Advocacy: Q&A with AmaB’s Karabo Rajuili on party funding transparency

AmaBhungane advocacy coordinator Karabo Rajuili recently addressed the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on draft regulations for the Political Party Funding Act. She focused on sections of the Act that impact the free flow of information and freedom of the media.

AmaB: What are we and others trying to achieve in terms of the new Political Party Funding Act?

KR: The IEC is currently drafting the regulations for the Act. Regulations are where details on how a law will be implemented are spelled out. AmaBhungane, civil society, political parties and other members of the public are engaging the IEC on what should be contained in the regulations.

AmaB: The IEC reportedly received over 4 000 submissions showing the wide public interest in this law.

KR: The drafting of the regulations comes after the 5th democratic parliament in 2017 initiated a process to regulate private funding to political parties. The Political Party Funding Bill was passed by Parliament in April 2018, and in January 2019 President Cyril Ramaphosa signed it into law.

Ramaphosa has yet to promulgate the Act, which will make it operational. The IEC will be responsible for implementation of the Act and regulations once the law is promulgated.

AmaB: Why do we need to make submissions to the IEC?

KR: Money in politics is at the heart of how state capture and other forms of corruption occur. Until now, there has been absolute secrecy on the private backers of political parties and intra-party campaigns.

AmaBhungane, other investigative journalists and civil society have been able to peel back at some of this secrecy in grand corruption exposés – but the full extent of how money is used to buy influence is still clouded in secrecy.

The Political Party Funding Act will be a first step at shining the light in the dark corners of money in politics.

It’s also important to remember that the Constitutional Court in 2018 ruled that the right to vote is linked to the right to make an informed vote – therefore the public had a right to know the identities of those providing money to political parties.

The process of drafting regulations is crucial because … the devil is in the detail.

AmaB: Why do you personally feel it’s important? You participated and made presentations while the Bill went through parliament.

KR: Information rights – the right of the media and public to access information – is at the heart of democratic accountability.

The absence of any kind of regulation of private money in politics has allowed corruption to flourish. The latest scandal involving the public protector’s probe into President Ramaphosa’s Bosasa donation and leaked emails reveals, among other things, how inconsistent disclosures of campaign contributions can be weaponised in contestations for state power.

The biggest losers in the absence of information around who funds our political parties and candidates, are ordinary members of the public, who require political parties to fulfil the campaign promises, deliver services and run a functional state.

The Political Party Funding Act will allow the public to get a fair view of how and who political parties are approaching – or being approached by – to sponsor their campaigns; where influence is being bought; and what linkages are made between campaign donations and the awarding of state tenders and contracts.

The public disclosure of this information – and wider reporting on these linkages – is likely to have a stronger effect on holding political parties and corporate entities accountable.

AmaB: What did you present on to the IEC?

KR: AmaBhungane’s submission to the IEC at public hearings held on 1 and 2 August in Cape Town dealt with how to prevent private donors using splitting arrangements and other circumvention tricks to hide their identities from disclosure below the prescribed disclosure threshold of R100 000.

We also asked the IEC to include a more robust public interest test for decisions to refuse a request of a donor to remain anonymous when making contributions to the Multi-Party Democracy Fund.

The Act allows donors making donations via the Multi-Party Democracy Fund to request to remain anonymous.

In essence, amaB submitted that the regulations should provide as much transparency and proactive disclosures of information as possible to reduce the risk of the Act’s intention being subverted by information being kept away from public scrutiny.

AmaB: What would the ideal outcome of this process be?

KR: The Political Party Funding Act and the regulations will only be a first, but hugely significant step to curbing the corrosive effect of secret money in politics. Much work lies ahead to close the gaps and loopholes for the toxic effect money in politics.

For example, the law is silent on the disclosure requirements on intra-party campaigns. In 2017, parliament was tasked to consider whether MPs who had contested for leadership positions within parties should disclose. Parliaments ethics committee resolved that the ethics code was unclear and that parliament should look to amend the code to clarify the disclosure requirements.

Our most recent campaign funding scandal involving the president’s campaign contributions makes this the next urgent area for reform.

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