Cosatu members attend a meeting. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Cosatu members attend a meeting. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Trade union federation Cosatu has expressed disquiet at demands by political parties for increased funding from parliament and the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) at a time when several state-owned enterprises are on the verge of collapse and jobs are on the line.

The union said that it welcomes some provisions of the recently promulgated Political Party Funding Act. But it is “irritated by the demand of all political parties for increased funding from parliament, the provincial legislatures and the IEC whilst the state and our SOEs have been brought to the verge of financial ruin and collapse by the very same poverty-pleading politicians”.

Public hearings

The IEC is conducting public hearings on the act's draft regulations to provide guidelines and regulate funding of political parties. The act includes a ban on donations from foreign sources and a requirement for parties to disclose all donations above R100,000. The enactment of the law — seen as one of the most important laws since the constitution was passed — comes amid explosive revelations at the state-capture inquiry.

The issue of funding politicians and parties is also under scrutiny after the recent release of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's report on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign donation from controversial facilities-management firm Bosasa. Mkhwebane found that Ramaphosa deliberately misled parliament on the donation to his campaign. The president is challenging the report in court.

In 2017, former ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said political parties were poorly funded by the state‚ which forced parties to rely heavily on private donors.

Mthembu said the reliance off political parties on private funding fuelled the perception that anonymous donations from business interests subverted democratic processes by influencing the awarding of contracts or “framing of policy in a manner that advantages private interests‚ dilutes the voice of citizens and undermines the constitution”.

In its submission during the IEC public hearing on Thursday, Cosatu said it opposed calls for increased funding for political parties represented in  legislatures.

“Workers are now faced with the very real prospect of being retrenched in their thousands by the state and SOEs. [The] Treasury is demanding public servants’ wages be slashed by 10%. Public services have been hollowed out by the rising levels of vacancies and underresourcing. Yet the same politicians across all political parties and whose leadership brought us to this crisis want to receive more funds from the state,” Cosatu said.

Regulations provide for the establishment of two funds, to be run by the IEC, for political parties. A represented parties fund will cater for political parties represented in parliament and provincial legislatures with money appropriated by parliament.

A multiparty democracy fund will accept funds from private sources for parties that are represented in parliament and provincial legislatures.

Cosatu also said it remains vehemently opposed to the act and regulations’ provisions not requiring donations of less than R100,000 to be disclosed.

“It will not take a rocket scientist to figure out that they can then simply donate R99,000 to avoid disclosure. This ridiculous escape clause threatens to collapse the act’s progressive objectives,” Cosatu said.

IEC chair Glen Mashinini said the commission was working to finalise the  proposed regulations as soon as possible after hearing input from stakeholders.  He said while SA had conducted quality elections over the past 25 years, “lack of regulation of political finance has been our Achilles heel [which] has put us at odds with international best practice and guidelines of the AU, the SADC and other world bodies”.