Picture: 123RF/LEON SWART
Picture: 123RF/LEON SWART

Lobby groups have raised concern that the Political Party Funding Bill, which was signed into law on Tuesday, is unlikely to have an impact on the upcoming 2019 provincial and national elections, which are likely to take place in May.

The law seeks to provide guidelines and new regulations on the funding of political parties. It also includes, among other measures, a ban on donations from foreign sources and a requirement for parties to disclose all donations above a certain threshold.

The enactment of the law — which is seen as one of the most important pieces of legislation since the constitution was passed — comes amid explosive revelations at the state-capture inquiry by former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi. In his testimony, he has detailed how the company, now known as African Global Operations, paid out millions of rands in bribes every month to politically connected individuals to secure tenders at state institutions.

He also implicated the ANC, stating that about R1.8m was paid to the party for its election campaign in the North West five years ago. Ramaphosa also confirmed late in 2018 that he had received a R500,000 donation from Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson for his presidential campaign. However, the president said the donation was made without his knowledge.

While lobby groups welcome the signing of the bill into law, they suggest that the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) might not have enough time to implement the law in time for this year’s elections.

Sheilan Clarke, who speaks on behalf of the lobby group My Vote Counts, said that as SA continues to uncover the “depths of such attacks on our political system, a piece of legislation such as this will serve as a vital element of the checks and balances needed to mitigate further corruption.

“It is, however, regrettable that the signing of the bill comes at a stage where it is likely to have no impact on the upcoming 2019 provincial and national elections,” she said. “Last year, [we] requested that the Presidency sign by November 2018 in order to give the IEC the stipulated period of six months to implement systems. This delay means that the South African electorate will, once again, go to the polls without access to this most crucial piece of information.

“It seems likely that [knowing who funds parties] will only happen after the elections and is a genuine missed opportunity to deepen our democracy. The constitution protects the political right of every person to make an informed vote. Voting without knowing who funds our political parties undermines this right.”

Clarke said that while the law may not yet be in effect, there is nothing stopping political parties from simply disclosing funding information publicly.

“To do so before the elections would be a sign of good faith and an indication that political parties sincerely support the principle of transparency. We urge all political parties to make these disclosures.”

Influencing policy

The Right2Know Campaign also welcomed the signing of the bill into law.

“However, we are disappointed that this comes more than five months since My Vote Counts and the Right2Know Campaign called on President Ramaphosa to sign the bill when it was already on his desk. The delay ensures that the law’s transparency clauses will not be implemented before the 2019 national elections. Once again, political parties will be able to receive millions of rands from secret sources to campaign for our votes, without having to account for one cent,” the campaign said.

Civil society organisations have long called for parliament to enact legislation regulating party funding, in line with African Union, UN and other transparency anti-corruption codes that SA has ratified.

They have argued that the lack of regulation has provided ample opportunity for unethical and dishonest donors to peddle influence in policy formulation and to meddle in politics.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za