We deserve to know the funders

By Editorial Time of article published Aug 4, 2019

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Seasoned financial expert George Mahlangu has his work cut out.

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) appointed him to head up its political party funding unit.

An arduous task. He began his duties on Thursday as the IEC held public hearings into the new political party funding law in Cape Town. The Act, signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year, seeks to regulate party funding and ensure that all political parties disclose private donations to promote transparency.

It’s a glimmer of hope for ordinary citizens trying to make sense of the dizzying web of deceit woven by South Africa politicians: from the decision-makers to the gadflies in the opposition benches.

A paltry few may be exempt.

The new law requires parties to report their funding to the commission, which will publish the information every quarter.

Donations of R100000 or less do not have to be declared, while an individual’s donation to a party is capped at R15million.

Furthermore, the Act prohibits political parties from accepting donations generated from proceeds of crime. Judging from the dirt being dished at the various commissions, financial crime is far more deeply rooted in our financial and political systems than our politicians care to acknowledge.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance says there are just over 60 countries where political parties are obliged to disclose all donations. In these democracies, the requirement for political parties and candidates to disclose information about how they raise and spend money is viewed as a cornerstone of ensuring transparency and accountability in political finance, and a necessity to mitigate undue influence.

In the UK, for example, all parties are required to report financial information which is made available on the Electoral Commission’s website. This includes donations, copies of invoices and receipts for campaign expenditure.

In Italy, public funding has been limited to reimbursement of actual campaign expenditures. In Sweden, foreign funding is deemed a criminal offence if the purpose is to influence public opinion in the governance of the country or a matter of national security. But regulating party funding remains complex.

Even in established democracies, disclosure of political contributions has been viewed as a significant deterrent. The pertinent question remains whether privacy concerns can be justified over transparency and honesty.

But in the interest of piecing together South Africa’s battered democracy, those who succour a particular political party should have the courage of their convictions.

This law is a bold move and, if properly policed, a vital dose of transparency that our democracy needs to poison the weeds of corruption.

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