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Hon Mudenda meets Latvian President, parly speaker

The Hon. Speaker’s delegation started its engagement in Latvia on 6th March 2024 with a Meeting with H.E. Ms. Daiga Mierina, Speaker of the Parliament of Latvia. The Hon. Speaker of Latvia warmly welcomed Speaker Mudenda’s delegation.

The historic visit by the Parliamentary delegation from Zimbabwe was indeed instructive on the trajectory of enhanced relations between the two countries and by extension, the two legislatures.

Discussions focused on issues of mutual interest including strengthening bilateral ties between the two legislatures, current global conflict situations that threaten peace and security and forthcoming elections for the UN non – permanent seats by the sister Republics.
The Hon. Speaker of the Latvian Parliament unequivocally condemned what she termed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In this regard, she opined that the European Union unanimously stands with Ukraine and has subsequently placed issues of regional security as a priority. She posited that the region felt threatened by Russia’s aggression of Ukraine which might spill over to neighbouring countries. In this context, the Speaker of the Latvian Parliament called on the international community to lobby for the end of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia through concerted dialogue and diplomacy as no war has never ended war. Additionally, Mr. Edvards Smittens, Secretary General of the Latvian Parliament who was in attendance shared Latvia’s colonial history having suffered oppression under Russia for 30 years. He explained that the conflict in Ukraine had brought memories of shared colonial history with Zimbabwe.

On that score, Speaker Mudenda reminded his host that even the callous First and Second World Wars ended with peace round Conferences anchored on diplomacy and dialogue. In that regard, Speaker Mudenda affirmed that the attendant peace and security dividend was non-negotiable. In this context, Speaker Mudenda supported the establishment of the IPU Taskforce on the Russia/Ukraine conflict as well as the SADC initiative for the peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Northern Mozambique and the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The two parties at the meeting agreed on the potential of strengthening economic, trade and people to people bilateral relations between Zimbabwe and Latvia, and by extension between the two Legislatures. It was resolved that modalities would be put in place for the establishment of a Parliamentary Friendship Association that would strengthen the Parliamentary processes between the two legislatures in the spirit of Parliamentary diplomacy.

Meeting with Mr Kaspars Melnis, Minister of Climate and Energy
In the morning of 6th March 2024, the Speaker’s delegation met with the Minister of Climate and Energy, Mr Kaspars Melnis. To contextualise the discussion, Speaker Mudenda pointed out that climate change and renewable energy are topical issues as the global community grapples with the debilitating effects of global warming. Subsequently, many countries are tackling these negative effects of climate change through implementing the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement in their Nationally Determined Contributions. Speaker Mudenda highlighted that his delegation would be interested in understanding the Latvian laws and policy architecture around climate change and renewable energy. Consequently, the Minister informed the Zimbabwean delegation that Latvia is currently engaging relevant stakeholders on the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) which sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing renewable energy use. The NECP is augmented by the regulatory framework from the EU bloc.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwean delegation leant that the Latvian Parliament has a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs’) Commission that comprises Members of Parliament and works on issues related to Latvia’s implementation of the United Nations SDGs’. The SDGs’ Commission monitors Latvia’s progress in achieving the SDGs by 2030. This Commission has a Sub-committee on Climate Change that focuses on issues related to climate change in Latvia, for instance overseeing government actions on climate change. The Minister also informed the Hon. Speaker and his delegation that the Latvian Parliament does not have a separate climate change adaptation strategy. It was advised that the SDGs sub-committee deals with all climate change issues.

The delegation was informed that there are independent power producers (IPPs) in Latvia. The country has a free electricity market for legal energy entities. IPPs generate electricity and sell it to traders or directly to the national grid. However, electricity transmission is handled by a single operator while distribution is handled many operators. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are becoming increasingly central for Latvian IPPs as the country strives to increase renewable energy usage.

