By Khulile Thwala
The Department of Cooperatives under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade identified gaps in the archaic piece of legislation, the Cooperatives Societies Act of 2003, which has mandated amendments including bolstering youth participation.
The Co-operative Societies Amendment Bill of 2021 was recently adopted and it includes interesting amendments which focus on youth involvement in co-operative societies.
Co-operative societies are commonly associated with the much older group of society with little to no youth participation. However, international standards of co-operatives advocate that youth should be at the top of the priority list.
The identified gaps in the 2003 Act include but are not limited to youth involvement, international developments, regional developments, national developments, and persistent challenges facing cooperatives in the country.
The amendments also ensure that the Act will now align with not only international but domestic laws. The Department of Co-operatives said the lack of involvement of youth in co-operatives not only posed limitations but also stifled the growth of cooperatives. These changes are said to have been long awaited by the cooperative sector.
The benefits of this Bill are to ensure compliance with local and international laws and harmonise the Co-operatives Act with other laws relevant to the development of co-operatives in the country.
The role of the cooperative department is now clearly spelt out in the amendments Bill to avoid conflict with domestic laws. The Bill was developed through consultations with stakeholders in a process that was led by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade through the Cooperative Development Department.
Meanwhile, cooperatives as instruments for social-economic development focus on associative economic strategy as a key factor for enabling more people to participate in the creation, expansion, and operation of viable and sustainable enterprises.
In support of the contribution made by co-operatives to the country’s socioeconomic development, the government included co-operative development as one of the priorities in the National Development Strategy.
The government considers cooperatives as a key and strategic vehicle for employment creation, resource mobilisation, financial intermediation, poverty reduction, and bringing about social cohesion.
The government, therefore, regards the cooperatives as part of an unbroken line of institutions that sustain the social and economic fabric of the country.
Since 1984 when the first Co-operative Societies Act was enacted which same was repealed in 2003 and replaced by the enactment of the Act under review, that is, the Co-operative Societies Act no.5 of 2003, there have been major developments locally, regionally and internationally in as far as development of co-operatives is concerned.
Given the socio-economic, policy, and legal developments that have taken place nationally and internationally between 2003 and 2021, the need to review the Co-operative Societies Act 2003 became inevitable.
In the course of developing the Bill, several national and international documents were consulted. National documents provided national development context and targets while international documents are inspired from the experiences and systems obtained in other countries.
It is stated that the consultation was useful because the cooperative movement has a global outlook which is translated in different ways at the national level. Some of the best practices and aspects from other countries were therefore taken on board with due regard to the Eswatini context.