DA: ConCourt to settle funding impasse

A Western Cape high court judgement compelling the disclosure of political party donors has no bearing on the parliamentary committee investigating this issue, but could collapse the Democratic Alliance’s bid to keep the identity of certain funders secret.

This was the finding of Parliament’s legal services after the DA was the only party that advocated for partial, or qualified, disclosures of their funding in the ad hoc committee on political party funding. The other parties all agreed to complete disclosure.

Transparency over the funding of political parties — and protecting donors’ identities — was hotly debated in the committee, chairperson and ANC MP Vincent Smith told the Mail & Guardian this week.

“That was the biggest debate in the ad hoc committee, prior to the court case. We knew we were going to court or would have a big fight. The DA’s argument at the time was that you are infringing on privacy,” said Smith.

He said the judgement had settled the debate, and had left the DA with no option but to comply.

Smith added: “The judgement advocates for total disclosure. The courts were an injection in the arm of the ad hoc committee because the DA was the only one who said they want qualified disclosure. That argument of a qualified disclosure is out of the window now.”

But the DA’s federal chairperson, James Selfe, said the debate was far from over, and that his party would await the highest court’s confirmation.

“The chairperson is wrong in law. It is the Constitutional Court that will ‘settle’ the debate. We are not participating in the confirmation hearing of the Constitutional Court and will abide by its outcome,” Selfe told the M&G on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Parliament’s legal services presented its assessment on the implications of the high court judgement, and found that it had no bearing on the ad hoc committee’s work.

Smith, however, said the briefing reaffirmed the requirement to disclose all political party funding.

The court found that sections of the Promotion to Access of Information Act were unconstitutional because they limited who could get information about political party funding, and instructed Parliament to amend the Act within 18 months.

The ad hoc committee will hold public hearings on the draft political party funding Bill on November 7 and 8, at which 21 organisations are due to make presentations. The report will be submitted by November 30, and will set out exactly how the funding should be disclosed, Smith said.

So far the ANC and the United Democratic Movement have advocated for a fund to be managed by the Independent Electoral Commission, in which donations could be deposited and disbursed proportionally according to how many votes were received by each party. 

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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