ANC: Banning party investment arms not the answer

Lynley Donnelly

The banning of political party investment arms won't solve the issue of party funding, the ANC says.

Without investment arms, such as the ANC's own Chancellor House, parties could not properly manage the money they received from donors. (Gallo)

The banning of political party investment arms is not the solution to the thorny issue of party funding, treasurer general of the ANC Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday.

A total ban on funding vehicles would be "unrealistic", Mkhize told a panel discussion on money and politics, hosted by the Institute of Security Studies in Cape Town.

Without investment arms, such as the ANC's own Chancellor House, parties could not properly manage the money they received from donors, he said.

However, they should be better regulated, and incidents where these entities benefited from state tenders should be a "no-no", he said.

He denied the persistent speculation that the ANC has handsomely profited from the recent divestment of Chancellor House from Hitachi Power Africa (HPA). The company’s Japan-based parent Hitachi, recently bought Chancellor House's stake in Hitachi Power Africa for an undisclosed sum.

The company controversially owned 25% of Hitachi Power Africa when it won the tender to provide boilers to Eskom's Medupi power station.

Given the recent sale, the matter was something the party considered to be "behind us", he said.

Public trust
Mkhize reiterated his call for the establishment of a public trust where corporate and private individuals could donate money, to all political parties, and which would be dispersed according to a formula.

It was important that the financial support of political parties was not something that becomes "criminalised".

"Public and private funding to political parties must be seen as legitimate support to democracy," he said.

However, all parties needed to ensure it did not eventually lead to corruption. The ANC has "no problem" with a means to regulate this.

Civil society has been calling for the legislation of party funding to address the perennial controversies that have arisen out of unregulated private donations for political parties for more than a decade.

Since 2004, when the courts ruled against an attempt by the now defunct nongovernmental organisation Idasa to get the major political parties to declare their funders, the ANC has given several undertakings that it would pursue legislating these practises.

No headway has been made on this matter in Parliament however. Opposition parties, such as the Democratic Alliance, have refused to open their books before the ruling party does, claiming this would prejudice their donors.

The failure to regulate the influence of money over our politics has created political inequality, increased opportunities for corruption, and eroded democratic accountability, argued co-panellist Greg Solik, member of NGO My Vote Counts. Talk of a "democracy fund" or trust was merely a means to drag out the issues, he argued.

The debate had to be brought back to Parliament, he said. As such, the organisation was contemplating litigation as a means to compel Parliament to drive legislative reform, rather than relying on political parties to pursue it.

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