ANC reluctant to legislate on political party funding

Nearly two years after it made a public commitment to do so, the ANC has made no progress in developing legislation to regulate private funding to political parties.

The ANC’s pledge to develop legislation followed the dismissal in April 2005 of a high court application by civil society group Idasa aimed at forcing the DA, the ANC, the IFP and the former New National Party to reveal major private financial donors.

Idasa took the litigation route, using the Promotion of Access to Information Act after failing to convince Parliament to pass legislation that would compel parties to disclose such information. The political parties argued that a legislative process was the best way to design the regulation of private donations. The ANC said that such legislation should embody national policy perspectives and balance the interests of all people, including the electorate, political parties and their donors.

The ruling party buttressed its argument with reference to Article 10 of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption of 2003. As a signatory, South Africa is obliged to adopt measures to ‘incorporate the principle of transparency into funding of political parties”, it says.

In his 2003 ruling, Judge Benjamin Griesel found that access to records of private donations was not required to exercise the constitutional right to free political choice. But the court also held that the judgement did not mean ‘that political parties should not, as a matter of principle, be compelled to disclose details of private donations made to their coffers”. The judgement emphasised that private donations should be regulated by means of specific legislation.

This week, ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said: ‘I’m not sure where that issue is at this present moment in time,” and referred the question to Parliament. ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said he was unaware of whether any progress has been made in developing the legislation.

While it is equally the responsibility of other political parties to set the legislative ball rolling, it is general practice that the ruling party leads the way.

The DA argues that it submitted a private member’s Bill to Parliament in 2002 that calls for the prohibition of donations above a certain threshold, as did the IFP, but it also appears to be biding its time, waiting for the ANC to take the first step.

The ANC has been promising to legislate the private funding of parties since 1997, when the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Bill was enacted.

At the party’s national general council in July 2005, a proposal was floated suggesting more rigorous regulation of party funding amid growing awareness among the party’s membership that it was at risk of selling its policies to the highest bidder.

An ANC task team — consisting of Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, deputy ANC secretary general Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, Director General in the presidency Frank Chikane and businessman and ANC national executive committee member Saki Macozoma — has been discussing how to regulate private funding in the context of the ­ongoing debate that certain party members are making fast money on the strength of party connections. Their proposals will be tabled and discussed at the ruling party’s policy conference in July.

The reluctance to legislate on political party funding goes to the heart of the private party funding debate in South Africa: while political parties seek to protect the identity of their benefactors, they are nurturing the danger posed to South Africa’s democracy by the corrupting influence of undisclosed funding.

Judith February, manager of the political information and monitoring service at Idasa, said: ‘When we decided not to appeal [the 2003 court decision], we took the ANC [pledge to develop legislation] in good faith.

‘It’s disappointing that this has never happened. The corrosive impact of party funding on the country’s democracy is coming to a head and needs to be debated.”

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Vicki Robinson
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