Invisible party funding the 'Achilles heel' of SA democracy, IEC hearing told
1 August 2019
The invisibility and anonymity of political party funding and funders is the "Achilles heel" of South Africa's constitutional democracy, the public hearing into party funding heard on Thursday.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) began its hearings into the draft regulations for the Political Party Funding Act (Act 6 of 2018).
IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini started by stating that the commission had received more than 4300 written submissions on the matter - a strong gauge of the "public pulse".
While the IEC was busy with the May 8 general elections, they did not stop the work on this Act, he said, adding that the IEC was requested by Parliament to take on this process.
"While SA has rightfully prided itself on the quality of its elections over the past 25 years, lack of regulation of political finance has been our Achilles heel... this has put us at odds with international best practice and guidelines of the African Union, the SADC and other world bodies."
The National Assembly and National Council of Provinces passed the bill in 2018. President Cyril Ramaphosa assented to it in January of this year.
Bill the 'missing link'
IEC vice chairperson Janet Love said their obligation was to finalise regulations as speedily as possible, to provide certainty to parties and political funders alike.
Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) described the bill as a "missing link" in South Africa's legislative architecture.
He said the legislation "is by no means perfect", but that Casac was in agreement with the underlying thrust of the Act.
Some provisions, though, could be improved to give greater clarity and certainty.
One of the provisions of the Act is that a Multi-Party Democracy Fund be set up for, among other things, to allow donors who did not wish to reveal their identity to continue to make political donations.
It won't be given directly to political parties and will still be anonymous if the value of their donations is below a prescribed threshold.
2019 voters in the dark about funding
Khaliel Moses, of civil society organisation Amandla.mobi, suggested that the delay in the signing of the bill was "perhaps a strategic decision" on the part of the ANC ahead of the May 8 general elections.
"This should raise our alarm bells, because it meant political parties didn’t have to declare who their funders are before the 2019 elections in May," he said of the so-called "delay".
"The resulting lack of political transparency meant voters went into elections uninformed about who funds our parties," said Moses.
It was important for the IEC to push forward on the bill, Moses said. He commended the IEC for keeping its "resolve", despite the immense pressure against the bill.
Joel Bregman, of My Vote Counts (MVC), said the Act heralded a "new regime" that would strengthen accountability and would go towards "understanding money in our politics".
Bregman reiterated some of the points made by Moses, adding that he hoped that the Act would be fully implemented in its final form before local government elections in 2021. He further urged the IEC to approach President Cyril Ramaphosa to gazette a date for the final implementation of the Act.
The hearings continue.