Po­lit­i­cal par­ties must show SA the money

CityPress - - Voices - Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary voices@ city­press. co. za

Next year’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions are sure to be heav­ily con­tested. In Joburg, Cape Town and Nel­son Man­dela Bay, the ANC, DA and Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers are al­ready pre­par­ing for tough elec­toral bat­tles.

No doubt all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties will pour large sums of money into these ar­eas. No one knows quite how much they will spend on cam­paign­ing, given the lack of trans­parency re­gard­ing the fund­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

All po­lit­i­cal par­ties seem to agree that trans­parency is a good thing, but ap­pear to lose their ap­petite when it comes to dis­clos­ing their sources of fund­ing. For as much as the ANC is coy about its sources of do­na­tions in the past, the op­po­si­tion DA has also been re­luc­tant to dis­close its sources of fund­ing.

So the ques­tion re­mains: who will lead the way in clos­ing this gap in South Africa’s trans­parency regime? Log­i­cally, it would have to be the gov­ern­ing ANC with its over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment.

The ANC’s com­mit­ment to trans­parency on its party fund­ing was ar­tic­u­lated in its 2007 Polok­wane res­o­lu­tions.

Although Polok­wane seems a life­time away, the ANC has a man­date from its mem­bers to leg­is­late on this is­sue. Yet there has been lit­tle move­ment on the mat­ter since Polok­wane. ANC trea­surer-gen­eral Zweli Mkhize has made use­ful sug­ges­tions about the es­tab­lish­ment of a democ­racy fund through which do­na­tions can be fil­tered.

It is clear that po­lit­i­cal par­ties need money to op­er­ate. But know­ing where the money comes from is cru­cial if po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in par­tic­u­lar the ANC, are se­ri­ous about their stated com­mit­ment to trans­parency re­gard­ing ten­der pro­cesses and con­flicts of in­ter­est.

For in­stance, with­out trans­parency about po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions, there can be no way of know­ing whether ten­ders are be­ing al­lo­cated be­cause of the amounts of money that com­pa­nies or in­di­vid­u­als have do­nated to the ANC.

What is the quid pro quo be­ing of­fered to those who do­nate? For in­stance, the City of Cape Town’s pro­posed Maiden’s Cove de­vel­op­ment has raised eye­brows sim­ply be­cause the devel­oper is al­leged to be a busi­ness­man with close ties to DA mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille.

In the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tion, can we be cer­tain that pol­icy, en­vi­ron­men­tal and de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions that have been made, or are go­ing to be made, will be in the best in­ter­est of the coun­try or in the nar­row in­ter­est of the gov­ern­ing party – be it the DA or the ANC?

Strong democ­ra­cies re­quire healthy po­lit­i­cal par­ties. They, in turn, re­quire re­sources to sus­tain and op­er­ate a ba­sic party struc­ture, con­test elec­tions and con­trib­ute to pol­icy de­bate. And it is prob­a­bly un­re­al­is­tic to out­law pri­vate do­na­tions.

More­over, it is clear that the more than R100 mil­lion of public money that po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­ceive an­nu­ally is not enough to fi­nance the myr­iad ac­tiv­i­ties po­lit­i­cal par­ties need to un­der­take.

South Africa is a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing coun­try in which to con­test an elec­tion – it is made up of a sprawl­ing land mass, large ru­ral ar­eas, 11 lan­guages and a low lit­er­acy rate.

But what is also clear is that re­form and reg­u­la­tion now rep­re­sent main­stream mod­ern demo­cratic think­ing, although the de­tail of the reg­u­la­tion varies and must be con­tex­tu­ally ori­ented.

In Bri­tain, only cor­po­ra­tions and trade unions are re­quired to make public dis­clo­sures about their party con­tri­bu­tions. Par­ties must sub­mit quar­terly re­ports to the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion that de­tail donor in­for­ma­tion such as names, ad­dresses and the na­ture of the do­na­tion.

Ger­man law en­ti­tles par­ties or sev­eral bod­ies to re­ceive do­na­tions, but do­na­tions that ex­ceed €10 000 (R148 000) a year must be pub­licly dis­closed.

The name and ad­dress of the donor, and the to­tal amount of the con­tri­bu­tion, must be in­cluded in the an­nual re­port. Do­na­tions that ex­ceed €50 000 must be re­ported im­me­di­ately.

What­ever the short­com­ings of reg­u­lat­ing pri­vate fund­ing to po­lit­i­cal par­ties (as has been seen in the UK, Ger­many and the US, there have been prob­lems with im­ple­ment­ing reg­u­la­tions), the ad­van­tages of trans­parency seem to far out­weigh se­crecy.

In­creas­ing public fund­ing might only be part of the so­lu­tion be­cause public money will never be enough and will not do away with a po­lit­i­cal party’s need to raise pri­vate money.

So in a sense, ask­ing for big­ger amounts of public money is only one as­pect of this chal­lenge be­cause the nub of the prob­lem lies in the mil­lions of rands raised in se­cret and the ac­count­abil­ity deficit that is cre­ated in our po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses.

Ad­vo­cacy group My Vote Counts has brought a Con­sti­tu­tional Court case to com­pel Par­lia­ment to pass leg­is­la­tion reg­u­lat­ing pri­vate fund­ing to po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The judg­ment is pend­ing.

It is hard to say which way the court might fall on this thorny is­sue, but per­haps Par­lia­ment, and by im­pli­ca­tion the ANC, should take the bull by the horns and fill the la­cuna in South Africa’s anti-cor­rup­tion ap­pa­ra­tus by ini­ti­at­ing leg­is­la­tion to en­sure that po­lit­i­cal par­ties are trans­par­ent about their sources of fund­ing.

The public has the right to know who is fund­ing our po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­cause se­crecy only breeds mis­trust and cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment that is ripe for cor­rup­tion. Fe­bru­ary is cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor for My Vote Counts. The ad­vo­cacy group and the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s

public law and pol­i­tics de­part­ments co-hosted a seminar on Fri­day ti­tled Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties in South Africa: The In­ter­face be­tween Law and Pol­i­tics. For more de­tails,

go to myvote­counts.org.za/

PHOTO: JEMAL COUNTESS / GETTY IM­AGES

CAM­PAIGN GROUND elec­tions

A DA tent at last year’s gen­eral

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