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Recent controversies on both sides of the political fence have brought that thorny issue of political party funding back under the spotlight. The New Age breakfasts at which both Jacob Zuma and Helen Zille have spoken turn out to be funded by embattled state-owned enterprises such as Telkom.
Once again we are forced to confront the toxic mix of money and politics. The tax-payer has been funding the ANC through the back door. A strong democracy requires healthy political parties who, in turn, require sufficient resources to run a basic structure capable of representing a diverse nation, equipped to compete for votes across its length and breadth, and able to generate new policy ideas.
Yet, how parties raise the resources and how transparent they are regarding the sources of funding are questions that both the ANC and DA have evaded for far too long.
Those who are able to buy influence through big political donations are more likely to do so, thereby drowning out the voices of the rest of us.
He who pays the piper may well call the tune. And many a corruption scandal since 1994 has had its roots in secret party donations. So, what to do?
Some argue that greater public funding will reduce the dependence on dodgy private donors.
In fact, there is already substantial public funding – to the tune of around R70 million per annum under the 1997 Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act. While there is a respectable case for more public funding, it is hard to believe that an increasingly cynical taxpayer would have much appetite for such a move.
Increased transparency could, however, engender greater public trust.
However, the DA has always maintained that transparency would drive its corporate donors away, because they would be fretful about offending the ANC.
Now that the DA is established in provincial and city government, it’s time to test this proposition. It’s certainly high time for a principled response from both the DA and the ANC to a crucial democratic principle: we have the right to know who funds the parties that rule over us.