Business Day

Voters have the right to know who funds parties

- Bekezela Phakathi Parliament­ary Writer phakathib@businessli­ve.co.za

A ruling by the High Court in Cape Town ordering Parliament to amend the Promotion of Access to Informatio­n Act (Paia) to allow for the disclosure of private political party funding informatio­n is a final confirmati­on that political parties can no longer refuse to reveal their funders.

The judgment handed down by the court on Wednesday, came about a week after Parliament’s ad hoc committee looking into the funding of political parties released its Draft Political Party Funding Bill.

It could force political parties and independen­t candidates to disclose their donors. But it remains to be seen whether it will be necessary for Parliament to amend Paia, given that an ad hoc committee it set up in June to look into the issue of the regulation of party funding was already formulatin­g guidelines on the disclosure of private donors and the funding of political organisati­ons.

The draft political party funding bill, released by the committee last week, entails among other measures, a ban on donations from foreign sources and a requiremen­t for parties to disclose all donations above a threshold yet to be set.

The high court gave Parliament 18 months to correct the inconsiste­ncies in Paia.

“It is declared that [Paia], is inconsiste­nt with the Constituti­on and invalid insofar as it does not allow for the recordal and disclosure of private funding informatio­n,” Judge Yasmin Meer said in the ruling.

Lobby group My Vote Counts approached the courts, arguing that access to informatio­n about a party’s private sources of funding was required for the effective exercise of the right to vote. It said disclosure provided the electorate with informatio­n on where political campaign money came from and how it was spent in order to aid voters in evaluating political parties.

Parliament said it noted the judgment and had begun a process of developing a law to regulate the public and private funding of political parties.

Civil society organisati­ons have long called for Parliament to enact legislatio­n regulating party funding, in line with AU, UN and other anticorrup­tion codes signed by the country.

They have argued that the lack of regulation provided ample opportunit­y for unethical and dishonest donors to peddle influence in policy formulatio­n and to meddle in politics.

Vincent Smith, chairman of the ad hoc committee, said that the court ruling will “once and for all” close the debate whether or not parties should reveal their funders.

“I think the court ruling is, in fact, an injection into the work of the ad hoc committee, so I welcome it,” Smith said.

James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s federal executive, said the party was studying the judgment, but queried whether the ruling was necessary.

“Our lawyers are studying the judgment, but one question that arises is whether [the ruling] is now superfluou­s because it enjoins Parliament to amend the Promotion of Access to Informatio­n Act to make it possible to access informatio­n on party funding when, in fact, Parliament is doing just that.

“We are not sure whether it’s necessary to amend Paia,” Selfe said.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa welcomed the high court ruling.

“The UDM has long agitated for the review of party funding legislatio­n to eliminate the trend of selling the country to the highest bidder.

“#GuptaLeaks have shown palpable evidence, that SA’s political dispensati­on is vulnerable to manipulati­on by individual­s, groups and companies for nefarious and very selfish goals.”

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