OPINION

My Vote Counts goes to ConCourt over party funding

Organisation seeking an order declaring parliament to have failed to enact the necessary legislation

MVC LAUNCHES APPLICATION AT THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT - 16 JULY 2014

Secrecy is not in the vocabulary of the Constitution. Yet this is how political parties deal with their finances. Despite political parties taking "centre stage" in our democracy, there is currently no regulation of or transparency in their private funding. The prevailing position is that there is no legislation requiring disclosure of the sources and sums of money donated privately to political parties, whether before, during or after an election. This funding shapes our politics and the decisions parties make on behalf of all South Africans. Information about the private funding of political parties is necessary for citizens to make informed decisions about the political parties they choose to support.

After years of repeated calls by civil society requesting Parliament to enact comprehensive legislation to regulate money in politics, My Vote Counts says enough! The history of party funding reform is littered with broken promises. Political parties represented in Parliament have promised, under oath, to enact legislation. The Western Cape High Court has also previously recognised the need to enact such legislation. Individual Members of Parliament have attempted to introduce it. But it is clear that the introduction of comprehensive legislation is not on the agenda of those who represent us. We have thus decided to take Parliament, the President, and all political parties represented in Parliament to court.

My Vote Counts has lodged an application at the Constitutional Court on the 16 July 2014, for an order declaring that Parliament has failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to enact national legislation to bring about transparency in the private funding of political parties. The application seeks a simple affirmation of a fundamental constitutional imperative: that citizens be able to access information that is required for the effective exercise of their right to vote.

This application does not ask the Constitutional Court to prescribe the content of the required legislation. That must be debated and decided by Parliament. The application seeks an order requiring Parliament to fulfil its constitutional obligation and pass the required legislation within 18 months. Parliament must also provide regular reports to the Constitutional Court on its progress.

The obligation to enact legislation governing political party funding is sourced in section 32(2), read with section 19 of the Constitution, as access to accurate information about the private funding of political parties is essential for the effective exercise of the right to vote and to make political choices. These provisions are underpinned by section 1(d), which founds our State on fundamental democratic values. These values are imperilled by the absence of the required legislation.

The failure to regulate money in politics has substantial consequences. It undoubtedly creates political inequality. A system that does not effectively regulate money in politics provides some people, as well as corporations and foreign governments, the unequal opportunity to have their voices heard. It provides the opportunity for a small minority to exercise an electoral influence stronger than a single vote.

The secret space that is created between political parties and their private funders is especially vulnerable to the corruptive influence of money. Proper regulation and transparency can both strongly deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity. To this end, the obligation to pass legislation is strengthened by South Africa's international obligations, as well as by sections 195, 215 and 217 of the Constitution, which require the promotion of transparency in public administration, public finance and public procurement, respectively.

You can find a summary of our activism including a history of party funding activism on our website: www.myvotecounts.org.za

Statement issued by Gregory Solik and Karabo Rajuili, My Vote Counts, July 16 2014

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