The Maldives is hosting the 7th Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians (ASSP) at Bandos Island Resort and Spa.
President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the three-day conference yesterday evening, and reiterated the Maldives’ commitment to furthering regional cooperation.
Calling on SAARC to be more relevant and responsive, Yameen said: “To keep abreast with the expectations of our peoples, we need to increase the relevance of SAARC, both as a tool for multilateral cooperation among our Member States, as well as in global politics and in international trade.”
Speakers from Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the secretary of Afghanistan’s parliament are in the Maldives for the conference.
Parliamentary delegations of Bangladesh and Nepal were unable to attend as Nepal had only held new parliamentary elections in November while Bangladesh’s parliament has been dissolved with new general elections set for January.
According to the people’s Majlis, the themes -“Strengthening democracy through institution building” and “Democracy and Inclusive Development – achieving SAARC MDGs” – will be discussed at the conference.
The ASSP was established in 1992, with the aim of exchanging ideas and information on parliamentary procedures and information among parliaments and to strengthen South Asia as a stable and independent region.
The association’s work stagnated in the late 90’s due to political turmoil in the region, and was revived recently on the initiative of India’s Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, the People’s Majlis secretariat have said.
Welcoming the delegations, Maldives Speaker Abdulla Shahid noted all South Asian countries are now led by civilian governments.
Shahid noted the current parliament in the Maldives is the first fully elected parliament, but MPs have faced and overcome “almost every conceivable constitutional challenge.”
Further, the rights guaranteed to the parliament had constantly been tested by the executive and legislative branches of government.
Meanwhile, Kumar stressed the importance of parliaments and parliamentarians as democracy advances in the region and said SAARC parliaments can learn a great deal from each other’s parliamentary experiences.
Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said South Asia consists of one-fourth of the world’s population, but continues to be the largest concentration of impoverished people.
South Asia is currently at a crossroads, of breaking with its past and possibly becoming the second largest economic powerhouse after China and East Asia, Sadiq said.
Meanwhile, female parliamentarians and the secretaries general of SAARC parliaments met on Saturday morning to discuss the opportunities and challenges for women’s political participation in South Asia and the methods to ensure a cost effective secretariat respectively.
The Women’s Committee has pledged affirmative action to increase women’s political participation whilst the secretaries generals proposed amending the charter of ASSP to constitute a Young Parliamentarians forum.
The Association’s General Assembly is to take place at Bandos Island Resort and Spa today and tomorrow (December 22 and 23).