It’s all about the money

2014-05-14 00:00

A WEEK ago, 18,6 million South African citizens made their way to voting stations across the country to cast their ballots in the fifth democratic national elections.

In securing these votes, political parties spent millions on election rallies, T-shirts, election posters, media campaigns and other paraphernalia, with the distribution of food parcels “for votes” a source of ongoing contention.

It’s reported that the DA spent R100 million in Gauteng alone. How much of that went to the bulk SMSes that landed them in trouble?

Money matters in modern-day politics. In South Africa, opposition parties require serious cash in order to challenge the ANC, which is able to raise money through Chancellor House, donations from foreign governments, and the ANC-aligned Progressive Business Forum.

Because of this, how political parties raise money for electioneering and party expenses is at the heart of the health of our democracy. It determines whether our vote counts, or if the bank balances of a few wealthy and connected individuals outweigh the interests of millions of ordinary citizens.

Since 1994, private sources of funding to political parties increased from R100 million, to an estimated R550 million leading up to the 2009 election. The ANC alone raised R1,66 billion between 2007 and 2012. These amounts supersede funding granted through public sources. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), granted all represented political parties R114,8 million in the previous financial year, and in the next financial year, this amount will rise to R121,4 million. The constitutionally dubious provincial legislation governing the disbursements of funds in the form of allowances to political parties rose from around R60 million in 2002/2003 to over R300 million in 2013/14.

Public funding is regulated, but there are still serious problems of lack of oversight. Private funding on the other hand, money political parties receive through corporations, trusts, foreign governments and wealthy individuals, occurs in complete, unregulated secrecy.

Private donors, under this veil of secrecy, are given undue ability to influence policies of political parties, which may be in conflict with our interests as voters.

It also gives these donors the ability to secure special favours from officials or secure government contracts. Well-documented examples of this include the arms deal, Guptagate, the refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa in 2009, the ANC’s Chancellor House doing business dealings with Hitachi Power Africa, and, more recently, Chancellor House’s secret deal with Pfisterer South Africa.

However, it is not only the corrupting influence of secret funds that is a threat to our democracy. The failure to make such information public is a major source of inequality in South Africa; it entrenches unequal access to power, shapes policies, leads to corruption and empowers the well-connected at the expense of the majority.

Our right to vote is linked to the right to information.

It has become critical for the health of our democracy to deal decisively with unregulated party funding, particularly the unhealthy and corrupting secrecy around private funding sources.

The South African public has been promised legislation for 17 years. Commitments made under oath by elected officials have not been kept. After years of engaging Parliament, the IEC and the public protector on reform, a broad coalition of mass-based and civil society organisations made a further call in March 2014 to hold political leadership accountable to taking responsibility for reform. Not one political party chose to disclose. The ANC confirmed receipt of the letter, but refused to engage.

What is clear is that that the introduction of comprehensive legislation to regulate private funding of political parties is not on the agenda of those who represent us.

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

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. Make sure your votes count. Join the citizen-led campaign for party finance reform.”

• Gregory Solik and Karabo Rajuili are political reform advocates working with My Vote Counts.

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