High court application seeks to force political parties to reveal funders

2016-07-28 17:05
Election posters. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Cape Town - Civil society organisation My Vote Counts (MVC) is to launch a high court application on Thursday to force political parties to reveal their funders. It wants the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) declared inconsistent, invalid and unconstitutional.

MVC co-ordinator Janine Ogle said knowing who made private donations to political parties would help voters make informed decisions at the polls. It would also shed light on potential corruption, it said.

The Right2Know campaign also supports the application.

It said that in 2015 the Constitutional Court conceded that the public had the right to know where parties get their money, but did not order Parliament to produce such a law.

The court instructed MVC to challenge the current access to information laws in the high court, Ogle said.

"MVC believes that every vote must count more than the rands and the cents that in some cases amount to R1bn for some political parties.

Four responses from parties

"When individuals, companies or foreign governments make financial donations to political parties and they become more important than the common voter or where their [funders] voice is heard louder and taken more seriously than yours and mine, then democracy is in danger."

As part of MVC's preparations for lodging the court case, in May it sent PAIA requests to 13 political parties represented in the national assembly on who their funders were, with a July deadline.

"We received only four responses, and none of the political parties agreed to provide us with the information," Ogle said.

One party responded that they didn't see the relevance of how knowledge of its funders would determine who to vote for, while another claimed to have no record of its private funders.

Right2Know said that should the public be kept in the dark about who the respective funders were, voters would then not be aware of potential conflicts of interests and have no way of knowing who may be influencing a party's policies and activities.

"The vast majority of funding for political parties comes from private sources, and currently not a single political party is willing to say who its funders are. In the current climate, corporations, wealthy individuals and even foreign governments can buy influence and favours from political parties.

More than an X

"This lack of transparency must be challenged. Such secrecy not only fosters corruption and various forms of state capture, but also undermines democracy in other ways."

MVC board member and volunteer Gregory Solik said disclosure would give effect to principles of transparency and accountability.

"We want to know where it comes from. How much? Does it come from a foreign government or from a businessman?"

Ogle said voters had the right to cast an informed vote.

"It's not just the right to make an X on a piece of paper."

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