The Political Party Funding Act: A victory for transparency and accountability!

1 April 2021

My Vote Counts welcomes the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) coming into operation. After more than 2 years of campaigning by civil society, the implementation of the Act can be crucial to advance our democracy.

In 2018, we successfully litigated in the Constitutional Court, leading to the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) being ruled unconstitutional for failing to record, preserve, and make available private political funding information. Our litigation influenced the development of the PPFA and led to the amendment of PAIA. 

The commencement of the PPFA signals a fundamental change in our political landscape. If properly implemented, it will enhance transparency, deter corruption, allow us to better hold political parties accountable and, ultimately, deepen democracy. 

Janet Love, the IEC Vice-Chairperson recently summed up the truly historic nature of the PPFA when she said that it is, “part of the country’s evolution and is the most important far-reaching enhancement to the electoral legislative framework since 1994”.

Local government elections
The PPFA’s implementation begins as we prepare for the local government elections, set to take place between August and November this year. Crucially, the commencement of the Act will see the first quarterly disclosures – the sources and amounts of private funding received by political parties – be made available to the public ahead of the elections. This means that, for the first time, voters will have access to this critical information to make a more informed decision at the ballot box. 

Since democracy, an unregulated system that allowed political parties to solicit and receive private funding without the need to disclose any details has facilitated rampant corruption. The impact has been felt by everyone living in South Africa, with poor and marginalised people bearing the brunt of this lacuna in our law. With the PPFA’s commencement, South Africa joins many other countries on the African continent and around the globe that regulate and ensure transparency in private political funding. 

What the PPFA will do
The new regulatory framework will compel political parties to keep records of all private donations they receive, disclose private donations of R100,000 and above, places strict rules on what type of donations can be received, and caps the amount that parties can receive from local and foreign donations. The law also gives the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) wide-ranging powers to monitor adherence with the Act and to impose fines and sanctions on parties who fail to do so.

The PPFA also repeals our current public funding legislation (Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act) and establishes a Represented Political Party Fund (RPPF). Previously, public funding allocations were based on a 90% proportional and 10% equitable basis. This will now change to a two-thirds proportional and one-third equitable basis. This revision in allocation will be to the benefit of smaller parties by creating a more equitable political space that enhances South Africa’s multi-party democracy, as required by section 236 of the Constitution.

Further, the PPFA establishes the new Multi-Party Democracy Fund, that will be made up of private donations. Those who wish to donate to the development of our democracy, but not to a particular party, can donate to this fund. These funds will then be disbursed to all represented political parties in the same ratio as the RPPF. 

The PPFA is not perfect!
While the Act’s commencement is overwhelmingly positive, we must acknowledge that the PPFA is not perfect. The law will need to be further developed and amended to close the spaces in which secrecy in funding can still occur, to provide clarity where there is ambiguity, and to keep up to date with technology and efforts to circumvent its intentions. 

The disclosure threshold of R100,000 is too high and we believe it should be R10,000. Furthermore, the Act specifies that a member of a political party may only receive donations for “party political purposes” however, what constitutes party political purpose is not clearly defined in the Act, leaving room for interpretation that could be used to skirt its intention. For reasons such as these, we will continue to monitor the development of the PPFA to ensure that its objectives are met.

Despite these deficiencies, the PPFA and its commencement is a victory. For the first time our right to access private funding information is a reality. The electorate will now be afforded a greater opportunity to make a more informed decision when they vote. We now have a powerful tool to curb possible future corruption and undue influence in our politics. 

We urge all political parties to adhere to the provisions of the Act and for the IEC, that will administer the PPFA, to keep the rights of voters in mind as they go about their duties as prescribed in the Act and its Regulations

We must celebrate, but we must also realise that simply having a law in place is insufficient. It will be incumbent upon all South Africans including political parties, civil society organisations, the media, communities, and individuals, to monitor and ensure adherence with the Act, to make use of the information it will provide access to, and to further develop the law towards greater transparency and accountability.

My Vote Counts NPC is a non-profit company founded to improve the accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of elections and politics in the Republic of South Africa. We work to ensure that the political and electoral systems are open, fair and accountable to the public and that they remain relevant in the changing South African socio-political context.