Clar­ity on party fund­ing

Post - - Opinion - Brij Ma­haraj is a ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor at UKZN. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity. BRIJ MA­HARAJ

THE do­na­tions re­ceived by po­lit­i­cal par­ties has al­ways been con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause, as the adage goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. Do­na­tions to po­lit­i­cal par­ties and politi­cians fre­quently come with in­vis­i­ble strings at­tached, and of­ten pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions and for­eign bene­fac­tors can ex­ert un­due in­flu­ence on gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions, com­pared to the voice of or­di­nary ci­ti­zens which can be­come muted.

This com­pro­mises democ­racy and ac­count­abil­ity. In many coun­tries, there is a lack of trans­parency about such do­na­tions, with in­creas­ing de­mands for public dis­clo­sure, as the po­ten­tial for cor­rup­tion es­ca­lates.

The In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Democ­racy and Elec­toral As­sis­tance (IDEA) con­tends there are in­creas­ing in­di­ca­tions that cor­rup­tion and un­fet­tered do­na­tions are wield­ing un­due power on pol­i­tics and un­der­min­ing free and fair elec­tions. In some coun­tries, pro­ceeds from crime are be­ing used to in­flu­ence elec­toral outcomes and un­der­mine democ­racy.

Ac­cord­ing to IDEA, the “role of money in pol­i­tics is ar­guably the big­gest threat to democ­racy world­wide… from huge cor­po­rate campaign do­na­tions in the United States and drug money seep­ing into pol­i­tics in Latin Amer­ica, to cor­rup­tion scan­dals through­out Asia and Europe”.

A ma­jor con­cern of the Global Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions, Democ­racy and Se­cu­rity is that “if large cor­po­ra­tions and rich in­di­vid­u­als are able to buy greater in­flu­ence through large campaign do­na­tions, then ci­ti­zens can lose faith in, or be marginal­ized from, the po­lit­i­cal process”. Not sur­pris­ingly, ci­ti­zens are be­com­ing cyn­i­cal of politi­cians, and “re­cent re­search shows that more than two-thirds of Amer­i­cans trust gov­ern­ment less be­cause of the in­flu­ence of big donors”.

In In­dia, Mi­lan Vaish­nav, se­nior fel­low at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, sug­gests that the “po­lit­i­cal fi­nance regime is plagued by three ma­jor in­fir­mi­ties. First, there is a steady tor­rent of un­doc­u­mented cash that lu­bri­cates the ac­tiv­i­ties of both par­ties and can­di­dates. Sec­ond, there is vir­tu­ally no trans­parency re­gard­ing po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions. In the ma­jor­ity of in­stances, we are ig­no­rant about the iden­ti­ties of both the giver and the re­ceiver. Third, po­lit­i­cal par­ties are not sub­ject to any form of in­de­pen­dent au­dit, which ren­ders their stated ac­counts both fic­tional and far­ci­cal”.

In Africa, where abuse of state re­sources for party and per­sonal gain is a ma­jor prob­lem, there is a view that “how po­lit­i­cal par­ties and can­di­dates raise and spend money can have a more sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the fair­ness of an elec­toral process than any­thing that hap­pens on elec­tion day”. A ma­jor con­cern, ac­cord­ing to IDEA, is the “im­punity with which African po­lit­i­cal ac­tors can com­pletely ig­nore ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal fi­nance reg­u­la­tions prob­a­bly does more to erode con­fi­dence in con­trol­ling the role of money in pol­i­tics than any other fac­tor. It also weak­ens Africans’ trust in po­lit­i­cal par­ties”.

Gov­ern­ment spend­ing pri­or­i­ties is skewed, away from ad­dress­ing the ba­sic needs of the poor, to­wards those with deep pock­ets. The crumbs are left for the poverty-stricken masses, and an­a­lyst Nk­wazi Mhango warned: “Of all the chi­caner­ies, fear the pol­i­tics of the tummy like lep­rosy. For, it is through this sort of pol­i­tics, cor­rupt and ve­nal politi­cians bribe vot­ers with non­sense such as drinks, meals, khangas, small amount of money, T-shirts and what­nots”.

The lack of ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency for po­lit­i­cal party “in­vest­ments” is ex­tremely se­ri­ous in SA. Pres­i­dent Zuma has fre­quently stated that those busi­nesses that sup­port the ANC pros­per, as for ex­am­ple, on Jan­uary 11, 2013: “… I have al­ways said that a wise busi­nessper­son will sup­port the ANC… be­cause sup­port­ing the ANC means you’re in­vest­ing very well in your busi­ness… your busi­ness will mul­ti­ply. Ev­ery­thing you touch will mul­ti­ply”.

De­fend­ing Zuma, ANC spokesper­son Jack­son Mthembu said: “If the state does not come to the party and fund po­lit­i­cal par­ties, as hap­pens in other demo­cratic coun­tries, then they can­not force par­ties to dis­close who their fun­ders are… But un­til all of us feel com­fort­able that the state is fund­ing democ­racy and demo­cratic ex­pres­sion from the public purse… those who are call­ing for the reg­u­la­tion of do­na­tions to par­ties are dream­ing.”

And that former bas­tion of colo­nial right­eous­ness, He­len Zille (who also ac­cepted a do­na­tion from the rulers at Sax­on­wold) ar­gued that the DA will only sup­port fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions for party po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions when it “comes to power” – un­til then (or when Je­sus Christ re­turns) – sur­rep­ti­tious­ness was ac­cept­able.


How­ever, by May 2017 the po­lit­i­cal land­scape had changed sig­nif­i­cantly with se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of state cap­ture, and com­pelling public ev­i­dence from leaked emails re­veal­ing the Gup­tas’ in­flu­ence on var­i­ous levers of power, and es­pe­cially their stran­gle­hold over state owned en­ter­prises. ANC chief whip, Jack­son Mthembu, was forced to change his tune: “We must… en­sure that any fund­ing that po­lit­i­cal par­ties de­rive from pri­vate fun­ders is made trans­par­ent and that there is dis­clo­sure from the ben­e­fi­cia­ries”.

On June 6, 2017, the Na­tional As­sem­bly ap­proved the es­tab­lish­ment of an ad hoc com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate po­lit­i­cal party fund­ing, and ANC MP Vin­cent Smith was sub­se­quently elected the chair­per­son. The man­date of the com­mit­tee was to “con­sider a model of public and pri­vate fund­ing for po­lit­i­cal par­ties; and the need for, and pos­si­ble means of, reg­u­lat­ing pri­vate fund­ing in all its forms as well as in­vest­ment en­ti­ties owned by po­lit­i­cal par­ties”.

Ac­cord­ing to Smith, “it’s im­por­tant that… the voices and in­ter­ests of the elec­torate are not di­luted by un­due in­flu­ence ex­erted by pri­vate fun­ders who look af­ter their nar­row in­ter­ests”. Smith and his com­mit­tee may want to also con­sider crit­i­cal is­sues posed by Con­sti­tu­tional Court Judge Ed­win Cameron: “whether in­for­ma­tion on pri­vate fund­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties is… re­quired to ex­er­cise the right to vote… The sources of a can­di­date’s fi­nan­cial sup­port also alert the voter to the in­ter­ests to which a can­di­date is most likely to be re­spon­sive and thus fa­cil­i­tate pre­dic­tions of fu­ture per­for­mance in of­fice”.

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