Legislation needed to force political parties to disclose sources of funding
South Africans are “chasing a dream,” according to one of the panelists at a discussion hosted by the Right2Know campaign in conjunction with Wits Journalism earlier this today.
Susan Booysen, a researcher at Wits,was speaking at the Wits Club which focussed on the issue of transparency in party funding in the run-up to the national elections. The dream, according to Booysen, is the passing of legislation which will force political parties to fully disclose the sources of their funding.
The topic for the 5-person panel was “Is South African democracy becoming a one rand one vote democracy?” and each of the speakers addressed the issue of secrecy and sources of party funds.
[pullquote]“If there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”[/pullquote]
“Money is inherent in our politics,” said Greg Solik, the coordinator of My Vote Counts. “Parties need lots of money to compete with the ANC (African National Congress).”
A fear that opposition parties’ hold, according to Lance Greyling of the DA (Democratic Alliance), is that “if there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”
As it stands, political party funding is distributed proportionally and equitably. This means that 90% (of public funds) is distributed according to the number of seats a party has in parliament (the ANC receives 65.7%) and the remainder is split equally among all parties, whether or not it hold seats.
Parties are prohibited from using public funds for electoral campaigns, so they tend to rely heavily on private funding, according to Prof Sithembile Mbele, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria.
In 2003, a group of civil society organisations made use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to compel parties to disclose their spending but the case was dismissed by the Cape High Court.
The parties argued they are “private entities and therefore are not required to disclose their sources of funding,” according to Mbele. However, Judge Benjamin Griesel said: “It doesn’t mean despite the case [being unsuccessful], political parties should not, as a matter of principle be compelled to disclose the details of private donations made to their parties … they should be regulated in some way.”
Sisonke Msimang of Sonke Gender Justice spoke about the impact of disclosure at a community level. She stressed the importance of disclosure for a number of reasons including the principle that “secrecy is a bad thing” and it means we have “deeply compromised service delivery.”
She said some form of legislation would give journalists and civil society the tools to better understand sources of funding for parties.” This, she said, “is important in a democracy.”