Politics

Lifting the lid on political party donations

Corruption Watch applauds the signing into law of the Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Act (PAIA), one of three pieces of legislation signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this week. 

The legislation will require the heads of political parties and independent candidates alike to record all donations exceeding the threshold of R100 000, including the identity of the person or entities making the donations, and to make these records available every quarter. The records should be kept for a period of five years.

The civil society organisation has long been advocating for greater transparency in political party funding, in accordance with global conventions. Corruption Watch has previously made written and oral submissions on the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act, 103 of 1997 read in accordance with Regulation 10(1) of the Act in 2017, and written and oral submissions on the Draft Political Party Funding Bill in 2017 and 2018 respectively, in collaboration with My Vote Counts. 

‘It is important that voters will now have access to information that may provide insight into whether financial influence may be directing their party-political priorities,’ said Karam Singh, head of legal and investigations at Corruption Watch.

‘We have no doubt that this will not necessarily be universally embraced by political parties, but the key here is voter empowerment, as knowledge of this nature can only serve to defer power to the individual, and to strengthen their rights in relation to electoral choices. It is a well-known fact, not least in South Africa, that where politics and money intersect, corruption often follows,’ he added.

This amendment to PAIA must clearly be seen in conjunction with the political party funding act, which was signed into law in January 2019. Together these pieces of legislation not only improve the landscape for the voting public, but provide valuable access to information for the media, NGOs and academia, who will be better placed to expose and hold accountable political parties and independent candidates. Greater transparency is a cornerstone and facilitator of democracy and electoral processes.

The 2018 decision by the Constitutional Court to oblige the state to make information on private funding of political parties available to the public was seen as playing an essential part in enhancing the freedom to make informed political choices in elections.

‘Any move that removes the element of secrecy is a win for people in this country who have been so badly impacted by political interference and the widespread capture of the state, which took place right under our noses, but without our knowledge,’ concluded Singh. ‘It is up to civil society, and the media, to continue to call for transparency and accountability, and to remain vigilant in the enforcement of legislation such as this.’

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