By: Robyn Pasensie
It is crucial to have both transparency and a regulated environment for the funding of political parties to ensure a fair playing field, to deter corruption and to mitigate the undue influence of private interests in our politics. This is something that many countries around the world have developed and in recent years South Africa has also made important strides in this area. In January 2019 the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) was signed and the Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Act (PAIA) was signed in June of this year. While there is overlap between these two laws they are different in a number of ways each with clearly defined objectives. In this short piece we unpack the differences between these two laws and explain what they are.
Funding and transparency around political party funding is an issue that civil society has been advocating for since the early 2000s. This is because transparency around party funding opens the door for greater levels of accountability from our elected officials and those who wish to enter and contest positions within the political space. In 2005 the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) brought an unsuccessful application before the Western Cape High Court for the right to obtain access to records of private donations of political parties (in excess of R50 000). In July 2016 My Vote Counts (MVC) launched its own application to the Western Cape High Court.
When the Western Cape High Court gave its judgment in the above matter in September 2017 and ruled PAIA unconstitutional for failing to include funding of political parties, Parliament was already busy with the development of the Draft Political Party Funding Bill. Ultimately these processes lead to the amendment of the PAIA Amendment Act to include access to information of private political funding and the development of a new law, the Political Party Funding Act.
But what precisely are the PAIA Amendment Act and the PPFA?
In terms of Section 236 of the Constitution, the state is required to provide funding to political parties represented in the national and provincial legislatures. The PPFA establishes a regulatory framework that political parties need to comply with in terms of the funding from both private and public sources. The PPFA clearly outlines the following:
- When in effect, the PPFA will repeal our current public funding legislation, the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act of 1997 (PFRPPA). This legislation governs public funding to all represented parties in the provincial and national legislatures. Importantly the calculation that determines the public funding allocations under the PPFA will benefit political parties with fewer seats.
- The establishment of the Multi-Party Democracy Fund into which individuals and organisations can make donations for the benefit of all political parties.
- Outlines the types of donations that are allowed and those which are prohibited.
- Details the financial disclosure requirements that political parties must make from donations received and reporting on how funds are spent.
- Assigns powers and duties to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to administer and manage funds; powers on enforcement to ensure compliance, with the ability to impose fines and penalties; and to publish political party financial disclosures on a quarterly basis.
PAIA allows people to gain access to information held by both public and private bodies. PAIA gives effect to Section 32 of the Constitution which promotes the right of access to information and further states that “everyone has the right of access to any information held by the State and to information held by another person that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”
The Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Act is a brief but powerful addition to PAIA that when in effect provides ‘for information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates to be recorded, preserved and made available’. The PAIA Amendment Act clearly outlines the following:
- Compels the accounting officers of political parties and independent candidates to create and maintain records of all private donations received over R100,000 for a period of 5 years. Unlike the PPFA, the PAIA Amendment Act makes provision for independent candidates.
- This information must be released publicly by a political party or independent candidate on their social media platforms on a quarterly basis.
When in effect, the PPFA and the PAIA Amendment Act will for the first time in South Africa provide access to information of the sources of private funding that political parties and independent candidates receive, regulate what type of donations are allowed, provide enforcement for non-compliance, and ensure consistent reporting. These are all vital to the exercise of our political rights from a more informed position, deepening of multi-party democracy, and to develop our transparency and accountability framework. This is vital in addressing corruption and the historically secretive nature of political funding.
For more information see the video series produced by MVC which unpacks party funding from the beginning including the signing of both the PPFA and the PAIA Amendment Act here.
This piece was originally published in News24.