SADC national parliaments under the umbrella of the SADC Parliamentary Forum have for years been committed to helping their countries achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines UHC as access to health services that people need, when and where they need it, without financial hardship.
A symposium at the 46th Plenary Assembly Session of SADC PF in 2019 in Swakopmund, Namibia, enabled national parliaments to share lessons and experiences in pursuit of UHC in their countries. The symposium highlighted, inter alia, the lack of strong Public Financial Management (PFM) frameworks at national level to ensure accountable, equitable and transparent use of public resources.
As representatives of the people, Members of Parliament are uniquely positioned and mandated to ensure that their national budgets – which outline their countries’ socioeconomic development priorities – are in line with the wishes and needs of their constituents.
It is in this context that the SADC PF is developing the model law. Expectations are that the model law would help national parliaments strengthen democratic practices in the use of national resources and that there is value for money from taxpayers. A series of consultations with various stakeholders to strengthen the model law has begun.
First to critically examine the draft model law last week were Auditors-General from the SADC Region. In a virtual meeting, they enthusiastically welcomed the evolving model law but called for high standards to enable SADC countries to harness international best practices and raise the bar on PFM.
Mr Daniel Greenberg CB, a lawyer specialising in legislation and the legislative process, is drafting the model law in collaboration with a technical working group that brings together distinguished and thoughtful individuals and groups from all over the world. He presented the draft Model Law to the AGs noted their inputs for incorporation.
Mr. Jean de Dieu Rakotondramihamina, the First President at the Supreme Court of Madagascar, welcomed the draft but encouraged the drafters to note the different traditions in SADC in terms of law and regulation.
“We should have a provisions specifically for the AG and the institution,” he added while noting that the independence of the AGs was a major challenge in SADC. He also suggested the term of the AGs be fixed.
Rakotondramihamina suggested that there be a strong component on financial independence of AGs’ offices, saying “most Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) don’t have enough budget to conduct their work”.
From Malawi, Mr. Gerald Pute, the Director of Regularity Audit, also applauded the draft.
“We should take this as an opportunity to straighten up some areas as SAIs in the region and beyond,” he said.
He also said the independence of the AG was a much sought after ideal and enjoined the drafter and the TWG to see what value could be gleaned out of relevant instruments that include the Mexican Declaration and some United Nations Resolutions, especially on the independence of SAIs.
Pute said ideally, SAIs should report directly to Parliament, “not even to a committee” unless there was a specific request from that committee of Parliament.
From Zambia, Mr Francis Mbewe, the Deputy Auditor General in charge of Audits, hoped that the model law, when finalized, “will go a long way to enhance the PFM systems in our respective nations.”
Mbewe said the draft contained “a number of good things” but there were a few areas that are “seemingly taking away the independence of SAIs.”
Ms. Kebafentse Helen is the Senior Assistant Auditor General of Botswana. She said there were standards that SADC Member states had adopted as well as “foundational standards” and other international conventions which must be considered in drafting the SADC Model Law on PFM.
“We have been subjected to international assessments that have brought out best practices and have highlighted ethics that can be applicable to all of us across jurisdictions. These are high standards we are aspiring to meet,” she said.
From Angola, Mr. Nvela Antonio suggested that the drafters genericize names and dates and strive to provide for flexibility.
The AG of Seychelles Mr. Mr. Gamini Herath said the model law must reflect modern values.
“Our laws are more modern than what is being proposed here. It seems the independence of AGs will be compromised by some of these provisions,” he said.
He said Seychelles and South Africa had tighter laws and polices related to the office and functions of the AG. He explained that best practice was for AGs to report directly to Parliament to avoid politicising the audit function.
Herath said ultimately, the Model Law must respect national laws and mechanisms already in place. Greenberg assured the AGs that the TWG had taken a lot of care to make sure that the model law was alive to current and emerging PFM issues.
Dr Gorden Moyo, who facilitated the consultation, explained that SADC PF was consulting many stakeholders to strengthen the draft Model Law.
“The document is going through the mills. This is not a final document. We really welcome every input. This document is not cast in stone,” Moyo said.
Greenberg said he found the contributions by the AGs “enormously helpful”.
Ms Meisie Nkau, CEO of English Region of the African Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E), was the keynote speaker during the consultation that drew then participation of the offices of AGs from 13 of the 15 SADC Member States.
“This phenomenon continues to give validation to the need for us to ensure that SADC has a functional Parliamentary Forum which compliments the Executive’s branch of government in the administration and running of an effective and efficient Public Financial Management system,” she said.
Noting that many SADC Member States had subscribed to various progressive international instruments, Nkau called for the active support of national parliaments.
“Such international commitments need to be mainstreamed through the yearly budget appropriated by Parliament through the allocation of sufficient funds (including effective, and efficient usage thereof) to ensure a progressive realisation of objectives and related targets,” she reasoned.
SADC PF Secretary General Ms Boemo Sekgoma thanked the AGs, whom she described as “guardians of the PFM framework”, for their active participation in the consultation.
She noted that AGs “verify whether State expenditure has been conducted according to approved budget lines and guard against misappropriations and financial irregularities.”
As the SADC Region strives towards equitable UHC, expectations are that a SADC Model Law on PFM would bolster national PFM frameworks and help national parliaments ensure that what is budgeted for is implemented and audited to ensure value for money.