The right of voters to know who exactly is funding the political parties they vote for has finally been realised with the Political Party Funding Act, which came into effect on Thursday. It heralds a time for politicians to adhere to the high ethical standards expected from all public office bearers.
One of the oldest political conspiracies is that politicians are beholden to those who give them money to campaign. The new law strips away the dark cloak that has kept the identity of big money donors away from voters.
The Constitutional Court noted: “This exposure may discourage those who would use money for improper purposes either before or after the election. A public armed with information about a candidate’s most generous supporters is better able to detect any post-election special favours that may be given in return.”
The political landscape will also benefit from a more level playing field in terms of public funding, as the act establishes the Multiparty Democracy Fund to disburse donations received from private funders to political parties and election candidates.
Where funders make a direct contribution to a political party or candidate, donations of more than R100 000 should be disclosed to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC).
Most importantly, funding from state-owned enterprises and government departments, as well as foreign governments or agencies, is outlawed.
Parties may, however, receive funding from foreign entities for training, skills development or policy development.
The application of the new law will depend on the IEC’s readiness to play its new regulatory role, and on cooperation from political parties, some of which may not have been happy with the proposed changes in the first place.
For those who intend to not play by the rules, there is the option of paying a heavy fine or serving a jail sentence of two to five years. In the end, the voters will be better off.