Follow the money, find the power

2014-05-06 10:00

Money matters in modern democracies a great deal and it should be treated as an essential electoral resource.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) granted represented political parties a total of R114.8?million last year.

There is also a little-known allocation from Parliament to political parties to run constituency offices, which have a highly questionable impact. The funds have increased from about R60?million in 2002/03 to about R330?million in 2013/14.

The constitutionally dubious provincial legislation, passed in most provinces in the past decade, also made allocations to political parties of about R250?million in 2013/14.

Since 1994, private sources of political funding increased from R100?million to about R550?million by 2009. Recently, it was reported the ANC raised about R1.6?billion between 2007 and 2012.

Although the public funding of political parties is problematic because of a lack of oversight, private donations take place in secrecy. Because there is no regulation, we know little about the conditions under which these deals are secured.

Even though our votes buy a share in political parties, they refuse to open their books and report their dealings to citizens.

Private donors, under this veil of secrecy, are given undue power to influence the policies of political parties, which may be in conflict to voters’ interests. It also gives them the ability to get “special favours” from officials or secure government contracts.

The arms deal; Chancellor House, the ANC’s investment arm, doing business with the state so that it makes money from electricity hikes; and the refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa, are all good examples of the role money plays in political decision-making.

The failure to make such information public is a major source of inequality in South Africa?as?it entrenches unequal access to power, shapes policies, leads to corruption and empowers the well-connected at the expense of the majority. Secrecy breeds corruption and the secrecy surrounding sources of private funding of political parties is no exception.

The right to vote is the right to cast an informed vote. As millions of South Africans prepare to vote, we must ask: once May 7 comes and goes, will our votes really count?

We must ensure our ballots are not outweighed by the bank balances of others whose interests might conflict with our own. We must ensure that campaign promises are not undercut by financially influential individuals, corporations or foreign governments.

The first step in this accountability process is to deal decisively with unregulated party funding.

The public has been promised legislation for 17 years and commitments made under oath by elected officials have not been kept.

After years of canvassing Parliament, the IEC and the Public Protector to secure reform, a coalition of mass-based and civil society organisations made another call to hold political leadership accountable.

On March 31 this year, a letter was sent to 14 political parties, asking them to reveal the sources of the private funds they received in the past 12 months. The response was telling, with not one choosing to disclose.

It is clear that the introduction of comprehensive legislation to regulate the private funding of political parties is not on the agenda of those who represent us. They are unable to act against their own interests to secure the future of those they represent.

Because of this, My Vote Counts, on the advice of its lawyers, will approach the courts to remind Parliament it has certain constitutional duties to fulfil and its failure in this regard is unacceptable. Enough is enough.

Solik and Rajuili are political reform advocates working with My Vote Counts

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