Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. File picture: Boxer Ngwenya/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Cape Town - South Africa's Constitutional Court on Thursday confirmed a high court ruling that the private funding of political parties and independent candidates must be made reasonably accessible.

The court upheld the earlier Western Cape High Court order that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) is unconstitutional in this regard and gave Parliament 18 months to amend the act.

"Parliament must amend PAIA and take any other measure it deems appropriate to provide for the recordal, preservation and facilitation of reasonable access to information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates within a period of 18 months," read the court order.

The matter was brought before the courts by non-profit organisation My Vote Counts. It has argued that voters need to be able to access information about party funding to be able to exercise their rights at the ballot box.

The high court found last year that PAIA was inconsistent in this regard, and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in reading the Constitutional Court judgment on Thursday said it had concluded that the act was "deficient" as it did not provide for the recording and safekeeping of private funding to parties and for this to be made readily accessible to the electorate.

My Vote Counts said it was "incredibly happy" with the judgment as it believed it would improve South Africa's political system for the better.

"The historic judgment will allow the South African electorate to have additional information when deciding on who to vote for in our elections."

The Constitutional Court found that the need to confirm the high court ruling did not fall away because Parliament was already in the process of drafting a new bill to enable greater transparency on the funding of political parties, which is expected to be passed later this year.

It recalled that the high court judgment would have no effect without confirmation, and could not be "left hanging". 

Moreover, the judges said, the high court had been entirely correct in its conclusion on the gaps in PAIA, as My Vote Counts had been in its "frontal attack" on the act.

"The ongoing law-making process may comfortably run parallel to this judgment, without the one being undermined by the other in any way."

Parliament welcomed the ruling.

"Parliament welcomes this judgment and notes that it, in many respects, accords with the initiative it had already taken in drafting a Political Party Funding Bill which is currently being considered by its Ad Hoc Committee on Political Funding.

"To give effect to this judgment, Parliament will liaise with the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services with the view to facilitate a speedy implementation of the terms of this judgment."

The minister had opposed the application by My Vote Counts.

The issue of declaring private funding has been a debate since South Africa's transition to democracy in 1994. The main opposition Democratic Alliance has resisted forcing disclosure, arguing that if the identity of opposition donors were known, they could be prejudiced in a number of ways.

African News Agency (ANA)