Allow me to begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to the SADC Lawyers’ Association for the invitation to officially open your 18th Annual Conference and General Meeting. My role, which I humbly accept, is to officiate at the opening of this important conference and I therefore wish to surrender the substantive discussions to the numerous jurists who will make their contributions during the course of this meeting. However, I do seek your indulgence that I may contribute towards the discourse. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate the main objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which are, inter alia: To achieve economic development and growth as well as peace and security in the region; To enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa including the alleviation of poverty. These objectives are to be achieved through increased Regional Integration, and equitable and sustainable development and underpinned by democratic principles. The objectives of the SADC Lawyers Association are aligned with the objectives of SADC. The Constitution of the Association Article 4, "Objects of the Association" outlines, among others, the following key objectives: To ensure that the people of Region are served by an independent and efficient legal profession; To promote the honour and integrity of the profession and uniformity in standards of professional ethics; and To do all that is necessary to further the interests of the legal profession throughout the Region with a view to improving the legal services available to the public. These objectives of the SADC Lawyers Association speak to the theme of this Conference, namely “A Skilled and Competent Legal Profession: The Catalyst for a prosperous SADC”. This theme is relevant to each of the 15 Member States of SADC in their collective aspiration to achieve higher levels of economic and social development.
I have the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) which measures the quality of governance in every African country on an annual basis. It is a source of pleasure on my part to note that on the whole SADC region is consistently rated highly, particularly on the pillar of “Safety and Rule of Law”. I have no doubt that this high rating is on account of efforts invested by members of the legal profession in the region. The importance of safety of citizens and prevalence of the rule of law in a democracy can never be underestimated. Here in Botswana, it is worth stating that the Constitution of the Republic serves as an embodiment of our values, traditions and beliefs as a nation. It has indeed entrenched what is commonly referred to as the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. These include: The right to life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law; Freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association; Protection of the privacy of home and other property; and Protection from inhuman treatment. These rights and freedoms are jealously guarded and it is lawyers who are in the forefront, and who should always be in the forefront, in so far as promoting compliance with and enforcement of these rights. For this, lawyers and their member associations deserve commendation; for the simple reason that the legal services that they provide are conduit to the enjoyment of these basic human rights. This obligation and burden of responsibility is as axiomatic to you as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West! You can and must never leave it and it never leave you or be separated from you. It is my firm conviction that the legal profession is the foundation of social order; and therefore, individually and collectively, lawyers should provide service with this primary goal in mind. A functioning democracy is a product of the efficiency and effectiveness of the three arms of the State and complementarity between them. Again, lawyers play a prominent role in bringing about social order and cohesion through their direct involvement in the running and operations of each and every of these arms of State.
I believe that a skilled and competent legal profession will only be a catalyst for a prosperous SADC if member states collaborate to develop a pool of experts who are able to tackle the various challenges which may hinder the ability of the region to prosper. May I remind my learned counsels that it is your duty to safeguard social order within your societies and respective countries. Despite the fact that there is no one agreed definition of the qualities of a professional lawyer we can all agree that there is a point of convergence. It is my duty to emphasize that a skilled and competent legal profession cannot exist in a lacuna and thrive where ethics and good conduct are not exercised. It is for that reason that the conduct of a lawyer must embody and live the true meaning and virtues of justice, not just for the client but also for society as a whole. The various law societies and bar associations act as gate-keepers in their respective jurisdictions to ensure that the public is protected from misconduct by legal practitioners, including the misappropriation of client fees, fraud and negligence. To that end, law societies also play a vital role in the promotion of public legal education and provision of skills which develop our jurisprudence and promote economic growth. In conclusion, the legal profession as the root of democracy and good governance, has the mammoth task of ensuring that institutions are held accountable. By the same token, wearing my skilled and competent politician’s hat, I respectfully submit that Law Societies are key stakeholders in the development of the SADC region but not, I would caution, as quasi political parties. We these few words, it is now my singular honour and pleasure to declare the 18th SADC Lawyers’ Association Annual Conference and General Meeting officially open, and by so doing, to also wish you successful and fruitful deliberations.
These are remarks delivered by Vice President Masisi at the official opening of the 18th Annual SADC Lawyers Association Conference and General Meeting