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18 November 2017 19:46 (South Africa)
Opinionista Zweli Mkhize

Party-political funding and the need for regulation

  • Zweli Mkhize
    Zweli-Mkhize-bw.jpg
    Zweli Mkhize

    Zweli Mkhize is the ANC’s Treasurer General. See his Wikipedia profile.

Recent disclosures about the alleged influence of the Gupta family in the awarding of tenders and selection of board members to our state-owned enterprises have served to underscore the importance, and now urgency, of the regulation of party-political funding in order to limit any perceived undue sway of donors in our political processes.

Long before these matters played out in the public domain, the ANC was calling for another look at the current funding model, specifically proposing an increase in public funding for political parties and greater transparency on the support from private donors.

We have directed that our members must participate in the formation of Parliament’s multiparty ad hoc committee that will look into this and investigate whether public funding of political parties is adequate. It will also explore the need to regulate private funding as well as ensuring transparency.

While as political parties we are of the unanimous view that we could do with more money, we are confronted by the reality of extreme discomfort on the part of donors to have their identities and the size of their contribution subjected to public scrutiny. We respect their right to confidentiality if that is a condition. Ostensibly, some private donors would also not want the party in government to know that they are funding the opposition to unseat it! Other donors simultaneously support ruling party and opposition parties, an act they wish to be kept confidential as well.

The 53rd policy conference of the ANC resolved that a more accountable and transparent model for party funding must be devised to protect both the public and the party from corruption in which the name of the party may be abused. We receive numerous reports, which cannot be confirmed, of unscrupulous businessmen and state officials who use name-dropping of the ANC to gain advantages where the ANC has no involvement whatsoever. Where possible we have acted decisively in instances were clear information was obtained.

The proposals in Parliament are actually fully supported by the ANC and will assist to protect the political party’s names from being abused.

The same conference emphasised the need for integrity of leaders and the ANC to be ensured in the fund-raising processes. Hence as Treasurer-General I have always pronounced that donations to the ANC are not transactional and neither can they be used to escape retribution where corruption and irregularities may be demonstrated subsequent to a donation.

No one may use the excuse of donation to the party as a shield against prosecution for irregularities. Nor can the ANC be expected to influence the awarding of a government contract in return for a donation to the party.

The ANC will never knowingly accept donations from corrupt transactions and if such is proven the party will consider the necessity of returning such donation when the criminality is proven by the authorities in question.

The ANC is in the forefront of ensuring clean governance, vigorously fighting corruption and ensuring clean sources of party funding.

It is such perspectives and many other counterviews that we hope all of us, as South Africans, will bring to the table when the parliamentary committee engages us on this important question.

For the ANC the issue is simply this: It must be about balance. There must be a degree of regulation and some degree of transparency, and the public purse must carry a more significant load.

The truth is that democracy is a costly process. The big corporates and investors that expect government to ensure stability and an environment conducive to economic growth and opportunities must come on board to contribute openly (and handsomely) to a public trust fund to support our political parties.

In South Africa we already have functioning mechanisms to distribute these funds equitably among the parties through Parliament and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

We are certain the ad hoc committee will also be the ideal platform to address some shortcomings in the present arrangements, such as how independent candidates and new parties could also benefit.

Section 236 of the Constitution provides that “to enhance multiparty democracy, national legislation must provide for the funding of political parties participating in national and provincial legislatures on an equitable and proportional basis”.

The Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act (103 of 1997) has created the Represented Political Parties’ Fund that is administered by the IEC.

Additionally, Members of Parliament receive funding through their national and provincial legislatures for constituency, political party and party leadership support.

As indicated earlier, there is no such support at local government level while outstanding performance and success of some of independent candidates in the last municipal elections clearly demonstrates that if many others had access to public funding, we could have seen more participants and thus further entrenched our democracy. The modalities of broadening the scope of such funding could obviously be worked out.

The aspect of funding independents is, however, small fry in the greater scheme of political party funding in South Africa. The big issue is the universally acknowledged truth that the money from the IEC, Parliament and the legislatures is a small fraction of the financial support different parties receive from private donors for election campaigns and other costly operations. The public funds are used in a transparent manner and the recipients are accountable publicly.

Not so for private donor funding. Understandably then, there could be grounds for concern that in return for their generosity, private funders exercise undue influence on political parties and reap rich rewards such as government tenders. The notion of state capture thus finds manifestation in relationships of this nature, where there is an understanding and acceptance of total secrecy. Undesirable practices thrive in such environments – hence the suspicion of the subversion of democratic practices to influence the awarding of tenders or structuring of policies and laws to favour private business interests that support the party in government.

As we seek to strengthen our democracy through a funding model best suited to our South African conditions, we could draw lessons from international experience.

For instance, in Sweden it is a criminal offence to receive donations from foreign interests. In other countries there are restrictions around companies with government contracts or those in which government owns a share.

Even more interestingly, internationally there are also instances where it is sometimes explicitly prohibited to use state resources for party-political activities.

In our case, the Public Funding Act is clear that the money should be used for “any purposes compatible with its functioning as a political party in a modern democracy”.

But as political parties we are agreed that we desire greater capacity to perform this function and we need to regulate how private funding impacts on our democracy. We cannot allow our democracy to be undermined by unscrupulous private donors bent on exploiting the moral weakness of some of us. We need to enable public donors to support our democracy openly.

We should be transparent about how we want to go about this, and hopefully, we will find common ground when the parliamentary committee concludes its deliberations and reports back to the National Assembly by 30 November. DM

  • Zweli Mkhize
    Zweli-Mkhize-bw.jpg
    Zweli Mkhize

    Zweli Mkhize is the ANC’s Treasurer General. See his Wikipedia profile.

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