Sheilan Clarke and Zaakir Jardine write that the Political Party Funding Act should be a crucial first step in greater regulation and accessing private funding information of political parties, which could restore SA voters' faith and trust in our political system.
On Friday, 22 January 2021, the Presidency determined that the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) will come into operation on 1 April 2021.
The unprecedented proclamation is a victory for transparency and accountability in South Africa, since the PPFA will ensure that political party funding is regulated and easily accessed.
There were no laws previously forcing political parties to disclose private donations they received, resulting in malfeasance and the erosion of democratic principles.
Some of the revelations at the Zondo Commission illustrates how the absence of party funding regulation can be detrimental to South Africa's young democracy.
Private individuals bought influence within the ruling party, resulting in the state being captured and the interests of the state being compromised. The infamous Gupta brothers, who are businessmen, bribed their way through the upper ranks of the ANC.
In addition, the implementation of the PPFA potentially has far-reaching advantages for improved governance and a potential increase in ethical political activity. It also has the potential to improve confidence levels in political processes.
Keeping track of progress
For more than half a year, My Votes Counts (MVC) has engaged with the State Legal Advisor to keep track of the process towards the implementation of the PPFA.
When the president signed the PPFA into law in January 2019, no date was gazetted for promulgation.
On 21 December 2020, MVC, through our legal representatives Webber Wentzel, wrote a formal letter to the president urgently requesting reasons for the unjustifiable delays in the promulgation and implementation of the PPFA, as well as the Promotion of Access Information Amendment Act.
We also asked for an indication of when these laws would come into effect and requested a response by 22 January 2021. Our letter can be read here.
Voters, in particular young voters, have had difficulties holding political parties in their confidence with the ever rising corruption allegations plaguing our country. This Act should be a crucial first step in greater regulation and accessing private funding information of political parties, which could restore the South African voters' faith and trust in our political system.
Not only will the PPFA provide more room for transparency and accountability, but the Act will simultaneously ensure that all political parties represented in Parliament and in the provincial legislatures receive sufficient funds in a fair and equitable manner. This will be facilitated through the establishment of the Represented Political Party Fund, constituted of public donations and the Multi-Party Democracy Fund, which will fund political parties with private donations.
Some of the key points from the PPFA include:
- Private donations of more than R100 000 are to be disclosed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), who is tasked with recording and preserving this information and will make it available to South Africans.
- Donations for any other purposes, other than for political-party business, are prohibited.
- Donations from foreign governments, foreign agencies, foreign persons and foreign entities are prohibited, unless these donations are for training, skills development or policy development.
- Political parties cannot receive donations from organs of state or state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
As with any new piece of legislation, there are bound to be loopholes.
This is certainly the case with the PPFA and it does mean that these would need to be remedied to ensure the efficacy of the Act.
Some of the notable loopholes include the fact that even though foreign donations are prohibited, political parties can still be funded by foreign governments and entities if the donations are for skills development, training and policy development.
More clarity on what constitutes skills development and training is required as this can easily be flouted.
In addition, the R100 000 disclosure threshold is still relatively high as smaller political parties and local governments can still be "bought" for a smaller donation and this would then not have to be disclosed.
It should, however, be noted that the implementation of the PPFA brings about a big change to our democracy. Never before has attention been given to the funding of political parties in South Africa. Never before has there been legislation of this kind that seeks to regulate as well as directly speak to the cleaning up of corruption that plagues our political and electoral systems.
Transparency is one of the pillars of our constitutional democracy and, before this piece of legislation, our right to a transparent political system had been infringed upon. Without this transparency, there is no way to efficiently hold our elected representatives accountable.
In addition, and especially heading towards the Local Government Elections this year, voters would need all possible information about political parties in order to make an informed decision at the ballot box. This is a constitutional right.
It's not enough to know what political parties promise to do for citizens once they receive the vote, we also need to know who funds them, so that we can identify any possible corrupt relationships that could undermine our democracy.
My Vote Counts welcomes the implementation of the Political Party Funding Act from 1 April 2021, as it will allow us to begin the process of mitigating further corruption and strengthening our political system.
We have the right to exercise our political rights, which includes the right to make an informed vote and the Political Party Funding Act will allow for this to finally happen.
- Sheilan Clarke is the communications officer for My Vote Counts and Zaakir Jardine is an intern at My Vote Counts.