My Vote Counts notes the Independent Electoral Commission's decision to delay the Political Party Funding Act
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will postpone the implementation of the Political Party Funding Act (The Act), signed by the President on 23 January 2019. MVC has consistently advocated for legislation to allow for regular and systematic disclosure of the sources and amounts of private funding allocated to political parties.
In 2018, civil society called upon the President to sign the then Political Party Funding Bill by November 2018. The eventual signing of the Bill into law in January 2019 and the subsequent responsibility of the IEC to operationalise the Act, has coincided with a period nearing the May 2019 general elections.
MVC acknowledges that the implementation of a new piece of legislation must be done effectively. We regret that the delay in signing the Act stalled the implementation of the first piece of legislation in South Africa’s history which would allow for systematic and regular disclosure of information on political parties private funding. It is unfortunate that the delay of the Act’s implementation sustains the poor status quo of a lack of transparency of the sources and amounts of donations made to parties.
We are aware that the IEC has received over 5000 submissions on the draft regulations of the Act. The strong public interest in the regulations and the IEC’s decision to effectively engage the public is welcomed and we are aware that in order to effectively engage the public, the implementation of the Act will be delayed.
In the lead up to the elections, political parties would surely receive a significant spike in the amount of private donations in order to fund their election campaigns and if the Act was implemented, the electorate could have been informed of which private entities have shown interest in financially supporting political parties during this period.
However, MVC maintains that in the absence of legislation, political parties remain obligated to publicly disclose this information in order to allow voters to make an informed vote. In the Constitutional Court judgement in the case between MVC and the Minister of Justice, paragraph 88 of the judgement states the following:
“…Well, PAIA [Promotion of Access to Information Act] does not regulate or regulate appropriately, access to information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates, which this case is about… In the interim, it is open to those seeking access to information on private funding to do so in terms of section 32(1)(b) of the Constitution…For the correct position is indeed that those who require information for the exercise or protection of the right to vote, reasonable access would no doubt have to be facilitated by this judgement.”
Activists have made requests to political parties, alerting them of their obligation to provide voters with this information in light of the judgement, despite the absence of legislation. However, political parties have maintained secrecy and remain unresponsive with regards to the requested information. The consistent rejection by political parties to fulfil their constitutional obligation, reflects the disregard for upholding transparency and accountability.
MVC therefore acknowledges the need for the IEC to build capacity and engage the public, however political parties themselves need to be accountable and transparent to the voters they depend on.
The extent to which the unregulated funding of political parties has undermined our democracy and provided a fertile ground for corruption on a grand scale continues to be exposed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry and in media reports. Political parties must take steps to re-establish trust and faith in the political and electoral system. Transparency in relation to the sources of their significant private funding is a crucial element of this process.
Once again, we would like to use this opportunity to urge political parties to open their books and exercise agency in publicly disclosing records of their private funding sources, in the public interest. Doing so will build public trust in our political system and be reflective of the political will to uphold transparency and accountability.
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