The delegation further interfaced with the Minister of Climate and Energy to discuss the impact of climate change on the environment and Latvian agriculture. In relation to Carbon credits, the delegation learnt that Latvia does not have a national system for creating and trading in carbon credits yet. The European Union (EU) is working on a regulatory framework to be used by EU Member States. However, the Minister of Environment informed the Speaker’s delegation that the National Energy and Climate Plan has incorporated carbon credits issues in anticipating the EU Climate Change Regulatory Framework. The Minister further indicated that Latvia’s main energy source is fossil fuels, particularly natural gas and oil. Nonetheless, the country is working towards increasing renewable energy use as outlined in the National Energy and Climate Plan.

Latvia’s approach to the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) focuses on mainstreaming its use across all sectors of the economy. Additionally, the Minister advised the Zimbabwean delegation that AI is being tested for application in Latvian agriculture such as automated crop monitoring, optimizing resource use and potentially improving yields. The Speaker’s delegation subsequently observed that this is an area which would be greatly beneficial to Zimbabwe on the backdrop of Zimbabwe being an agro – based economy. Relatedly, Latvia has early warning detection systems in place for a plethora of naturally occurring hazards such as floods, droughts, and inclement weather patterns. The Minister also explained that Latvia used the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios to model its national disaster risk monitoring and evaluation of its early warning systems for effective management of climate change impacts on the national environment.

Honorable Speaker Mudenda’s Visit to the Monument of Freedom in Latvia
Speaker Mudenda, accompanied by H.E. Ms. Daiga Mierina, Speaker of the Saeima (Latvian Parliament), visited the Monument of Freedom in Latvia on the midmorning of 6th March 2024. The purpose of the visit was to pay respects and commemorate those heroes and heroines who lost their lives in the pursuit of Latvian freedom and independence. The atmosphere was sombre as both the Zimbabwean and Latvian national anthems were played during the ceremony. The monument holds significant historical and cultural importance for Latvia, symbolizing the country’s erstwhile struggle for self-determination and liberation. The joint presence of the two Speakers who each laid a wreath of flowers at the foot of the independence monument was sobering and historically momentous in cementing the bilateral relations between the two legislatures.

Meeting with the Latvian Economic, Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Policy Committee

The Zimbabwean delegation subsequently with Ms. Skaidrite Abrama, Chairperson of the Latvian Parliament’s Economic, Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Policy Committee (EARERPC), and its Members on the afternoon of 6th March 2024. Comprising twelve MPs and functioning with two subcommittees focused on Environment and Entrepreneurship, the EARERPC holds a broad mandate that encompasses tourism development, making it the busiest committee in Parliament. Its work spans various areas, ranging from transitioning to renewable energy and electricity market laws to animal protection and competition law. Simultaneously, the EARERPC actively encourages public participation. The delegation was informed that stakeholders have the opportunity to submit electronic questions to Parliament, access proposed laws for comment and attend Committee meetings which are often open to the public. Latvia’s online parliamentary platforms enable the public to follow Committee debates and directly raise issues with Committee members or the Chairman of that Committee.

During the meeting, the EARERPC expressed interest in learning about Zimbabwe’s approach to public participation in its legislative process. Speaker Mudenda briefed the Committee on the public hearing process on proposed bills, outlining the steps from gazetting of the bill to committee referral, second reading, public consultations, Committee report presentation, and debates thereof. He emphasized that the Committee reports are approved through a consensus process. After the third reading of the bill, the bill is presented to the President for his assent and signature. The President has the prerogative to refer the bill to Parliament should he have some reservations which Parliament should rectify. Members of Parliament can table a Private Members bill such as the one on the abolishing of the death penalty. It was tabled by an opposition Member of Parliament.

The Zimbabwean delegation recognized the similarities in economic priorities between Latvia and Zimbabwe. Both countries have predominantly SME-driven economies with Latvia’s SME sector accounting for 80% of its GDP. Common challenges faced by both nations include inadequate financial models to support the SME sectors robustly although Zimbabwe has established a Women’s Bank and the Youth Empowerment Bank.

