Yesterday, My Vote Counts went to the Constitutional Court to defend the Constitution and hold political parties to account. We asked the Constitutional Court to declare that Parliament has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to enact financial disclosure legislation to regulate private donations to political parties. This financial information is crucial for an informed right to vote, we argued, and necessary to protect the political rights from all forms of corruption. Counsel for Parliament conceded this, and agreed that citizens need access to such information in order exercise meaningful political rights. This was a huge concession, which vindicates the entire substance of our application.
However, Parliament argued that this necessary information can be garnered through an existing piece of legislation, the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA); the very piece of legislation that was held in the IDASA litigation to be inappropriate for accessing private party funding records. Thus, one of the key issues that emerged was the relevance of PAIA, and whether it is an adequate legislative tool under section 32 of the Constitution for the purposes of gaining access to secret party funding. If it is the case, as Parliament argued, then the principle of subsidiarity applies, which means that MVC should have attacked PAIA for being unconstitutional rather than bringing it directly to the Court under section 32 of the Constitution. On this score, Parliament’s Counsel presented a contradictory and unconvincing argument to the Court, which was not supported by Parliament’s conduct since the inception of democracy. MVC’s Counsel maintained the position that PAIA clearly does not purport to “cover the field” of access to information, and that citizens cannot use PAIA to gain access to the type of information they require from political parties to fully exercise their right to an informed vote. The obligation imposed by section 32 when read with section 19 obliges, therefore, that Parliament replace a system of unregulated secrecy with regulated transparency, which Parliament has failed to do.
Debating this issue of subsidiarity, as it relates to PAIA, constituted the majority of the day’s proceedings. After hearing from counsel for both MVC and the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Court adjourned and judgment was reserved.
We expect judgment within the next four to six months. On balance, MVC remains hopeful that it has been successful in making the merits of its case clear. We are thankful for the excellent work of our lawyers and counsel, and for the support shown by partner organisations, such as the Right2Know Campaign and Corruption Watch, as well as support shown on news and social media.
Updates will be posted on our website, Facebook account and Twitter account (@MVC_SA). Further film-screenings and workshops to raise public awareness around this issue will also follow soon. For more information on the case, or how to get involved with MVC, contact:
Greg Solik (Managing Director) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Winks (WebberWentzel Attorneys) – email@example.com