ANC’s about-turn comes at a price

Cape Town – The about-turn taken by the ANC in approving the disclosure of private funding for political parties is contingent on more state money going to parties.

It is a carrot and stick scenario: the transparency and disclosure of private donations is directly linked to increased support from the national coffers.

For the first time in 20 years, a shift is under way to break the secrecy on how parties get their funding. Despite political parties across the spectrum having refused to open their books to public scrutiny until now, they welcomed this week’s declaration by the ANC.

This week, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said the issue was not only about increasing public funding; it was also about transparency regarding private donations.

“If we give you enough or adequate funding from the public purse, your responsibility is that if you get money anywhere else, in regulating whatever you get, you must declare,” he said.

“There must be declaration on any other monies you receive from anywhere else. There must be transparency on any other additional monies you get from anywhere else.”

Civil action group My Vote Counts has been pushing for greater transparency in the regulation of party-political funding. In 2015, it made an unsuccessful legal bid to compel Parliament to pass legislation in this regard, but the court ruled that Parliament had passed the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia), which provided for disclosures.

Last year, the group was again unsuccessful in getting the 13 political parties represented in Parliament to disclose their private funders as most of them ignored the provisions of Paia.

Mthembu said in the 2017/18 financial year, public funding for political parties amounted to just under R150m and was proportionally allocated to parties.

In addition to this fund, members of legislatures are funded by the respective institutions.

All the funds emanate from the Represented Political Parties’ Fund, administered by the Independent Electoral Commission.

Mthembu described the R150m as “negligible” for political parties to do their work.

Currently, political parties are not required to declare the sources of their funds or how they use their money.

Mthembu said the ANC would table a motion in Parliament for the establishment of an ad hoc committee on party funding to inquire into, and make recommendations on, the funding of political parties with a view to introducing or amending legislation if necessary.

The committee would also consider a model for adequate public funding for political parties and possible ways to regulate private funding.

“This will also address concerns raised by civil society on the lack of transparency of party funding,” he said.