The long-in-the-works Political Party Funding Bill was passed by Parliament on Tuesday, not with a bang but rather with a whimper. Perhaps it was the slow pre-holiday news week but the passing of the Bill deserves a loud cheer from the electorate.
The idea that political parties should disclose their sources of funding was first mooted 14 years ago by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, which went so far as to approach the courts for an order that would compel parties to reveal where their funding came from.
It lost but the debate would go on until, finally, Parliament got itself together and drafted such a Bill.
The ANC and the Democratic Alliance changed their viewpoints on the idea of disclosing funders a few times but good sense has prevailed. This week, only the Economic Freedom Fighters objected to the Bill and their objection (which we can’t quite get our heads around) was only to one clause.
The Bill is a huge step towards deepening democracy — the ANC in power has, until now, been all too content to let it remain somewhat shallow. But now that the secrecy about funding is gone, it will help to expose any corrupt dealings in the business of running a political party.
There have been many claims of parties and politicians getting money from dubious sources, which leaves voters wondering about the real motivations for certain policy positions or governmental initiatives. Secret party funding begins to look like high-level bribery and individual politicians can be corrupted.
If parties now have to be open about who their funders are, voters will more easily see such influence peddling for what it is.
It’s probably too late to be striving for a complete separation of party and state. That would also improve the electorate’s understanding and remove some of the patronage networks that flow through the ruling party to the state and back.
We understand that most politicians have to be forced to be honest. We, the nonpoliticians, can and must use our democratic institutions to keep them that way.