October 19, 2019

Party funding race getting no closer to the finish

Ongoing efforts to secure transparency in political party funding is starting to appear reminiscent of the fable of the tortoise and the hare as the race to craft regulations in terms of the Political Party Funding Act, which started off by passing through the parliamentary process at record speed, now looks to be overtaken by changes to the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Notes from the House has previously reported on the hearings before the IEC which saw civil society organisations like Right2Know and My Vote Counts do battle with the major political parties on whether there should be a threshold below which donations do not have to be declared.

Whereas the civil society groups want to see all donations declared, political parties prefer a threshold of R100,000, claiming that declaring all funding would be an excessive administrative burden on political parties and an onerous process for the IEC to monitor.

At the IEC hearings, political parties also pointed out that legislation trumps regulations, which would mean regulations cannot go further than legislation allows them to.

Notes from the House has drawn attention to a parallel process taking place in parliament to amend PAIA in order to force political parties to be more transparent about funding. The proposed PAIA changes currently set a threshold of R100,000 below which donations and funding do not have to be declared, with possible implications for the IEC process on the Political Party Funding Act.

At hearings into the matter by the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice, civil society showed it was well aware of the possibility of being overtaken.

In its submission, investigative journalists amaBhungane held that the R100,000 threshold was too high. They also warned that the threshold could be circumvented by related donors (or donor companies and their subsidiaries, for instance) each giving an amount just below the threshold and then joining forces to provide a higher amount.

The investment company Allan Gray agreed that the R100,000 threshold is too high, and also asked that gifts to political parties be listed.

In its submission, the South African Human Rights Commission made the point that too many institutions do not comply with PAIA, and the SAHRC argued that PAIA should be strengthened to increase obligatory information. The SAHRC also asked that details of funding of internal party elections be made transparent.

My Vote Counts opposed the R100,000 threshold and also pushed for stronger sanctions if PAIA is not complied with timeously, as did Cosatu, Media Monitoring Africa and the Helen Suzman Foundation ‑ especially on the threshold issue.

The justice committee will resume its work on the Paia amendments after the current spring parliamentary recess and is expected to finish its work by the end of the parliamentary year.

Jan-Jan Joubert

Additional Info

  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Sunday, 22 September 2019 21:22

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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