ultimately hurt the poor and undermine all efforts to attain the United National Social Development Goals.   We have to be united and act with determination in the fight against these illegal outflows and money laundering activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the challenges and possible corrective actions I have outlined enjoin us to place our people at the centre of all our legislative processes.  I need to caution that if we ignore the cries and plight of our people, we will put our democracies in jeopardy and destabilise our countries.

In spite of all the challenges I have pointed out, the work done by Commonowealth countries with regards the to the implementation of sustatinable development goals is worthy of praise and admiration. Maternal mortality has been reduced drastically since 2000. Millions of lives have been saved from malaria. The enrolment of children in primary education in developing regions has reached 91 percent in 2015. The number of people living in extreme poverty has declined. It is reported that many developing countries who persistently experienced famine and hunger in the past are now able to meet the the nutrional needs of the most vulnerable in society. I have the strongest conviction that we will achieve the UN sustainable delopment goals.

I am pleased to report that the implementation of Agenda 2063 for Africa is on course in spite of the global economic challenges. Africans are determined to unleash the full potential of their women and youth. Africa is committted to mordernise its infrastructure and ensure the structural transformation of its economy in order to create shared growth, decent jobs and economic opportunities for all. There is renewed determination to build ports, power stations, under-sea cables connecting Africa with the rest of the world, telecommunication networks  and efficient rail infrastructure across most African countries. Our confidence is based on concrete evidence showing the deepening of democracy, rule of law and strengthened institutional capacity in most African states. Therefore we declare with great confidence that the future of most African countries is looking bright and Africa is on course to achieve the objectives of Agenda 2063.

Let me conclude my input by drawing inspiration  from the wise counsel of another great African leader, statesman and icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. He said the following “ I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my walk is not ended.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved great things acting together as Commonwealth countries. I am confident that our unity will propel us to even more greater heights. However we dare not linger on our achievements, for much is expected from us. The Commonwealth must grow from strength to strength, climbing even more hills and hillocks along the way. Certainly, as individuals , we will look back at the twilight years of our lives and rest with a smile beaming from our face knowing that we have served our fellow country men and women with utmost dedication. Without doubt, history will reflect positively on our efforts and it will be recorded that we gave it our all. 

I thank you.