Local elections: Voters should know who funds parties

2016-08-02 09:25

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Lawson Naidoo

ANC’s Elections Head Nomvula Mokonyane has claimed that the party has spent about R1bn on its local government election campaign. This is a startling figure which should shake us out of our complacency about the funding of political parties generally and campaign finance particularly. The DA is reported to be spending R350m whilst the EFF says it has spent no more than R10m. However, the true cost of these elections may well be much higher than what has been disclosed.

Political parties that have representation in national or provincial legislatures receive funding from the public purse under the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act 1997 in a process managed by the Electoral Commission (IEC). In 2015 a total of 15 parties received funding of R121.5m in terms of a formula (which is 90% proportional and 10% equitable) based on the parties’ performance in the 2014 national and provincial elections. The ANC received R72.1m, the DA R26.3m and the EFF R9.8m. The other 12 parties shared R13.3m.

In addition to this public funding, political parties can seek to raise funds from private sources be it members, supporters, companies and other local or foreign donors. Funds raised in this way remain unregulated and secret despite legal challenges seeking to get parties to open their financial records.

Using resources to benefit parties

The nexus between private funding of political parties and corruption, and the proliferation of tenderpreneurs cannot be ignored. Voters should also have full access to information about political parties, including who funds them, in order to meaningfully exercise the right to vote.

In the run up to elections, whether they be municipal, provincial or national, there is a tendency by parties in power, and who have control over state resources, to seek to use these resources in a way that benefits their parties or candidates. Just look at the full page and double page adverts in the weekend’s papers. Although the use of funds may appear to be in accordance with a legitimate government function, the timing and manner of the spending raises questions about its true intent.

We have seen how governing parties use their advertising and other budgets to highlight their achievements in office and to make other blatantly political statements that seek to sway voters. The political messaging on a pair of over-sized sunglasses masquerading as an art installation on the promenade in Cape Town does exactly that. These advantages of incumbency that accrue to parties in power create an unfair political playing field.

An ANC and Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, Dumisani Mafu, recently passed away in the Eastern Cape and was awarded a Provincial Official Funeral, Category 2, by the President after receiving a request from the Provincial Premier. Such Official Funerals are usually accorded to the Deputy Speaker of the Provincial Legislature, while Category 1 funerals are for the Speaker and MEC’s.

Yet Mr Mafu, despite his heroic role in the liberation struggle, did not hold any senior political office and would not ordinarily qualify for a state-funded funeral. It is only proper that he should have received a fitting farewell that acknowledged his sterling contribution to our liberation. But should the state have paid for it? Where is the line to be drawn?

News reports of the funeral together with what can be gleaned from the funeral programme suggest that it was a party political affair. The decoration of the venue and the content of the programme leave little doubt of this. A report in the Daily Dispatch on 25 July states that “ANC treasurer-general Dr Zweli Mkhize asked thousands of party supporters to ensure the ANC won the upcoming elections to honour its first Eastern Cape provincial chairman Dumisani “Mazolo” Mafu who was buried at the weekend”. State funds were used for a private funeral that took on the character of a political rally.

Strive for free and fair elections

Such practices raise the necessity for a review of the policy approach to dealing with funding of events like this, media advertisements, disbursing of state aid (food parcels, emergency relief, hand- over of houses etc.) by politicians during election campaigns. This is not to suggest that government should cease to provide services when elections are looming but perhaps that it be done by civil servants rather than politicians, under the gaze of the IEC and civil society observers. Such regulations would be in place for the duration of an election campaign which is deemed to commence when the election date is promulgated.  

The time to begin such a review to strengthen the Electoral Code of Conduct would be shortly after these local government elections so that it can be finalised well before the 2019 general election. We must continuously strive to ensure the freeness and fairness of our elections.

In the meantime voters should consider where parties received their private funding, and what conditions may be attached to such funding when exercising their right to vote on Wednesday.

- Find everything you need to know about the 2016 Local Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections, or download the app for iOS and Android.

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