Party funding battle goes to ConCourt

2015-01-18 15:01

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The Constitutional Court will on February 10 hear arguments about why political parties should come clean about who funds them.

The My Vote Counts lobby group brought an application to compel President Jacob Zuma and the 13 political parties in Parliament to pass legislation that would make party funding transparent.

Parliamentary speaker and ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete has already indicated that the national assembly will oppose attempts to enact party funding regulations.

It is not the first time the issue of party funding has gone to court.

The Institute for Security Studies unsuccessfully approached the Western Cape high court in 2005 to force parties to reveal their donors.

The My Vote Counts campaign argues in papers before the court that party funding should be regulated so the electorate can identify any conflict of interest that may arise in government work.

My Vote Counts wants the court to force Parliament to pass legislation within 18 months of the court’s judgement and has argued that the secrecy surrounding party donors is unwarranted and prevents voters from making informed choices at the polls.

In her answering affidavit, Mbete has argued that the application should be dismissed.

She says that political parties “do not exercise any power or perform any function as public bodies”.

“There is, therefore, no warrant for supposing that political parties owe a constitutional duty to the voting public in general,” Baleka said in her affidavit.

“Each party’s affairs and relationships with its members are governed by its constitution.

“Whatever duties that a political party may owe, it owes it to its members, not outsiders even if such outsiders vote for that political party,” said Mbete.

She has also argued that the disclosure of party funders is not a prerequisite for a “free and fair election” as argued by My Vote Counts.

The lobby group’s coordinator, Gregory Solik, argued in court papers that the secrecy surrounding funding was unconstitutional and disclosing funders through regulations would not infringe on political parties’ rights.

“Everyone must know where political parties get their money. We don’t want corporations to own our parties. Voters’ rights are being infringed by a lack of sufficient and accurate information about where the party’s loyalty probably is,” said Solik.

DA chief parliamentary whip John Steenhuisen said the party was not opposing the application.

“But what’s interesting is that it’s opposed by the speaker.

“That’s a strange move but we will abide by whatever outcome, although we believe if there are any regulations imposed it would only benefit the ruling party and be detrimental to smaller parties because donors would be intimidated by the ruling party and they may fear being seen to be associated with a party and hide.

“We are under no illusion that any regulation would inhibit opposition parties’ abilities to raise money,” said Steenhuisen.

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