Hon. Seedy S.K. Njie, Deputy Speaker and Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Defence and Security on the role of parliamentarians in promoting neighbourhood security

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International Conference on prevention and security (KONARD) Dakar, Senegal

Mr. Chairman

Colleagues

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Distinguish participants

All Protocols duly observed

Good Morning to you all!

I am deeply delighted to be among your ranks this morning to discuss as stakeholders a very significant subject which is central to the sustainability of our democracies and development processes.

The topic for our discussion “Prevention and Security: the challenges of the neighborhood and community security in Africa” is indeed a pertinent and timely. The big question here is, What can we do as Parliamentarians to promote neighborhood security?

As we all know, parliament and parliamentarians play an important role in the life of a nation. It thus perform three main functions:

a)         make new laws, change existing laws and repeal laws which are no longer needed;

b)         represent and articulate the views and wishes of the citizens in decision making processes and

c)         oversee the activities of the executive so that the government is accountable to the people.

Achieving good governance requires the existence of a strong, effective and efficient parliament. This is so because parliament plays a crucial role in gauging, collating and presenting the views and needs of the people, articulating their expectations and aspirations in determining the national development agenda. As an oversight body, parliament helps to identify problems and policy challenges that require attention and assists in overcoming bureaucratic inertia.

As democratically elected representatives, parliamentarians ensure that individual and collective security is provided in accordance with the will of the people. This also requires that security sector institutions subject themselves to parliamentary oversight, which is one of the primary means of verifying that security actors respect the mandate they are given.

Strong legislative bodies are a bedrock of representational democracies. As elected representatives, parliamentarians play an indispensable role in shaping both public policy and the way states exercise power and authority.

What are some of the security threats that we face as communities.

1.         Political threats: such as internal political instability, failed states, terrorism and human right abuses;

2.         Economic threats: such as poverty, the growing gap between rich and poor countries, international financial recession, the impact of an economically powerful or unstable neighbouring state, and piracy;

3.         Environmental or man-made threats: such as nuclear disaster, global ecological changes, degradation of land or water, lack of food and other resources;

4.         Social threats: such as minority/ majority conflicts, overpopulation, organised crime, transnational drug-trafficking, illegal trade, uncontrolled mass immigration, and disease.

Suffice it to say, Parliamentarians are key actors in promoting good neighbourhood security because they are involved in creating and overseeing the legal framework within which the security sector operates. Good security requires that the security sector is subordinate to democratic civilian control, and a sound legal framework for security provision, management and oversight is an important basis for allocating roles and responsibilities in a democracy while placing limits on the use of force and political power by the government.

Parliamentarians can play an important role in averting political threats by promoting good governance through effective oversight and ensuring effective functioning of democratic institutions.

Parliamentarians while approving the national budgets should cater for the needs and welfare of the poor and marginalise in society. As we all that poverty is a challenge and indeed a security threat.

Parliamentarians should allocate adequate resources to ensure food self-sufficiency and access to clean and portable water.

Parliamentarians should ensure that the rights of the minorities are protected, and laws enacted to fight drug-trafficking, illegal trade and other activities that poses threat to peace and security.

While parliament and government have different roles in security matters, they share the responsibility for keeping a well-functioning security sector. This idea of shared responsibilities also applies to the relation between political and military leaders. These two parties should not be regarded as adversaries with opposing goals. On the contrary, they need each other in order to achieve an effective, comprehensive and people-centred security policy. Democratic oversight must therefore also include dialogue between political leaders and high-ranking military officials based on trust, open lines of communication and mutual inclusion. Such regular exchanges have the important additional advantage that they prevent politicians and military leaders from becoming alienated and thus help consolidate stability.

As far as parliament is concerned, the debate on security policy should not be a single event but a process developing through all its four phases: development, decision-making, implementation and evaluation. While there should be no interference in the responsibilities of the executive in drawing up and implementing this policy, the process should be as transparent and participatory as possible, allowing a proper balance to be reached between all those exerting any kind of influence on it, including the security sector itself.  

In all phases, parliamentarians should thus be able to use the mechanisms available to them for making the executive aware of the security concerns and expectations of the public: oral and written questions, motions, inquiries, select committee hearings, “white papers”, representations to ministers and departments.

Ideally, this role should thus not be confined to being presented with a document which it may either accept or reject. Its competent committee(s) should be consulted early in the process so as to provide an input – reflecting the variety of political visions in parliament – to the policy documents and legislation being prepared. This would not only enable it to relay people’s concerns early in the process, but would also secure a more positive atmosphere and debate in parliament when the policy document is presented for approval. The highest interests of the nation should transcend the power relations between the majority and the opposition in parliament and should not hinder a democratic reading of the national security document. In that spirit, parliament should be able to propose changes to the documents presented to it.

In conclusion, Parliament can improve the performance of the security sector by using its powers to challenge, question, cancel or change the level of resources allocated to security in the budget: for example, parliamentarians may require resources to be allocated to certain public security needs, call ministers or security officials to account for specific spending, or demand that spending be limited to officially defined purposes. Parliaments can also use their power to grant or deny special funding requests and supplementary budgets to shape the direction and priorities of security provision, management and oversight.

I Thank you all.