Home South African Civil groups warn against plans to amend Political Party Funding Act

Civil groups warn against plans to amend Political Party Funding Act

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Civil society organisations have reiterated their call that the ANC national working committee should not be allowed to amend the Political Party Funding Act.

File picture: Pexels

CIVIL society organisations have reiterated their call that the ANC national working committee should not be allowed to amend the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA).

The organisations, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, My Vote Counts, Right2Know and Defend our Democracy, said they applauded the Electoral Commission (IEC) for publishing the third set of quarterly political party funding disclosures before the deadline of March 31, 2022.

The IEC continues to uphold the PPFA and fulfil its mandate to ensure that disclosures by political parties and donors of donations above R100,000 are collated and published timeously.

This follows the first two sets of quarterly disclosures published in September and November last year.

“We are just beginning to see the fruits of the PPFA, with each set of disclosures growing and revealing more information,” the organisations said.

“After less than a year, the PPFA has proven to be crucial in opening up our politics and deepening transparency. We also welcome the donations to the Multi-Party Democracy Fund (MPDF) that are cumulatively worth just over R5 million. This fund allows donations from private entities who are interested in donating to better our democracy, rather than buy influence over a single party. The IEC will distribute these funds across all parties represented in Parliament,” they said.

They, however, added that the very foundation of this powerful tool was under threat, as the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) had recommended amending its reporting thresholds and thus undermining the act.

“The third set of disclosures shows us, more than ever, the importance of these thresholds. It proves that the intention to increase the reporting threshold and expand or do away with the annual limit is essentially an attempt to repeal the law,” the organisations said.

“In December 2021 it was revealed that the ANC NWC wants to expand the annual threshold for disclosure from R100 000 to R250,000 or R500,,000. If successful, this would mean that only donations above R250,000 or R500,000 in a year will need to be disclosed.

“In the third set of disclosures, 41% of the donations are between R100,000 and R250,000, and 65% of the donations are between R100,000 and R500,000. These small disclosures are incredibly important, given that (as the findings of the Zondo Commission show) political influence can be bought for as little as R100,000 (and sometimes, less). But if the ANC gets its way, we will not have access to almost 65% of this quarter’s disclosed donations,” the organisations said.

Civil society organisations also said that the ANC’s NWC wants the upper limit a single donor can donate to a party per year to be increased from R15 million to R50m – R100m, or just scrapped entirely.

“In the present set of disclosures, the biggest donation by far is one of R15m from Batho Batho Trust to the ANC. According to media reports, this donation was made to help the ANC settle its salary bill towards the end of 2021. The Batho Batho Trust is closely linked to the ANC: it owns about 47% of the investment group Thebe, which has a 28% stake in Shell’s downstream business in South Africa.

“This donation was made when community movements, civil society and other activists intensified the call to end Shell’s harmful seismic exploration. And while the courts have placed a hold on further exploration, Gwede Mantashe, who is the minister of mineral resources and energy, and the ANC’s national chairperson, publicly supported Shell.

“One of the purposes of the act is to limit private influence over our politics; influence such as the type that Batho Batho Trust undoubtedly could try and wield over the ruling party (and, ultimately, over our communities and climate). The R15m threshold is, therefore, clearly too high. To expand or remove it would be to serve the interests of a small group of political and private sector elites – not ordinary people,” the organisations said.

“We fully understand political parties’ and donors’ desire for further secrecy. These desires, however, serve their own narrow interests and not the interests of the public,” they said.

They said the third set of disclosures continued to expose the relationships between private interests and political parties, saying as they await the fourth set of disclosures and, importantly, political parties’ annual financial statements, that they called on the media, civil society, social movements and political parties to strengthen the push back against all attempts to undermine the PPFA.

Political Bureau

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