Voters have the right to know who funds parties
A ruling by the High Court in Cape Town ordering Parliament to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) to allow for the disclosure of private political party funding information is a final confirmation that political parties can no longer refuse to reveal their funders.
The ruling handed down by the court on Wednesday, came about a week after Parliament’s ad hoc committee looking into the funding of political parties released its Draft Political Party Funding Bill.
It could force political parties and independent candidates to disclose their donors. But it remains to be seen whether it will be necessary for Parliament to amend Paia given that an ad hoc committee it set up in June to look into the issue of regulation of party funding was already formulating guidelines on the disclosure of private donors and the funding of political organisations.
The draft political party funding bill, released by the committee last week, entails among other measures a ban on donations from foreign sources and a requirement for parties to disclose all donations above a threshold yet to be set.
The high court gave Parliament 18 months to correct the inconsistencies in Paia.
“It is declared that [Paia], is inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid insofar as it does not allow for the recordal and disclosure of private funding information,” Judge Yasmin Meer said in the ruling.
Lobby group My Vote Counts approached the courts arguing that access to information about a party’s private sources of funding was required for the effective exercise of the right to vote. It said disclosure provided the electorate with information on where political campaign money came from and how it was spent in order to aid voters in evaluating political parties.
Parliament said it noted the judgment and had begun a process of developing a law to regulate the public and private funding of political parties.
Civil-society organisations have long called for Parliament to enact legislation regulating party funding, in line with AU, UN and other anticorruption codes signed by the country.
They have argued that the lack of regulation provided ample opportunity for unethical and dishonest donors to peddle influence in policy formulation and to meddle in politics.
Vincent Smith, chairman of the ad hoc committee, said that the court ruling will “once and for all” shut down the debate whether or not parties should reveal their funders.
“I think the court ruling is in fact an injection into the work of the ad hoc committee so I welcome it,” Smith said.
James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s federal executive, said the party was studying the judgment, but questioned whether the ruling was necessary.
“Our lawyers are studying the judgment, but one question that arises is whether [the ruling] is now superfluous because it enjoins Parliament to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act to make it possible to access information on party funding when in fact Parliament is doing just that.
“We are not sure whether it’s necessary to amend Paia,” Selfe said.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa welcomed the high court ruling.
“The UDM has long agitated for the review of party funding legislation to eliminate the trend of selling the country to the highest bidder.
“#GuptaLeaks have shown palpable evidence, that the SA’s political dispensation is vulnerable to manipulation by individuals, groups and companies for nefarious and very selfish goals.”