Legislation needed to force political parties to disclose sources of funding

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen speak at the Wits Club earlier today. Photo: Roxanne Joseph.

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.”

Right2Know campaign gets loud

Protesters sang out against the proposed 'Secrecy Bill' outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters sang out against the proposed ‘Secrecy Bill’ outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know campaign members protested outside Albert Luthuli House today against President Jacob Zuma signing the Secrecy Bill.

About 10 protesters dressed in their red and black Right2Know campaign shirts, held banners and posters that shot down the Protection of State Information Bill which President Zuma has yet to sign.[pullquote align=”right”]This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it![/pullquote]

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“It is there on his desk. We ask you Zuma to listen to the people and do away with the Secrecy Bill!” said Dale McKinley, spokesperson for Right2Know in Gauteng.

He said the bill would bring South Africa down and take the country back to the oppressive apartheid-type regime which censored media and whistle blowers.

“This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it!” he added.

Whistle blowers in a crisis

McKinley said there is the crisis of whistle blowers who are “dying out, being stopped, fired and killed” for exposing corruption. One banner read: “Exposing corruption is not a crime”.

“Do the right thing and pass legislation which protects whistle blowers in the country”, said McKinley, appealing to Zuma who visits Luthuli House on Mondays.

 

Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know (R2K) celebrated their third anniversary last week. They have been campaigning against the Secrecy Bill since 2010, persistently challenging the government’s decisions around this Bill.

National Key Points act

McKinley said Right2Know also opposes the National Key Points act which conceals expenditure like in the case of Nkandla.

The protest was supposed to be carried out in front of Luthuli House but members were told today the ANC headquarters is a National Key Point and cannot be protested in front of.

“That is why we aren’t standing on the other side of the road. Today we were told Luthuli House is a National Key Point,” said McKinley.

They stood across the road on the corner of President and Sauer Street.

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

 

Protesters danced and repeated chants, singing: “Down with the Secrecy Bill. Down! Down!”; “Down with Zuma. Down! Down!”; “Forward with Right2Know. Forward! Forward!”

Some of them wore white masks to cover their faces. A woman who led the singing said: “You must hide yourself. The baboons in there will see us!” – referring to members of parliament inside Luthuli House.

Devereaux Morkle from the South African Press Association said to one of her colleagues: “I would also wear a mask if I was taking part in this protest.”

The Spy Bill

The campaign also opposes the government’s intentions of adopting the Spy Bill which could threaten the privacy of citizens via cell phone tapping.

“We demand good governance”; “Power to the people and not the Secrecy Bill” and “Defend our whistle blowers” were some of the phrases painted on signs held by the protesters.