Violations of the Rule of Law undermine the Political Party Funding Bill
The Political Party Funding Bill appears to be well on its way to becoming law in South Africa. Its intention to shed light on the identity of those who fund political parties is noble, and arguably essential in a free and just society. But our legislators’ irresponsibility in their law-making stands to undermine these good intentions and lead to severe consequences for our democracy.
Very few people disagree with the fact that the taxpaying public has a right to know who funds political parties. Indeed, the maxim ‘nothing about us, without us’ and that the legitimacy of government depends upon the consent of the governed, both imply that those who seek to and who do rule over us must be completely transparent with us. Practically, we want to know who funds our political parties so that we know whether they are representing us, or representing other group interests that are not in the public interest.
Parliament’s conduct, however, will have an adverse impact on the bill. In an ideal society with a constitutional government, the bill will simply inform the public about who funds political parties. In our reality, however, the bill is likely to cause potential financiers of opposition parties to withhold their funds and to empower nefarious elements within government to take punitive action against those opposition funders who have not been scared into submission.
Imagine, for instance, a company whose directors are card-carrying members of the opposition Socialist Party. They have been funding the party for the past decade, as it squares up against the governing Farmers’ Party. This funding has up to now been anonymous, as the company carries on with its business and the Socialists enjoy the extra funding. The new Political Party Funding Bill, however, passes, and suddenly this relationship between the company and the Socialist Party is public information. Not only does the public now know, but so do the company’s regulators. Those regulators are, of course, all card-carrying members of the Farmers’ Party.
Three things can now happen. Ideally, the regulators would disregard the newfound information. Secondly, the regulators take action against the company by, for instance, refusing to renew some or other licence to operate, thereby undermining the funding of their opposition political group. Or finally, the company simply thinks the regulators are going to bully them, and decides to withhold funding from the Socialist Party going forward. In two of the three scenarios the opposition party will be severely undermined by the ruling party.