For over a year, State Capture revelations have continuously shocked the nation with allegations of corruption and the buying of undue influence over politicians and public officials by private businesses and businesspeople. However, the recordal, preservation and disclosure of information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates could go a long way towards preventing such influence — if done right. 

The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) amendment could make our political system more transparent; deterring corruption. Currently, PAIA does not provide for information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates to be recorded, preserved and disclosed. Due to this, in June 2018, the Constitutional Court declared PAIA invalid. Before information is accessed, it must be recorded and preserved. On 25 July, Parliament’s National Assembly approved the Committee of Justice and Correctional Services request to amend PAIA to fulfil the Court’s order. Last month, the Committee held public hearings, where My Vote Counts (MVC) and other organisations made oral submissions on the PAIA Amendment Bill. 

Information of political party funding is essential for citizens to effectively exercise their right to make political choices. Unlike those who can afford to donate money, cars, expensive alcohol, braai packs and other commodities in exchange for exclusive access to political party and government officials, the average South African’s influence in decision-making is limited to the elections. MVC had hoped the Committee would bear this fact at the centre of its considerations in terms of how the Amendment Bill fulfils the right to access political party funding information.

This right would only be partially fulfilled if political parties and independent candidates were only obligated to record, preserve and disclose amounts above R100 000; Clause 52B of the Bill limits recordal, preservation and disclosure to amounts exceeding R100 000. Committee members from different parties expressed a united view that R100 000 is not much.

Evidently, R100 000 — less than what most South Africans make annually — is significant enough to buy influence over public officials. Recently, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) effectively proved that donations of less than R100 000 are of importance after revelations that two of their MPs received money from Cyril Ramaphosa. The two who received R40 000 and R80 000 each from Ramaphosa between 2017 and 2019, subsequently resigned from Parliament and the EFF’s central command. One described non-disclosure of money as ‘dishonourable’ and ‘disingenuous’. 

The African National Congress’s (ANC) Progressive Business Forum (PBF) allows businesspeople access to ANC officials and ministers with membership fees ranging from R5 500 to R60 000 per annum. Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane was transported in a vehicle paid for by the disgraced Markus Jooste in 2016. The United Democratic Movement (UDM), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and others have received donations of under R100 000 from entities and persons alleged to be corrupt. 

The recordal and disclosure of donations to political parties in excess of R100 000 in one financial year is provided for under the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA). The Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC), quarterly disclosures of funding declarations minimises any administrative burden. The PAIA Amendment Bill should be complementary in allowing for applications for declarations of donations under R100 000.  

The risks in not recording donations under R100 000, impair the need to detect and deter corruption. Donors could donate amounts less than R100 000 under different names, which would not be recorded but could accumulate to this threshold and even higher. They could also donate R100 000 in one year, in portions over two financial years which would go unrecorded; whereas a donor who donates the same amount in one financial year would have to record and disclose. 

We will achieve nothing by limiting PAIA to the confines of the PPFA in its amendment process. The amendment seeks to promote transparency and it would be a grave injustice to South Africans if we continued to provide leeway for secrecy. Secrecy breeds corruption and as a nation, we should be outraged enough at this stage, to prevent it at all costs.

READ MVC REPORT: The Private Funding of Political Parties: What Do We Know?

Political parties should therefore record and disclose all donations on social media, their websites and hard copies made available at their offices — internet access remains a privilege in South Africa. Furthermore, MVC envisions that the accounting officers responsible for the recordal and keeping of this information have it in their possession, to disclose if and when requested to. 

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