Acknowledging Latvia’s demographic decline and resulting labour shortage, the Chairperson emphasized the challenges posed by limited access to proper retail space for SMEs. The Latvian government is addressing these issues by offering a 40% capital investment cost return to established SMEs and providing support to young farmers and environmentally friendly SMEs.

The EARERPC Chairperson extended an invitation to the Zimbabwean delegation to submit detailed questions for a follow-up Zoom meeting. Both sides expressed a keen interest in cultural exchange and discussed the possibility of establishing a parliamentary friendship association.

Honourable Speaker Mudenda’s Delegation Meeting with the Latvian IT Cluster
On the 6th March 2024, Hon. Speaker Mudenda held a productive business meeting with representatives from the Latvian IT Cluster. The Latvian IT Cluster comprises several companies that have a strong accent of the use of AI and digital solutions. The meeting explored potential partnerships and collaboration opportunities between Latvian IT companies and Zimbabwe’s Parliament, business and public sectors.

Flexi.bi:
Flexi.bi, a Latvian IT company, specializes in providing digital solutions and teaching business owners how to navigate the digital landscape in their entrepreneurship. The company offers a vast library of literature on business operations. Notably, Zimbabwean Tendai Mataranyika, a consultant at Flexi.bi, was touted as being at the disposal of Parliament of Zimbabwe in the exploration of trailblazing IT solutions for Parliament. Flexi.bi showcased its latest project in Zimbabwe, which focuses on analytics for production and retail. The company also emphasized its expertise in virtual solutions, including virtual meetings.

Tap Box:
Tap Box is another Latvian IT company that creates self-service solutions for various sectors, including the private and public sectors. Their solutions are commonly used in banks and for transport systems. Tap Box highlighted their technological competitiveness in IT hardware, which is designed for indoor and outdoor purposes. Notably, the company has developed prototypes of ATM machines for Senegal and Mali, incorporating modern features such as fingerprint and facial recognition. Upon enquiry of the extent to which the entity can provide biometric solutions at Parliament of Zimbabwe, Tap Box highlighted the possibility of utilizing facial recognition and passport scanning technology for entry and exit points at the New Parliament Building infrastructure. Additionally, the company discussed the potential for a physical assessment of the Zimbabwean landscape. Tap Box’s advanced security measures were highlighted as a crucial aspect to safeguard against cyber-attacks. The digitization of the Parliament library was also discussed as a potential collaboration.

Squalio:
Squalio is an IT services and consulting company that offers modern workplace solutions, access management, hybrid IT strategy, networks, and security services. The company’s expertise in cyber security services and complex election solutions was highlighted during the meeting. Skills transfer through training was also emphasized as a potential avenue for collaboration with Zimbabwe.

Dx Services:
Dx Services is a Latvian IT company specializing in digital transformation services. Their key areas of expertise include AI, data analytics, internet of things (IoT), robotic process automation (RPA), agile consulting and UX/UI. The delegation expressed interest in tapping into Dx Services’ expertise for sample projects, including end-to-end automation projects, sales data analytics platforms, IoT-based solutions for monitoring irrigation equipment, and road infrastructure monitoring solutions based on computer vision and edge computing. These specific areas dovetail with key drivers of the National Development Strategy 1, which is feeding into the Presidential Vision 2030 where it is anticipated that Zimbabwe will attain an upper-middle class status

Riga Business School (RBS):
Riga Business School, based in Riga, presented its flagship program entitled ‘She Rebuilds the World Program.’ This program aims to empower women entrepreneurs and contribute to building economies in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia by marshalling in the women’s demographic dividend. The program includes on-site BootCamps, online BootCamps and a Business Development Lab course. The delegation expressed interest in collaborating with RBS to further promote entrepreneurship and skills development in Zimbabwe, especially among women’s start-ups. The invitation to participate in the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in April was extended to the entities involved.

The meeting between Hon. Speaker Mudenda and the Latvian IT Cluster was highly productive, showcasing the strengths and capabilities of Latvian IT companies in AI and digital solutions applications. The discussions explored various areas of collaboration, including knowledge transfer, hardware implementation, digital transformation, and entrepreneurship development. The meeting laid the foundation for potential partnerships and the exchange of expertise to foster technological advancements and economic growth in Zimbabwe through the youth and womenfolk participatory innovation initiatives.

