The Constitutional Court has heard an application by My Vote Counts (MVC) asking the court to order Parliament to pass legislation that would force political parties to disclose who gives them money. The ConCourt has reserved judgement on the matter. At the moment, political parties are not required by law to disclose the identity of their funders. One would have thought that the so-called best Constitution in the whole world should have had the clause forcing political parties to disclose their funders from the word go. It should not have to be invoked, twenty years down the line, through litigation.

There are various ways political parties can raise their campaign funds such as grassroots fundraising, voluntary contributions and the taxpayers through public funding. Despite such multitude of promising options, political fundraising via political corruption like influence peddling, graft, extortion, kickbacks and embezzlement is still there and seems to be the order of the day.

In South Africa, corporations, countries such as China, trade unions such as Cosatu and wealthy individuals donate huge amounts of campaign money and other funding to the ANC. There is no way that these donations are made without expecting anything in return. These election campaign contributions are made on a quid pro quo basis. These donations need to be regulated by law because political parties cannot regulate themselves.

In countries such as Australia their Electoral Commission regulates donations to political parties, and publishes a yearly list of political donors. Donors can sometimes hide their identities behind associated entities which should be discouraged as it may defeat the objective to promote transparent funding of political parties. However, in South Africa the Independent Electoral Commission has lost credibility by turning itself into a proxy of the ANC and last year its former head, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, was disgraced by the courts of this country. The law should also make provision for a limit to campaign spending and contributions.

Although there is regulation of political party funding in Australia, the law in that country makes political donations harder to track and conflicts of interest harder to detect thereby creating the chances for corruption to fester. In South Africa we are still grappling with forcing parliament to enact a law that will force political parties disclose their sources of funding while in other countries civil society organizations are calling for political donations to end arguing that donations are a gift and a form of bribery. John Menadue stated that “Corporate donations are a major threat to our political and democratic system, whether it be state governments fawning before property developers, the Prime Minister providing ethanol to a party donor or the immigration minister using his visa clientele to tap into ethnic money.” Political researchers from the Australian National University Sally Young and Joo-Cheong Tham concluded that “There is inadequate transparency of funding. Moreover, there is a grave risk of corruption as undue influence due to corporate contributions and the sale of political access.”

Mooted legislation on funding of political parties must ban foreign funding of political parties and only make individuals who are South African citizens or on the Voters Roll eligible to donate to political parties. These donors must declare that the money came from their own coffers to avoid donation fronting. The democratic system is not working properly when there is such a disparity between the amounts of political donations a ruling can raise compared to the opposition.

The ConCourt cannot afford to be seen to be endorsing underhand methods of political party funding and basically condoning corruption. In the interests of transparency and accountability, the ConCourt should rule in favour of democracy and the majority of the poor. It should put a stop to the fraudulent model of parliamentary democracy which is both a negation of real freedom and an expression of tyranny, whether by the state or monopoly capital. The ConCourt should stop parliament and the ruling party from becoming a means of plundering and usurping the authority of the people.

By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a senior researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).