New party funding legislation will bring integrity to SA's politics

New party funding legislation will bring integrity to SA's politics.
New party funding legislation will bring integrity to SA's politics.
Image: 123RF/bimdeedee

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has finally signed into law a new bill aimed at regulating the funding of political parties. It was approved by parliament in June last year.

The Political Party Funding Bill, when it eventually becomes law on April 1, will enable South Africans to know who funds their political parties.

The new law is long overdue.

Funding is crucial for the survival of political parties and their ability to campaign for elections. But this needs to be regulated because the electorate needs to know where funds are coming from. Countries that have introduced similar laws have done so to preserve their sovereignty as well as the integrity and autonomy of domestic politics.

Most countries have laws that encourage parties to disclose who their funders are. And the US bans foreign funding in elections.

SA's law enshrines these basic principles. But there's concern around the timing of the bill as it won't be operational before the hotly contested elections in May.

It's hard to dismiss the suspicion that the scandal-ridden ANC wanted to delay the bill coming into effect to avoid having to disclose its funders before the poll.

For civil society activists who have struggled for transparency in party funding, the bill cannot come into effect soon enough. The hope is that the legal obligation to disclose political party funding will bring more integrity to SA's politics.

The bill requires parties to disclose all donations over R100000 from any one donor.

It also prohibits donations from foreign governments or organs of state. The bill also has provisions that specifically aim to curb corruption.

Non-compliance with the new law can lead to a fine or a jail sentence of up to five years. The bill provides for a multi-party democracy fund to be established and managed by the country's electoral commission to receive anonymous donations. These would then be distributed to parties represented in parliament and in the provincial legislatures.

The logic behind this is that these donations will help promote democracy. It's not clear how successful it will be, given that donations to political parties are usually tied to promoting particular interests.

There are some areas in which the bill is inadequate. For example, it doesn't go far enough in addressing sources of indirect funding, like subsidised access to media. This is particularly important given complaints that the ANC enjoys unfair access to the public broadcaster, the SABC.

Another challenge is how to curb the expectations of donors who often want a return on their investment. This leads to scandals.

Revealing identities of private funders of political parties should become an urgent priority given the web of corruption that's been laid bare at the commission probing the capture of the state by private business interests.

- Swart is research director at the Human Sciences Research Council. Article courtesy of The Conversation

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