Meeting with His Excellency the President of Latvia
To crown the Hon. Speaker’s delegation working visit to Latvia, Speaker Mudenda was honoured to meet His Excellency Mr. Edgars Rinkevics, President of the of the Republic of Latvia on the 8th March 2024. The visit was taking place within the context of current global threats to peace and security as evidenced by the conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. Accordingly, President Rinkevics welcomed the opportunity to share perspectives on issues of mutual interest, including enhancing bilateral relations between the two sisterly Republics and to reflect on peace and security issues globally.
With reference to the existing cordial relations, His Excellency, the President of Latvia expressed his country’s keen interest in accelerating political, economic and trade relations between Zimbabwe and Latvia.

Accordingly, he commended Ambassador Misihairabwi-Mushonga for her spirited efforts in enhancing these relations. In concurring with President Mr. Rinkevics, Hon. Speaker Mudenda expressed utmost gratitude for the support rendered to Zimbabwe and its freedom fighters during the liberation struggle. In this regard, he expressed confidence in the positive impact of the Benchmarking visit in strengthening bilateral relations between the sister Republics in response to His Excellency, President Mnangagwa’s mantra “ZIMBABWE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS”.

In response to H.E. Rinkevics’ welcome remarks on global peace and security Speaker Mudenda highlighted the negative impact of the war in Ukraine, including imported inflation affecting global economies. He also referred to the escalating conflict in the Middle East resulting in devastating humanitarian crisis where more than 30 000 Palestinians have lost their lives and one and half million Palestinians in Gaza have no access to food, water and the dire need for emergency health services. Relatedly, Speaker Mudenda also alluded to the conflicts in Africa, in particular, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the SADC Region had deployed peacekeeping forces in an effort to ameliorate against the scourge of insurgents.

Similarly, Speaker Mudenda bemoaned the exponential rise in coup d’états in some parts of West Africa. With regards to the Gaza conflict, the Hon. Speaker noted that while Israel claims to have a right to defend itself, the response should not be disproportional in terms of the dictates of international law.

Additionally, the international community should offer civilians requisite humanitarian assistance. On the war in Ukraine, the Speaker Mudenda highlighted Russia’s concerns on the consolidated NATO military entity. To this an extent, he called for diplomatic manoeuvres and dialogue to end the global conflicts. He emphasized that peace must be anchored on justice and multilateralism as enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter.

His Excellency, the President of Latvia appreciated the Speaker’s briefing on the conflict situations in Africa and expressed similar sentiments on the situation in Gaza arising from the his recent visit to Israel and Palestine. While acknowledging that the situation had widened the gap between the belligerent parties and closed prospects on reviving the two-state solution as propounded by the UN, he nonetheless called on the international community to engage more vigorously for a lasting political and diplomatic solution. Furthermore, the President shared his perspectives on the war in Ukraine which for Latvia is a reminder of its colonial era. The President went on to assure the Hon. Speaker of safe passage of the much-needed grain and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia to the African continent and the President assured the Speaker that he would join other peace brokers to ensure that the Ukraine/Russia conflict ceases soon.

The President appealed for Zimbabwe’s support in Latvia’s bid for the UN non-permanent seat on the Security Council for 2025/2026 session. In the same vein, the President pledged that Latvia will also support Zimbabwe’s bid for the UN non-permanent seat on the Security Council in 2027/2028 session.

In the spirit of sharing perspectives on global peace and security, the President of Latvia was keen on Zimbabwe to send a delegation to attend the High-Level Peace Summit scheduled for Switzerland in 2024.

In conclusion, His Excellency, the President of Latvia asked the Speaker to deliver fraternal greetings to his brother, His Excellency, Cde Dr. E.D. Mnangwagwa. Speaker Mudenda happily obliged that he would deliver the message.

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