Court bid to unmask political funders

2014-07-27 15:00

Nobody knows which big businesses, foreign governments and super-rich individuals are keeping our political parties afloat?–?but now there’s a court bid to change this.

Rights organisation My Vote Counts is asking the Constitutional Court to compel Parliament to adopt laws forcing all political parties to disclose the identities of their private donors.

In the group’s founding affidavit, director Axolile Notywala argues that a citizen’s constitutional right to vote is stymied by the “absence of adequate and accurate information about each party’s likely loyalties”.

The funding enables these “to exercise an electoral influence?...?stronger than the single vote of every woman and man who comprises the electorate”.

Notywala says this “creates scope for corruption”.

The court action cites as respondents political parties, the presiding officers of both Houses of Parliament, President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Justice Minister Michael Masutha.

A study by the Open Society Foundation estimates that private funding of political parties in the 2009 election year stood at about R550?million, an amount exceeding the R94?million set aside by the state for parties.

In 2003, the Institute for Democracy in SA (Idasa) launched a court action to try to force the country’s biggest political parties to disclose their funding.

All the parties opposed this case, refusing to disclose their records on the basis that it was a matter for Parliament, not the courts. My Vote Counts argues the matter was not appealed because the parties acknowledged legislation around private funding was needed.

At the time of the Idasa challenge, Kgalema Motlanthe (then the ANC’s secretary-general) promised that Parliament would fulfil its obligation to adopt “legislative and other measures to incorporate the principle of transparency into funding of political parties”.

Since then, and despite repeated requests to portfolio committees, the speaker of Parliament and the chief whip’s forum by My Vote Counts, private individuals and smaller political parties, no steps have been taken by Parliament to enact such legislation.

No responding papers have been filed as yet.

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