Law on the financing of political parties and the future of politics …
The law on the financing of political parties is seen as crucial for creating a transparent and accountable framework for political financing, but civil society must now move towards monitoring, evaluation and a new kind of advocacy.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Recent social unrest has shaken the foundations of the post-1994 democratic project in South Africa. Recognizing that ineffective governance and worsening inequalities cannot continue, we must ask ourselves: what can we do to change this?
The corruption allegations exposed by the Zondo Commission on State Capture have revealed countless examples of a state that appears to be more accountable to private interests than to serving its people and the public good. To remedy this situation, perhaps this is the place to start: in the creation of a transparent and accountable political space.
If unimpeded access to state coffers goes through unregulated private money in our politics, then a framework that seeks to regulate this should be defended. If our politicians and our government can be prevented from being bought off, then maybe our democracy can work in the best interests of the people and not of the privileged few with deep pockets.
On April 1 of this year, two important pieces of legislation entered into force, the Law amending the Law on the Promotion of Access to Information and the Law on the Financing of Political Parties (PPFA). These laws, in particular the PPFA, are crucial in creating a transparent and accountable framework for political finance and, by extension, political action.
However, before the adoption of the PPFA, there were concerns about the transparency of political parties in disclosing how they are funded.
In 2005, the Western Cape High Court in Idasa v ANC & Others ruled that political parties were private bodies that did not need to disclose their sources of private funding.
That changed in 2018 when the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of My Vote Counts (MVC), ruling that funding disclosure is imperative so the public can make informed decisions when voting. In a recent article, MVC highlighted the impact of the PPFA on voting and local elections, which are now subject to postponement.
But it is not only in an informed electorate that one can see the fruits of the PPFA; it is also in its ability to engender a commitment to the public good rather than personal enrichment. In doing so, it is important to recognize that while the PPFA is historic legislation, it alone cannot achieve the ideal of transparent and accountable policy. Collective change is also required from the public and politicians.
In other words, we must also get involved in a societal project that aims to refocus honesty and the needs of people at the heart of our politics.
The PPFA has been slow to come and now that it is here the work of civil society has changed. This change goes from research, advocacy and litigation to have the PPFA promulgated to a new phase of monitoring, evaluation and a new type of advocacy around the law now implemented.
Political parties are one of the main vehicles (alongside independent candidates) through which we can participate in democracy and be empowered to make political decisions.
If we are to support the PPFA by ensuring its compliance with the law and while emphasizing the public good, it is important to know how South Africa ranks on a larger scale of accountability in politics. This places the Act in a broader context of why accountability and transparency are important. According to Transparency International, by measuring the adherence of African states to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, corruption remains a major obstacle to economic growth and good governance on the continent.
Referring to South Africa, he noted that although the PPFA was a significant step forward, there was still the problem of illicit enrichment (the inexplicable wealth of public officials, which appears to be the product of corruption) not being fully incriminated and the lack of a good track record in dealing with money laundering offenses.
It is important to note these because they offer a clear opportunity for individuals who still wish to buy influence in politics and for those who make themselves available to be bought.
This is an example of an area where the public can come together to create these open and honest spaces to counter more malicious opportunists.
The PPFA also does not regulate investments and investment vehicles owned by political parties and does not require their disclosure – another example of a lack of political transparency.
It is therefore even more imperative to lobby for change that results not only from legislation, but also from a political culture that prioritizes the public good over narrow interests.
These are crucial to understanding that while we welcome the PPFA, it is not a one-stop-shop for ending corruption through unregulated private money. It is an important step in that direction, but it must be accompanied by concomitant efforts to ensure its compliance and wider transparency.
Among the many analyzes that emerged in the wake of the riots and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal was the understanding that deep-rooted structural issues such as poverty and apartheid land use planning left behind. many South Africans excluded from the promises of democracy.
Professor Steven Friedman, in an opinion piece, noted that while it is indeed plausible that poverty was one of the main drivers of looting – driven by dire economic circumstances – it is an explanation insufficient for violence, especially attacks on infrastructure. Instead, it highlights the changing dynamics of political power.
This shift may have left some politicians and individuals feeling as though they are no longer part of the local political networks that gave them power and are now without their source of money.
Here it is the patronage networks that have entrenched a certain type of political behavior so entrenched that the thought of losing grip on this pipeline to money and power has led to some of the most targeted attacks and chaos.
Open Secrets, an organization campaigning for more accountability, recently said in a press release that part of the problem was due to politicians who engaged in widespread looting of state resources and established networks for make this possible.
Considering this, it seems like a daunting task to get us out of this mess. But it is more than ever necessary to take a firm stand on how money is given, obtained and used in politics.
It is not enough to have championed the enactment of laws such as the PPFA – it is still incumbent upon all of us to create a political culture that can thrive and work for the people.
If we do this, we can eventually hope to secure a future in which we are better equipped to deal with any challenges that may arise and further undermine transparent politics.
In an ever-changing world, it is necessary to first build a foundation that works to support a democracy based on accountability to the people.
We must therefore work so that the PPFA is anchored in our political culture and as essential to democracy. We must also work to place the PPFA within a broader framework of transparency, built primarily on concern and attention to the public good and not to private interests. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.