Ralph Mathekga

Increased public funding will hold parties to account

2017-05-22 08:07

Among some of the people who have started making sense is the ANC’s Chief Whip in Parliament Jackson Mthembu. 

Mthembu is increasingly becoming a voice of reason within the party. His latest submission is that South Africans should consider increasing the public funding of political parties.

Currently, all political parties share R150 million, distributed proportionally along the support that parties attained in the previous elections. As Mthembu is saying, this is a paltry amount, hence parties then have to go source funding from private donors to supplement what they receive from the public coffers. The problem with this arrangement is that parties receive money from dubious donors.

This is where the capture of political parties begins. It is impossible to capture the state without first capturing political parties, which are supposed to be the engines of our democracy. 

I fully agree with Mthembu’s proposal to increase public funding of political parties, and also to ensure disclosure of private funding of political parties. I think that the system where political parties receive funding directly from private donors should be done away with.

Those who would like to contribute to our political parties should rather channel the money to a single fund and the money should then be distributed to different parties through an agreed upon formula. This is the only way that the integrity of our political parties can be restored.

I am aware that some seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with the current model. They believe the problem in South Africa is all about the ANC being corrupt.

The reality is that the ANC indeed has a serious challenge with capturing because it is worth capturing in the eyes of the capturers. Some private donors channel money to the ANC with the aim to secure favours from the party, undermining the relationship between party and voters. While this problem is currently expressed through the ruling party, it is rather not specific to the ANC.

It is a matter of how democracy gets distorted by money. The same capture the ANC is experiencing could be directed to any political power that has influence on policy direction in the country. Therefore, if South Africans are not willing to invest more in their democracy by increasing funding of parties, someone will do it and it will not be in the public interest.

The campaign to regulate party funding has been pursued for a while now. The problem is that dominant political parties such as the ANC and the DA have resisted any attempt to bring about changes in this regard. This is because these two parties receive the lion’s share of the private funding that goes around in the country.

The voters vote for parties so that the parties can implement programmes they canvassed to voters. When a private donor comes along with a bag full of cash and then asks a party to do something else in return for receiving the money, parties usually do not hesitate to walk away from the programmes they promised voters they will implement.

Once the flow of money is eliminated as incentive to parties to betray their mandate from the voters, democracy and accountability will be strengthened.

If the public agrees that more taxpayers’ money should be made available to parties, then parties should also be subjected to some form of rigor regarding how they go about their internal processes. South Africa’s political parties are lacking in terms of internal democracy. They tend to be run by constitutions that are not in line with South Africa’s. But when they receive a larger part of their funding from us they will be forced to adjust and won't be able to run like personal fiefdoms.

While we are on the topic, we should also introduce compulsory voting for all citizens or some form of measure to impose a penalty on citizens who fail to vote. Of course at times there is just no proper party to vote for, hence people can spoil the ballot. However, citizens need to be compelled to participate in the voting process. After all it’s their money that funds the entire system.

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    political parties  |  donor funding


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