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The pandemic clipping our wings-Maqelepo

…as country hosts 50th SADC-PF plenary

As the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF)’s 50th Plenary Session gets underway at the Avani Maseru in a three day virtual meeting starting from today to Sunday, and ahead of the impending session, Newsday Newspaper (ND) Journalist, Jacob Mpesi sat for a lowdown with the former Minister of Health, Forestry and Rangeland Management and also a Member of Parliament who will be participating in the session, Motlatsi Maqelepo (MM) to discuss expectations and outcomes of the plenary session.

ND: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule in preparations of this esteemed session to discuss matters pertaining to the plenary ahead of its commencement.   

To begin with, can you elaborate what SADC-PF is and its mandates?

MM: It is always a pleasure to respond to your questions for the benefit of the public and Basotho at large.

SADC-PF is a forum of Members of Parliament from the 15 SADC countries; it was formed in the 1997’s SADC treaty. It helps with the expertise and experiences where we find solutions to different circumstances and delegate it to the National Assemblies and to the regional experience.

With this forum we have a chance to take a leaf out of other countries’ best practices and implement them in our country. It greats an environment for Parliamentarians to discuss ways to intensify our forum considering matters surrounding the regional integration; which is at the best interest of business and trading, easy movement from one country to another as well as general services including health services.

ND: What is the theme, what is expected out of it this 50th plenary session?

MM: The Theme is to “celebrate the new era of democracy towards consolidating the vibrant voices of SADC Parliamentarians.” Our biggest work is still a consultative body focusing on the regional affairs. We discuss in depth all the matters conversed by the SADC Heads of States and Councils of Ministers in a viewpoint of policies and projects that include SADC as a whole.

This plenary session will strengthen the effective implementation of SADC policies and projects. We will also strengthen the principles of human rights and democracy in the SADC region which we believe have been threatened by the challenges brought by a sequence of lockdowns.

We will also underpin the topic of peace, security and stability in the region looking at our development on conflict mechanisms; we are going to buttress our pace on economic corporation and regional integration. We will also encourage good governance and transparency and accountability in the region.

ND: As the hosting country, one would want to hear what Lesotho is going to gain. What does Lesotho stand to benefit from this Plenary Session?

MM: If it were the natural format before the challenges of Covid-19 came to the fore, the noticeable would be the economic growth as our visitors would be sleeping and eating at our hotels, hiring local transport to all the places they would visit. Now it is only SADC Secretariat that will physically make appearance and it’s a small number of people, unlike when it used to be a delegation of more than 200 people.

The important thing is that Lesotho will get exposure by holding conferences of this magnitude and not only being known as another country in the SADC region. We are going to be given a chance to talk about our outstanding monuments including our big dams and historic mountains et al. We are going to showcase our culture and performing our traditional dances, music and games. We will get to score the international market since we will be open to more than four million people.         

ND: What are positive results that emerged Out of the previous sessions?

MM: There are projects that come to us as a regional body like the Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights which is centered on vulnerable people like women, violence and HIV and AIDS. It is a project which was implemented in seven countries including Lesotho.

That project was made to capacitate MPs to have a perspective of such issues. With that project we managed to visit all health centers in the country especially those at the remotest areas; to evaluate the status of services that involve women. Truly speaking they were not in a good standard and we made a report, called relevant ministries including the Ministry of Health, Social Development and Correctional Services because we also visited the prisons where it was too crowded as far as life is concerned and whether women were receiving their services of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights correctly and how the ARVs were delivered.

We visited Mohale’s Hoek prison, Maseru and Leribe as the three big regional correctional facilities in the country. So we called the relevant ministers to work around these issues. We couldn’t have achieved all that with a minimum financial support that we get from our parliament if it wasn’t for a support coming from Norway and Sweden sourced by the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

As our mandate is to make laws, we still carry out those duties. This is whereby we recognised many gaps in the laws of our country. We didn’t have laws such as the gender based violence and domestic violence, which have been in the pipeline for a long time, but because of proficiency we gained in this forum, we sought the relevant ministries including the parliamentary council to facilitate a release of those laws.       

“….the absence of these laws creates a great tension and nervousness to children, especially girls as they would even quit school, they are also vulnerable in human trafficking and if you trace back all these, it leads back to domestic violence.

ND: There is a surging rate of murder cases which placed Lesotho in the global top charts, is it one of the issues that the forum is going to discuss in this session?

MM: Of course, it is one of the top issues to be discussed; we are going to have the opportunity to contextualise it where we will tell the forum about our problems and they will also portray their country’s problems in relation to this matter.

But I must point out that poverty and hunger leads to these killings, unemployment and economic meltdown will lead to these. It goes back to the point of discussing issues of improving the economy and creating employment opportunities so that people do not get to be subjected to these fatal killings.

These high rates of killings are birthed by poverty and starvation because some people are in dire need so much that they resort to these homicides to survive. I was listening to one radio station yesterday which addressed the topic of fatal killings that happened in Matatiele. It was mentioned that Basotho people are responsible for such murders because they harvest the organs of the victims and sell them.

They do these things because they want to survive and earn a living. If our economy was able to sustain them, such things wouldn’t come to pass. Those that use them do so because they (killers) are vulnerable.

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