/ 30 August 2019

Bill aims to quash covert party funding

Re-enactment: Parliament has introduced a new Bill to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act and so make the funding of political parties more transparent.
Most political parties have not made their constituents aware of how to gain access to their members of Parliament. (David Harrison/M&G)




South Africa is moving toward greater transparency in the murky terrain of bankrolling politics.

In a week that saw the death of Gavin Watson, an ANC benefactor allegedly in exchange for lucrative state contracts, Parliament introduced a draft Bill to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act to include provisions to get information on the funding of political parties. This week the former Free State ANC treasurer and MEC for economic development, Mxolisi Dukwana, told the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture about a R255-million “asbestos heist” using taxpayers’ money, a project directed by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule during his tenure as premier of the province.

Dukwana declared that Magashule was not fit for any office and should be in jail.

Businessman Igo Mpambani, a key player in the asbestos audit contract from the Free State’s department of human settlements, was shot in an apparent hit in Sandton in 2017, as detailed in Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, about corruption and state capture in the province under Magashule.

The book also tells of how funds from the dodgy asbestos tender were channelled to the ANC.

The Bill, if passed, will be a game changer in that political parties will be compelled to keep detailed records of their financial dealings and open those records to public scrutiny. It is envisaged that it will be aligned with and support the Political Party Funding Act, which was signed into law in January.

The Political Party Funding Act compels parties to declare to the Electoral Commission of South Africa donors who give in excess of R100 000.It also states that parties may not accept donations that are suspected or known to be proceeds of crime.

The Bill amending the Promotion of Access to Information Act compels the accounting officer of a political party to create and keep records of the identity of donors and the amounts paid by the donor, if this amount exceeds R100 000 a year.The Bill also stipulates that records should be kept of money lent to political parties, sponsorships, expenses and its assets.

These records should be kept for a minimum of five years and should be made public quarterly.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is linked to a corrupt tender in which some of the funds were shifted to the ANC.  (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Shortly after the general elections in May, both the ANC and the Democratic Alliance expressed their concern about the Political Party Funding Act and its effect on their ability to raise funds ahead of the 2019 elections. ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile and DA chief executive Paul Boughey indicated to the Mail & Guardian that there was a need to take the Act back to the drawing board and review it.

The new Bill, aimed at further tightening scrutiny of monies flowing in and out of political parties, is likely to rattle these parties further.

Smaller parties are also likely to resist the legislation — both the Economic Freedom Fighters and the newly formed Good party face allegations that their record-keeping and transparency about how they manage party funds are nonexistent.

Recent years have starkly exposed the insidious role of state capture and money in politics. Two networks, the Guptas and Watson’s company Bosasa, at the centre of these allegations have been exposed and have crumbled, leaving a vacuum in terms of greasing the palms of individual politicians and bankrolling political parties.

It is critical that legislation is tightened and enforced to prevent new players from slipping into their space.

Unless the use of money in politics is tightly regulated, there will always be another Atul Gupta or Watson willing to pay the price to get access to power and lucrative business.

Patronage networks are also taking a hit in KwaZulu-Natal, with the decision by the provincial executive committee to recall its eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede, and her executive.

The ANC appears to be seeking more creative ways to raise funds, with its announcement last week of a funeral policy for members and supporters.

As the legislative net tightens around political parties, they will be forced to conduct their financial dealings in a more transparent and accountable way, which can only strengthen democracy.

With a key election coming up in 2021, parties and their donors are likely to be closely watched as regulations to enforce the Political Party Funding Act are finalised and enforced.

l The recent revelations of donations and spending by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency peeled off yet another layer on how money is used in politics, casting a light on intra-party funding.

Ramaphosa told MPs last week that there was no criminality or wrongdoing by his campaign team, but he did raise the need for regulation of this space in parties.

He now wants Parliament to consider formulating legislation to govern how parties conduct internal leadership campaigns and how they are funded.