IT HAS taken more than a decade of campaigning to have the Political Party Funding Bill which would see private donations made to political parties represented in Parliament made public. Months later, President Cyril Ramaphosa has yet to sign the Bill into law.
The Bill was scheduled to be signed before the 2019 national and provincial elections and this would allow for a multi-party democracy fund to be run by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the donations to the fund shared equally among all parties represented in Parliament. Currently, the IEC distributes the funds according to the number of seats a party holds in Parliament.
The public and smaller parties stand to benefit from the Bill as they will get to know the funders behind their party of choice, and the smaller parties will get a bigger slice of the pie. In the past, the largest share went to the African National Congress (ANC) due to the number of parliamentary seats it holds.
The Bill also prohibits donations from foreign governments and their agencies, government departments and state owned entities. It also regulates the amount an individual can donate to a party in a calendar year.
The issue of who funds political parties has been shrouded in secrecy pre and post apartheid South Africa and most political parties had, prior to the Bill being passed, resisted reforms. Some, like the DA for example, have gone as far as to declare that donors of political parties are entitled to privacy.
Abuse of money in politics can undermine democracy. Crusaders for transparency in party political funding argue that multi-party democracy requires that citizens know who funds political parties. The major concern is that private companies and individuals contribute in exchange for the party promoting their viewpoint, to manipulate policy, influence campaigns and the outcome of elections and to acquire government tenders. Money in politics can skew the political playing field to suit political parties in government, be it at national, provincial or local level.
In 2003, the Centre for Public Integrity, a Washington-based research organisation that produces investigative articles on special interests and ethics in government, released a report that showed that companies awarded $8 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan were major campaign donors to former President George Bush.
Closer to home, over the years there have many allegations of money from individuals and companies which received huge government contracts being channeled back to the ANC.
In the lead-up to the 2014 elections, it emerged that the fate of newly-formed political party, Agang, led by Mamphela Ramphele, was determined by donors. Ramphele returned from London to announce the party would merge with the DA, this without the knowledge of her fellow party members. It was later revealed that the funders had committed to funding her party on condition that they join the DA. News of the merger caused such chaos and infighting that she opted to leave politics shortly after the elections of that year.
Former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza also left the party she started, following infighting among high ranking officials. In the spat, the officials went on social media and posted details of their funders who they alleged included businessman Johann Rupert. Some of the details around the fundraising were meant to embarrass Khoza. She exited shortly thereafter.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been mired in controversy over a donation and loan made by two co-owners of tobacco company Carlinax. One of the co-owners Adriano Mazotti has admitted to cigarette smuggling and tax evasion.
In recent months, several smaller parties led by former President Jacob Zuma’s allies have emerged and there have been accusations that they are funded by the Guptas or people close to Zuma in an effort to reduce the ANC’s vote. Their funders will become clear when the Bill becomes law.
Legislation was passed by Parliament in 1997 to regulate government funding of political parties, but it didn’t include private or corporate donations. Several cases thereafter have failed to force parties to reveal their private and corporate benefactors.
There’s now a change of heart from politicians and the rest depends on the President’s signature.