Party funding

2008-11-20 00:00

In principle it is acceptable that political parties should be funded, at least in part, from government sources to enable them to contest elections. It is an indication of how important regular, orderly elections are to the functioning of a democracy. In this country such funding is provided at the national level and is administered by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in accordance with regulations laid down by Parliament.

The African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal has proposed an additional feature. It wants the provincial legislature, where it holds a majority, to agree to the allocation of a further R20 million for parties to use at provincial level in the 2009 election. The Inkatha Freedom Party supports this proposal on the grounds that it will ensure that political parties do not rely on businesses for funding, a practice which can lead to manipulation by those businesses when the election is over. Yet state funding for election purposes, no matter how substantial, can never eliminate a possible dependence on businesses or individuals for additional assistance. The important safeguard is for such dependence to be made public, which currently is not a legal requirement.

The Democratic Alliance is opposed to the intended legislation on the grounds that the ANC, as the largest party, would get the biggest slice of funding. Yet it would be willing to take its proportion if the legislation is passed. This is a neat example of opposition qualified by self-interest.

The main objection to the intended legislation is that it will burden the taxpayer twice over for the same purpose. Even if this is constitutionally possible, it smacks of greed and is hardly just. It also comes at a time when the provincial fiscus is under a lot of pressure, not least by large and irresponsible over-spending by the Department of Health. The new proposal was raised in a meeting of the finance portfolio committee. This is the very committee which, for practical and ethical reasons, should turn the proposal down.

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