• My Vote Counts says the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill is opportunistic and would make political funding more secretive.  
  • The bill, which is being rushed through Parliament, would allow the president to determine how much money political parties and independent candidates may accept as donations.  
  • The bill is supposed to give effect to the changes required by the Electoral Amendment Act in other legislation dealing with elections. 

The president should not have the power to determine the upper limits of how much money political parties may accept as donations and the threshold at which they should declare their donations, My Vote Counts (MVC) argues.

Furthermore, in their submission on the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill that Parliament is rushing through, non-profit organisation MVC states the bill is opportunistic and would lead to more secretive political funding.

The stated intention of the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill is to amend the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) and other legislation to bring it in line with the Electoral Amendment Act, which allows independent candidates to contest provincial and national elections.

However, the bill also includes a provision that could make it easier for political parties and independent candidates to receive more money from donors, with less transparency. This provision takes a competency away from Parliament and its constitutionally required transparency and public participation and moves to the more opaque functions of the president.

In terms of the PPFA, as it stands, the president may make regulations concerning the limits on donations parties may receive and the threshold of which donations they must declare to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), “acting on a resolution of the National Assembly”. In other words, the president would have to be empowered by the National Assembly to change the limit or threshold.

The bill removes this provision.

READ | Parliament to rush through bill giving president power to determine donation limits for parties, independents

The bill intended to “provide that the president may make regulations after consultation with the National Assembly Portfolio Committee for the minister responsible for the funding act”, according to the department’s presentation to the joint committees.

The new bill would require the president to consider the following in determining his decree:

  • The amount of money previously appropriated by acts of Parliament for the Political Representatives Fund within the previous five financial years;
  • The effects of inflation on the value of money over time;
  • The costs associated with participating as a political party, independent representative or independent candidate in elections and the democratic process in South Africa.

Schedule 2 of the Political Party Funding Act contains the provisions that donations of more than R100 000 must be declared, and parties may only accept R15 million from one donor per financial year.

The bill further provides that “each regulation in Schedule 2 is a transitional regulation and shall become inoperative on the date that a regulation replacing the said regulation made by the president in terms of Subsection(1) becomes effective”.

MVC has long been campaigning for greater transparency in party funding. In fact, they currently have a matter before the Western Cape High Court, to declare the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) unconstitutional, as it does not provide suitable transparency and control.

In their submission on the bill, they state that the above proposed amendment raises “several issues”.

MVC notes that the amendments provide for the President to consider, among others, “the costs associated with participating as a political party, independent representative or independent candidate in elections and the democratic process in South Africa”.

“This allows for greater opportunity for potential abuse and undue influence by private interests. Political parties and independents could use this as an opportunity to justify and source greater private funding to cover all the costs associated with running a party therefore increasing the private sector influence on our politics,” states MVC.

“While the intention to use elections and other political activities as a reference for adequate funding may be in good faith it nonetheless carries with it the potential to bring in vast amounts of private money that could unduly influence the political process.”

READ | Who funded political parties in 2023?

According to MVC the bill does not include some of the key factors that need to be considered in setting any upper limit: the potential for the level of the donation unduly to influence or to corrupt political discourse or state action.

In the founding affidavit of their court bid to have the PPFA declared unconstitutional, MVC noted that any limitation to disclosure of private funding sources is unconstitutional in that it prohibits transparency and proper access to information necessary for the exercise of the right to make an informed political decision.

“The proposed amendment does not address this and instead keeps the disclosure in place and allows the President the potential to increase this limit thereby increasing the potential for secrecy in funding and further stymieing access to critical information for the public,” reads their submission on the bill.

Furthermore, MVC argues that the amendment represents a potential conflict of interest, as it empowers the President, who is also the head of the majority party, to determine the upper limit and the disclosure threshold.

“The President acts as both leader of his party and of the country and there is an institutional bias which cannot be avoided without taking the power away from the President,” MVC states.