Campaign mulls party funding crunch

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ca p7 posters done mar 28 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Money given to political parties should be spent on furthering democratic culture, not on putting up posters, it has been argued. File picture: Jacques Naude

Cape Town -

The My Vote Counts campaign is “seriously considering” litigation to ensure Parliament legislates for the regulation of party political funding, it emerged at a seminar on politics and money on Thursday.

Greg Solik, the co-ordinator for the campaign which also seeks a change to the electoral system so that parliamentarians are more directly accountable to citizens, told the Cape Argus it was “seriously considering” taking Parliament to court after various written requests for a law like this had failed to solicit a positive response from either the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces.

A civil society summit on this matter next month would finalise the matter, he added.

Solik was one of the speakers at the Institute for Security Studies seminar into regulating political donations in the interests of accountability.

Private political donations, regardless of whether they are from corporates or individuals, remain secret and unregulated. A 2005 Western Cape High Court ruling in response to an application by Idasa ruled political parties were private entities which could not be forced to disclose the funding they received to the public, but said that a legislated regimen should be introduced for accountability’s sake.

The ANC at its 2007 Polokwane national conference, and again at the 2012 Mangaung national conference, adopted resolutions for the regulation of party political funding to promote and support democracy, accompanied by “full financial accountability and transparency by political parties including regulation of private party financing of political parties”.

However, political parties are also funded from state coffers, with various levels of transparency and regulation.

While political parties at Parliament must submit audited financial statements to receive their constituency allowances in several tranches throughout the year, these balance sheets are not made public by either the national legislature or the political party.

In contrast, the annual reports of the Represented Political Parties Fund, administered by the Independent Electoral Commission, include parties’ financial statements which show most, if not all, money spent on office space, communications, staff salaries and benefits like medical aid and the like. Money from that fund is allocated on the strength of a political party’s representation in the legislatures – and, as the biggest party, the ANC receives the lion’s share, followed by the DA.

Thursday’s seminar came a few weeks after Absa announced it would no longer fund any political parties, having made its last contributions in December.

The Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (Casac) executive secretary, Lawson Naidoo, argued there were a number of ways companies of their own accord, pending regulations, could ensure transparency. These included openness with shareholders and stakeholders like labour, publication of donations in annual reports and ensuring funding decisions were taken on the basis of policy by a competent committee.

In addition, donations could be linked to criteria on how the money should be spent, in the interests of furthering democratic culture, rather than, as happened over election time, spending it “on putting up posters on lamp-posts”. Lawson agreed regulation of party political funding must come before Parliament.

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