Party funding reform

2010-11-01 00:00

SHORTLY after the 2009 national elections, a report appeared in The Witness raising questions about an event organised by the Msunduzi Municipality to honour one Nkosi Mlaba.

The event was supposed to have taken place at Alexandra Park just prior to the elections and cost the city over R1 million.

Requests for this money had never come before the council’s executive committee (Exco), so in effect this was unauthorised expenditure.

Councillors only got to know about it when invoices started coming into city hall for payment of items such as marquees and speaker systems.

When the issue surfaced in the media, there were allegations that no such celebration had taken place and the money was allegedly used to fund an ANC election rally held at the Qokololo Stadium in Edendale.

Allegations were also made that not all the money went to pay for the rally, and that some had ended up in the pockets of certain officials and politicians.

After the exposé, the municipality undertook to investigate the matter. A report was eventually tabled before Exco that stated that certain officials had acted beyond their mandate in not getting authorisation to spend the money.

Democratic Alliance MP and former Msunduzi councillor Mark Steele, who first blew the whistle on the matter, labelled the scanty report a whitewash.

The investigation did not probe whether the event actually took place. Evidence of a cover-up emerged when officials who claimed that it had taken place at Alexandra Park started saying it had been held elsewhere. Nobody asked where “elswhere” was.

I thought about the Nkosi Mlaba event this week after attending a thought-provoking seminar based on a book entitled Paying for Politics: Party Funding and Political Change in South Africa and the Global South, edited by Anthony Butler, Professor of Political Studies at Wits University.

Butler points to the complexity of political party funding in both developed and developing countries. He says the main concern is the link between private funding and corruption as money changes hands to buy votes for favoured candidates or in exchange for political influence, jobs, licences or contracts.

Butler says that while South Africa’s party funding system needs reform, he calls for caution. “If party funding reform is confined to crude transparency requirements and to public funding increases, South Africans could find themselves in a less democratic and more corrupt society than today’s,” he warns.

In other words, the crooks will find more sophisticated ways to cover up their shenanigans.

Two themes in the book reminded me of the Mlaba saga. One is funding linked to the issue of cadre deployment into key civil service jobs so that they can funnel funds to the party.

The other is spelt out by investigative journalist Sam Sole in his chapter Money Politics in South Africa: From Covert Party Funding to the Problem of Black Economic Empowerment.

Sole argues that critics fail to appreciate the effect of the powerful mix of cadre deployment and BEE, with tenders and contracts being channelled to the party faithful who in turn have an obligation to donate generously to party coffers.

Not only has this seen cadres in key positions give out tenders and contracts to politically connected BEE partners, he says, it is also a system that saw many civil servants grow “outrageously” wealthy.

Sole quotes a 2009 special auditor’s report that showed that 2 000 government officials were doing business directly with the government and directly or indirectly benefited from government tenders worth more than R600 million.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s revelation of investigations involving R25 billion in tender fraud comes as no surprise. Will these investigations end up being whitewashed like Msunduzi’s Nkosi Mlaba saga?

Butler also finds that earlier efforts to secure money for the party through cadre deployment and narrow BEE interests have had unintended consequences.

He says that funding is increasingly being used within the ruling party to finance inter-factional struggles.

A picture is emerging of those with deep pockets becoming more influential. Is this development fuelling a need for more and more wealth?

Take the case of businessman Sandi Majali, who just before the April 2004 election transferred R11 million into ANC coffers. Last week he was in the dock facing charges of hijacking a company.

Butler says there is definite concern within the ANC over internal vote-buying. This is why the party passed a resolution on party funding at its 2007 Polokwane conference.

This week, the Minister for Public Service Admintration, Richard Baloyi, in an address to Business Unity SA, also hinted that party funding is coming under anti-corruption scrutiny. After one too many whitewashes, it becomes harder to have faith in the ruling party.

Here’s hoping that concern about factionalism within the party leads to some action.

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