South Africa has no legislation regulating private donations to political parties.
Take that in.
It basically means that “private individuals and companies are able to donate as much in secret as they wish, leaving the door wide open for corruption and the buying of influence,” reports HuffPostSA.
Of course, in a country where corruption is rife, this wasn’t exactly the best choice of practice, decided upon back in 1997. Wealthy individuals can easily exert influence in policies, drowning out the voices of the poor and marginalised.
No wonder the rich are getting richer and the poor, well, poorer.
From HuffPostSA, a few known examples:
We now know that in 1999, one of the major drivers for the arms deal corruption was payment made to the ANC. Because only a handful – maybe even just one or two – ANC leaders knew where the party’s funding was coming from in those days, it is unlikely that the truth will ever emerge as to how much money the ANC itself culled from the arms deal.
In 2015, Hitachi agreed to pay $19 million to settle the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges that it violated American anti-bribery law through improper payments tied to the supply of boilers to Medupi and Kusile here in South Africa. Hitachi agreed to the settlement without admitting to or denying the SEC’s allegations. The SEC said Hitachi had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by inaccurately recording improper payments made to Chancellor House Holdings.
The SEC alleged that in 2008 Hitachi paid an additional $1 million in “success fees” to Chancellor House, which was improperly booked as consulting fees. Hitachi settled the matter and there is therefore no admission of guilt. The $19 million settlement, however, raised more questions than answers regarding alleged payments made to the ANC as a result of the deal. Why would Hitachi have paid a settlement figure? What was that in lieu of?
In January 2016, the ANC’s disgraced Beaufort West mayor, Truman Prince, brazenly wrote a letter on a municipal letterhead in which he offered potential donors to the ANC a more than decent quid pro quo. He could not have been clearer about the aim when he wrote: “We (will) want to see construction companies sympathetic and having a relationship with the ANC to benefit, in order for these companies to inject funds into our election campaign process”
More recently, we have had the state capture to deal with – but it’s not just the ANC who keeps monetary secrets.
While all parties agree that transparency is a good thing, when it comes to giving up the goose they all “lose their appetite”, especially during election times.
Now, African National Congress (ANC) Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu has announced that “a resolution would be passed to establish a multi-party ad hoc committee to develop legislation for increased public funding of political parties and the regulation of private funding to political parties”:
This came like a bolt out of the blue late last month, although the ANC resolved to tackle the thorny issue of money and politics at both its Polokwane and Mangaung conferences. The issue has a long and vexed history.
HuffPostSA recalls that history here.
Mthembu has now “undertaken to take the bull by the horns”:
This should be welcomed no matter how cynical we have become about our politics. In South Africa, a multi-party ad hoc committee has the opportunity – albeit belatedly – to forge a piece of legislation that is appropriate for the South African context. It is hoped that the parliamentary process will be open to ordinary citizens and civil society organisations, enabling them to engage with the detail of any proposed legislation.
But while regulation will not “be the panacea for all ills”, can we be certain that without it policy, environmental and development decisions that have been made (or are going to be made) are in the best interests of the country, or the narrow interests of the ruling party?
Mthembu’s decision brings with it a long and difficult road ahead. He will need to get all opposition parties on board, as well as garner support from his own party caucus.
South Africa’s short democratic history has plenty to teach us, and it’s best we sort this out now rather than later.
In the meantime, just hit up your local party representative, give them a few extra thousand Randelas, and get a little sway in the next municipal decision.
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