The 48th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum has adopted a motion exhorting the regional body to support an initiative by speakers and heads of African national parliaments to call for total cancellation of the continent's foreign debt.
Many African countries are heavily indebted to industrialised countries and financial bodies that include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Consequently, some countries have been failing to meet the human needs of their citizens.
Against this backdrop, the speaker of the parliament of South Africa Thandi Modise, tabled the motion through South African member of parliament Desmond Lawrence Moela when the plenary met virtually last week. Modise cited Covid-19, which has had "a destabilising and potentially devastating effect on our societies and our collective economies in Africa" and was projected to worsen and pose "further threats to livelihoods and security in the region".
She said: "Well before the outbreak of Covid-19, most African countries were heavily indebted, with statistics showing that more than half of African countries spend more on debt servicing than they do on education or healthcare - sectors crucial to Africa and our region's socio-economic development."
She noted that globally, many people including the Heads of State and Government of the African Union were advocating for the cancellation of Africa's debt "in light of these extenuating circumstances."
Modise emphasized the fact that as elected representatives of their people and as lawmakers and custodians of democracy, lawmakers had the responsibility "to join these global efforts in canvassing for the cancellation of Africa's debt, especially during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic".
She called for "a more cohesive Pan-African Parliamentary voice to support the global campaign for Africa's debt cancellation" and welcomed the establishment of the Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP), officially launched in October 2020, by the Speakers of the parliaments of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa.
She explained that CoSAP's overall goal was to foster collaboration between Speakers and Presiding Officers across Africa to jointly tackle challenges impacting the continent and build on opportunities for collective growth towards advancing the continent's developmental agenda.
Additionally, she said the CoSAP's African Speakers Debt Cancellation Campaign Initiative (DCCI) seeks to advocate for the cancellation of African Debts to provide fiscal space for economic recovery and development on the continent.
"Our various SADC parliaments have a role to play in promoting transparency and accountability, tackling corruption, and improving oversight over loan approvals and the judicious utilization of the same in our respective countries," Modise said.
The Speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia, Peter Katjavivi, seconded the motion. He said measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19, such as lockdowns implemented across nations, had led to a shutdown of economies around the world, and as a result, many countries had started recording negative Gross Domestic Product growth.
"The ripple effects of these lockdowns in various nations and by extension the slowdown of regional, continental and global economic activity, has placed an enormous strain on the livelihoods of our people. This Motion is indeed a timely initiative," Katjavivi said.
He said debt cancellation would enable governments to stimulate and boost social spending, ease pressure on debt servicing obligations and rea-allocate funding to enhance public debt management "to acceptable debt indicators levels, thus helping countries to achieve their long term development goals". The Speaker of the Parliament of Eswatini, honourable Petros Mavimbela, also called for debt cancellation.
He said: "For impoverished nations struggling to meet the human needs of their people, full 100 per cent multilateral debt cancellation is the only option. We plead for the world to heed to our campaign for debt cancellation as a continent."
Other MPs who supported the motion were from Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
There is mounting evidence that debt servicing is taking a huge fraction of the GDP of many countries, making it difficult for them to do what they want to do for their people with what remains after they have serviced domestic and foreign dents.
In some cases, what remains is so paltry that some governments struggle to pay salaries of civil servants.
In some parts of Africa domestic borrowing is said to be drowning the private sector that also needs domestic credit to finance their investment plans.