December 10, 2018

Parliament assured Ad Hoc Committee on funding political parties on track

It is business as usual for the Ad Hoc Committee on the Funding of Political Parties, which will resume public hearings next month.

This follows a ruling by the Western Cape High Court in September on an application brought by the lobby group, My Vote Counts, demanding that information on party funding be made public.

The High Court agreed with My Vote Counts that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was inconsistent with the Constitution in that it did not make provision for the recording and disclosure of information on private funding. It ruled that the legislature should amend the PAIA to extend its ambit beyond public data, and gave Parliament 18 months to comply.

"We shall carry on with our mandate as per the terms of reference of the resolution of the National Assembly."

Parliament heard from its legal advisers this week that the High Court ruling has no impact on the Ad Hoc Committee’s mandate. If anything, both processes will work in tandem to ensure that information about party political funding is made fully accessible to the public.

Together they should provide watertight legislative protection to ensure that no untoward pressure can be placed on parties by those with sufficient money to secretly influence party decision-making.

Parliament’s legal support services told the Ad Hoc Committee at a briefing this week that “there is no requirement that the committee must stop. The processes are complementary”.

Mr Vincent Smith, the Chairperson of the Committee, said: “We shall carry on with our mandate as per the terms of reference of the resolution of the National Assembly. “

The Ad Hoc Committee’s crafted the draft Political Party Funding Bill after an extensive public consultation process in August and the draft bill was gazetted in September. The Committee has to report to the National Assembly on 30 November on submissions on the draft bill and further deliberations by the Committee.

The Committee has set aside 7-8 November for oral presentations on the draft Political Party Funding Bill. A total of 21 organisations and individuals from different sectors are expected to make oral presentations.

The Bill seeks to regulate disclosure of funding to parties in the national and provincial legislatures. It does not cover the municipal level.

Efforts by civil society to ensure that party funding is made transparent and publicly accountable goes back more than a decade, and has had the public support of the ruling party since its 2007 Polokwane conference.

Nevertheless, this process dragged on for more than a decade, until the ANC Party Whip, Jackson Mthembu, made a call in June 2017 for an ad hoc committee to be established to consider public funding of political parties. The idea gained traction after it emerged that a mere R150 million had been allocated from the public purse to be shared out among all the parties in the 2017/2018 financial year.

This was inadequate, he said at the time, and was backed particularly by smaller parties as state funding is shared out according to the number of seats in the national legislature.

Meanwhile, My Vote Counts has been campaigning since early 2015 for transparency and reform of the funding of political parties, and for making it mandatory for all parties to disclose where their money comes from.

Two years ago it had taken the matter to the Constitutional Court requesting that it direct Parliament to urgently pass legislation to ensure disclosure. When it lost the case, My Vote Counts turned to PAIA, and issued requests to the 13 political parties represented in Parliament asking them to disclose their sources of private funding in terms of this Act.

When this failed, My Vote Counts applied to the Western Cape High to declare PAIA invalid and unconstitutional. It argued that the Act in its current form was not capable of ensuring that the electorate had the information it needed to vote.

The September ruling was a victory for the NGO. Only the DA opposed My Vote Counts on the grounds that donors often request anonymity.

While Parliament still has to amend PAIA to comply with the ruling, the process of drawing up the new legislation for parties to publicly disclose their private donors is well underway. Committee chairperson Vincent Smith says what still needs to be determined is the threshold for declaring private funding, and the necessary caps and limitations.

Moira Levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 18:34

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