The Constitutional Court in session. Picture: GCIS
The Constitutional Court in session. Picture: GCIS

Information on the private funding that political parties receive is vital for voters in exercising their right to vote, the Constitutional Court has found.

A year before the crucial 2019 national elections Parliament has now been ordered by the top court to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) and take any other measure to provide for the preservation and facilitation of reasonable access to information on the private funding of parties and independent candidates. It has 18 months to do so.

The court ruled that this information was essential for the effective exercise of the right to make political choices and to participate in elections.

Lawson Naidoo from the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said the onus rested on political parties to come forward and declare their funders pro-actively, as a principle had now been established by the court.

Sheilan Clarke, spokeswoman for My Vote Counts, who was the applicant in the matter, said political parties did not have to wait months to disclose who funds them.

My Vote Counts had initially taken the fight to the High Court in Cape Town, which ruled that Paia was inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court has confirmed the order, which declared that the act was inconsistent with the Constitution.

In a majority judgment penned by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the court said the proper exercise of the right to vote was by its very nature largely dependent on information. Information given to voters by parties was generally meant to show that they could be trusted and deserved support.

The court said in the interim those seeking information on funding could do so through section 32(1)(b) of the Constitution or Paia as understood within the context of the judgment.

Mogoeng also said the law-making in Parliament with regards to the long awaited political party funding bill may "comfortably run parallel" with the judgment without the one being undermined by the other.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said the party would respect and abide by the decision of the Constitutional Court because "there is nowhere else to go. The buck stops there and I’m sure we welcome the ruling of the Constitutional Court."

DA federal executive chairman James Selfe said the real problem was not about regulation or disclosure of donations but the abuse of state resources by parties, which the court and the bill did not touch on.

The EFF welcomed the decision by the court.