Election Watch

Regime change behind ANC rush on funding transparency?

Chancelllor house.jpg

For ten years, the ANC did nothing to enforce its own decisions on transparency in political party funding. Is threatening ‘regime change’ fuelling the sudden rush?

At its tremulous Polokwane conference in December 2007 the ANC resolved to tackle the controversial issue of how and from where political parties receive private funding. A second resolution followed at the Mangaung conference in 2012.

Nothing happened since, and then last week its parliamentary chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, announced plans for instituting a parliamentary ad hoc committee to deal with the matter and propose legislation if required. The committee is to finish its work by December this year and legislation targeted to be in place before the 2019 national elections.

Like in most of the rest of the world the funding of political parties, and the corruptive potential thereof, has been a longstanding thorny issue. In South Africa the civil society organisation My Vote Counts (MVC), for instance after years of unsuccessful attempts to get political parties to disclose their funders to the public, has lodged a court application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) – to be heard on August 15 and 16 this year.

For the sake of a balanced view, it is important to note that the DA has also long refused  to release the details about who its funders are, and the same goes for other political parties, most of which did not even respond to letters addressed to them on the subject.

Present situation

Presently, besides membership fees, the only publicly known and quantified funding of political parties – at least those represented in parliament – is a budgeted amount – R150-million in the present financial year – in terms of the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act of 1997.

Under the act, funds from the Representative Political Parties Fund, administered by the Electoral Commission (IEC), is distributed to the parties proportional to their elected representatives.

It is a dispensation that favours the larger parties, and the ANC with 249 members of parliament and 279 in provincial parliaments received R83.58-million and the DA R30.47-million. The 11 other parties represented in parliament, shared the remaining R26.67.

It needs to be said that the ANC is the only party about which some information on its budget is known in the public domain – for instance, according to Mthembu, during last year’s municipal election some R200-million was budgeted on a “communications line.”

The total budget of the election according to ANC treasurer general, Zweli Mkhize, was in the order of a billion rand.

Considering the fixed overhead costs associated with offices and staff, besides those associated with printing posters and pamphlets, postage, organising rallies and public meetings and many more, that it takes to run a modern political party, available statuary funds clearly falls far short of parties’ needs.

Augmenting party funds

Political parties across the world use various ways to augment their funds, mostly through donations, and it is on this front that it often becomes controversial and the door to corruption opens.

And, it opens the widest for those who win control over government all over the world. In Britain Tony Blair’s government was haunted by funding scandal after funding scandal, and links between gangsters and politicians have brought down governments in other places, such as Italy.

And, it is usually those closest to state tenders and outsourcing of state services that are subjected to the biggest temptations. Also in apartheid days, it was usually such members of cabinet who would, year after year win for their constituencies the trophies for the biggest contributions to party coffers.

It is also not unique for political parties to establish commercial arms to assist on the funding front.

In South Africa, the ANC has established Chancellor House, an investment vehicle to benefit the party – an institution that already went through scandal after scandal, like a deal between Eskom and a Japanese corporation that ended in the corporation paying a $19-million settlement in a US court.

Conclusion

As in other parts of the world dealing with private political donations remains a challenge – to find a balance between the need for transparency and accountability on the one hand the need for political parties to raise funds to be able to function properly.

In Britain, contribution disclosures are only required for those made by corporations and unions – leaving loopholes like channelling it through third parties.

Germany has a monetary value attached (10 000 euros) to donations needing declaration, which is also not immune to loopholes.

In South Africa, until now the door to donations is wide open and there is clearly a need to come to grips with the corruptive influence of private funding on political parties.

It, however, begs the question, why does the ANC now, suddenly, has an urge to come to grips with the problem after ignoring resolutions of its own congresses for ten years?

It is to be hoped that part of the motivation is to escape from the corruptive, state capture baggage the Zuma-administration has saddled the party with.

There is, however, another possibility that the sceptics amongst us think is the more likely reason. That is, that big donors are sensing that regime change is indeed on the cards, come the election 2019 – something normal, and to expect in a democracy.

They might be, on the one hand, starting to hedge their bets and, on the other, starting to run from the contamination that comes with association with the ANC’s present leadership.

That may be why the ANC wants legislation on the matter in place before those elections – giving them a stick to fight back with and to scare business. Intimidation is, after all, not a tactic foreign to the ANC.

by Piet Coetzer

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