SADC Panel of International Commercial Arbitrators to promote international arbitration in the SADC region

March 3rd, 2021
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Director and Head of Arbitration Department at Werksmans Attorneys, Des Williams, made opening remarks at the launch of the inaugural SADC Panel of International Commercial Arbitrators.

The Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa (AFSA) Southern African Development Community (SADC) Division launched the inaugural SADC Panel of International Commercial Arbitrators, on 11 December 2020. The SADC Panel of International Commercial Arbitrators was nominated by the SADC Bar Associations based on globally competitive criterion. Director and Head of the Arbitration Department at Werksmans Attorneys, Des Williams, said that they have had a very enthusiastic response to the establishment of the AFSA SADC Division. He said after the Memorandum was signed in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in 2019, the AFSA SADC Division established a set of rules and provisions administering arbitration in the area. He added that the AFSA SADC Division has been involved in the training of arbitrators in the SADC region. He pointed out that the progress that has been made has been encouraging, however, he said that the AFSA SADC Division still has a mountain to climb.

The President of the SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA), Max Boqwana said that the legal profession has a critical role to play in resuscitating resolution of conflicts and disagreements among individuals, institutions, and countries. He added that at the inception of the initiative, one of the cardinal principles was the issue of alternative dispute resolution. ‘We understood the centrality of the profession in supporting investments in our region in promoting development. We are creating that predictability for those who seek to be the best in our region,’ Mr Boqwana said.

Mr Boqwana noted that in the past 20 years there has been a lack of trust from multi-national companies and governments on the capability of legal practitioners in the SADC region. He added that there has been a perceived lack of capacity by the domestic legal practitioners, despite the fact that many legal practitioners understand the non-litigious matters of resolving disputes. He said that the launching of the SADC Panel of International Commercial Arbitrators is appreciating the problems that the SADC region and the African continent face.

Attorney General in Zambia, Likando Kalaluka, delivered the keynote address at the launch.

Attorney General in Zambia, Likando Kalaluka, added that establishing the AFSA SADC Division was long overdue. He said that the AFSA SADC Division will ensure that when a dispute arises in the SADC region, it will be resolved at the standard of the SADC region. He pointed out that the launch was significant for the promotion of international arbitration, more broadly within the SADC region, but also within the African context. He noted that the initiative by AFSA and SADC LA to create a panel for international commercial arbitration was remarkable.

Mr Kalaluka said the two institutions have taken the significant step, which seeks to standardise and harmonise commercial and investment arbitration practice within the SADC region. He added that the initiative would no doubt attract more investments in the SADC region and start magnifying development in the SADC region. ‘We need to take steps to position the region as a champion of the rule of law and also as a champion of the international commercial arbitration,’ Mr Kalaluka said.

SADC Parliamentary Forum Secretary General, Boemo Sekgoma, congratulated ASFA and SADC LA and said the SADC Parliamentary Forum applauded the initiative. She added that the globalisation of trade and investment opportunities in the SADC region requires that any disputes that arise are resolved speedily, efficiently and cheaply. She said that it was a notorious fact in the SADC region that courts take far too long to resolve commercial disputes. She pointed out that the rapid globalisation of commerce, has also seen the globalisation of law, that today modern commercial agreements contain clauses that require that disputes be arbitrated rather than be processed through the courts systems.

The President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Brian Speers, delivered a message of solidarity at the launch.

The President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Brian Speers said that access to justice has been threatened during the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that courts were closed during lockdowns, but some had since opened in a different format. He said that one of the essential obligations of the state in providing a court-based resolution is the need for openness of justice and the need for people to be able to attend arbitrations and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.

The Minister of Justice in Namibia, Yvonne Dausab, spoke at the launch.

Minister of Justice in Namibia, Yvonne Dausab, said that Namibia, in 2014, when they were amending the Rules of the High Court of Namibia, discussions around whether or not there was a need for a commercial court to deal with commercial arbitration was considered. She added that subsequently a World Bank report advised Namibia to think about streamlining commercial disputes, particularly in national investments as they will be part of reaffirming the importance of the rule of law, but also it would fast track the quick resolution of commercial arbitration.

Ms Dausab added that Namibia has recently launched a commercial court, with court policy and framework that would support the work of that court. She pointed out that she hoped that once the court is in operation it would contribute to the ranking for Namibia.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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