Why political party funding bill coming into effect is good for our democracy

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It’s a new dawn for South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced the implementation of the Political Party Funding Act, 2018 (Act no.6 of 2018) commencing from April 1. The Act now makes it possible to know the sources of funding by political parties and this will go a long way to strengthening public confidence in South Africa’s democratic political processes. Furthermore, by regulating private and public funding of political parties, the Act provides citizens with an opportunity to hold political parties accountable, hence improving transparency. But why is the implementation of the Act good news for democracy?

Firstly, we may recall that last year the Public Protector instituted a court case against President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose campaign allegedly raised more than R1-billion. The sources of the funds were unknown and suddenly became a subject for scrutiny, amid allegations that the sponsors may expect favours in return. It is such scenarios that the Act seeks to prevent, so that transparency and public accountability is improved, thereby promoting citizens’ confidence in politics.

Secondly, the legislation closes the door on corruption and anonymity of private funders, whose interests are often unknown to the public. If left unchecked, undisclosed funding can be a threat to any democracy, and may lead to political turmoil as parties scramble for funding. With the enactment of the Act, such threats will not be a concern as regulation of funding is enforced.

Thirdly, funders interests will be laid bare for public scrutiny as sources of funding from donors are disclosed. This public scrutiny is important for strengthening democracy as citizens examine the interests of the funders and question anything that is not aligned with national interests, that aims at promoting the wellbeing of all and not of the political party receiving the donation. An informed citizenry is well-positioned to hold political candidates accountable pre and post an election to ensure no favours are extended to the donors at the expense of our hard-won democracy.

Fourth, there is a high possibility that through the legislation, smaller political parties will be included in sharing of the funding. This way, these smaller parties have access to financial resources to facilitate their campaigning and other relevant party operational errands, and they are more cushioned against the dominance of bigger and more established political parties.

In conclusion, the enactment of the Act is a win for democracy in South Africa. The benefits far outweigh costs of non-disclosure of private funding. However, its success will depend on its implementation to the letter. It is now incumbent upon political parties, the legislature and the electoral commission to see that the Act is properly implement come April. In the meantime, civil society and other non-state actions should play a vigilant role of holding political parties accountable and remaining transparent in their disclosure of private funding.

Dr Paul Kariuki is the Executive Director of the Democracy Development Programme (DDP) and writes in his personal capacity

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