Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network meets
26 October 2010
Midrand: Senior parliamentary officials, academics and information and communication technology experts from Africa and beyond met in the First Plenary of the Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network (APKN), which was jointly hosted by the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. As a broad platform for the promotion of African agenda, an Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network will develop new responses to today's challenges and common solutions to regional problems. "It is in this light that the Network will assist the Pan-African Parliament and the African Union in achieving regional and continental integration", the Secretary of Parliament of the Republic of South Africa Mr Zingile Dingani said.
Taking the floor, the Clerk of the PAP, advocate Zweletu Madasa said "in co-hosting this event, the PAP wishes to gain exposure in and out of the continent, as per the constitutive acts of the African Union".
On his part, the representative of the European Parliament (EP), Mr Dirk Toornstra, said that the current evolution of the world into a global village makes it difficult for countries to confront societal challenges alone. The "new inhabitants" of the world are institutions such as the World Bank, United Nations, African Union, European Union and the Pan-African Parliament. Hence, "the word cooperation has taken another meaning and the sharing of knowledge and findings through networks is now what parliaments across the world embark on" according to Toornstra. In calling on his peers to build the Africa parliamentary knowledge network on the premises of truth, respect and understanding, the EP representative urged them to invest in technology rather than buildings.
The UNDESA representative, Mr John Kauzya said "the APKN has moved very fast and it is likely to succeed faster than the other networks". According to him, networks are critical for the modern management of institutions. He added that such networks are indicators of people's ability to influence decisions.
He meeting then went on to discuss a proposal to amend the APKN Charter. This proposal received the approval of the majority of the members. The amendments are meant to provide better relevance to the issue of inter - parliamentary cooperation, enhance effectiveness of the APKN Executive Committee by granting membership to Regional Assemblies, allow the Executive Committee a more proactive role and allow membership to take effect immediately instead of waiting for the meeting of the APKN Plenary that takes place every two years. Also, the amendments are meant to better specify the working modalities of the Executive Committee, to better serve parliaments by providing a forum specifically dedicated to the Secretaries General and involve them directly. In addition, the amendments are to provide a more formal structure and role to the APKN Thematic Groups, and respond within reasonable time to new demands and issues.
Dr. Kirsty Knewman, from INASP, addressed the delegates of the Africa Parliamentary Knowledge Network about the importance of using research to create policies.
On the issue of Freedom of Information and Access to Information, Victor Bwire from Kenya spoke about the need for popular participation of citizens. Bwire says that a lack access to information often creates chaos or crisis. Using the example of Kenya following the elections in that country in 2007, where media was prevented from disseminating information pertaining to the situation at the time, resulting in people resorting to cell phone text messages to get information. This informal information exchange ultimately led to a lot of misinformation that, among other factors, led to the horrifying levels of violence. Bwire said that it was imperative for African governments to preserve media freedom but also academic and, religious freedom. He also highlighted the need for the ownership of media to be in different hands saying that it is the only way to guarantee citizens have access to different views.
Furthermore, the APKN Plenary adopted the APKN 2011/2012 Plan of Action. This plan seeks to share knowledge among African parliaments, build the capacity of members of parliaments, managerial and professional staff of African parliaments and develop and implement tools, systems and processes to improve management of African parliaments.
According to this plan, the APKN would share its knowledge through the linking of parliamentary libraries, linking of parliamentary websites and the organization of forums for exchange of ideas and new knowledge among parliamentarians and staff of parliament. Further, the African Parliamentary Knowledge Network would for the next two years impress on individual parliaments, as a matter of urgency, to inculcate the freedom of information, access to information, open access to knowledge, policy development lawmaking and oversight as well as management oversights into its parliamentary processes.
As part of this Plan of Action, the APKN would establish law clinics to provide legal education to legislators, parliamentary staff and other relevant stakeholders, while aiding in the professional development of graduate law students. The clinics shall be directed by partner institutions, in consultation with members of APKN and will teach evidence-based legislation through the use of well known theories and methodologies that have been developed over the years.
Keywords: parliaments, ICT,