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What's their secret? ISS calls for transparency in political party funding
27 March 2014

Pretoria, South Africa – A toxic blend of secret money and political influence risks undermining South Africa’s democracy because the country does not regulate private funding of political parties, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said on Thursday.

‘We have no way of knowing when private or corporate interests try to buy political favours in South Africa,’ said ISS senior researcher Judith February at a seminar in Cape Town. South Africa now finds itself lagging behind many democracies in Africa and internationally with regard to corporate or private funding of political parties. ‘We urgently need legislation to enable transparency and prevent the potentially corrupting influence of secret money on politics and government,’ she said.

South Africa has no legislation regulating party funding, despite plans and promises dating back to 1997. ‘This is a dangerous regulatory gap which opens the door to corruption and undercover donations which disable the transparency we are supposed to enjoy in our political system,’ February said.

South Africa has one of the world’s most progressive constitutions but lacks the legislation required to enforce accountability. ‘What this means is that both the party and the donor can keep dodgy donations a secret. That is not a recipe for clean politics,’ February explained.

She said the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties had for nearly 20 years failed to introduce the legislation required to ensure transparency in party funding. The ANC, as the ruling party in South Africa, had a duty to shed the ‘extreme loyalty and necessary secrecy’ of its struggle days and ‘introduce measures that replace cronyism and partisan politics with transparency and accountability,’ February said.

Legislation was passed by Parliament in 1997 to regulate government funding of political parties, but it didn’t include private or corporate donations. A court case brought by the then Institute for Democracy in SA (Idasa) in 2005 failed to force parties to reveal their private and corporate benefactors. The decision was not appealed following a commitment by the ANC to reform party funding regulations, echoed in 2007 at an ANC policy conference.

‘But, despite many commitments to introduce transparency to private funding, parties are still able to keep their donors secret,’ February said.

She welcomed recent suggestions by ANC Treasurer-General Dr Zweli Mkhize that a Democracy Fund be established and that SA business engage with government on a regulatory system which enables transparency in political funding. ‘But the time for talk is running out – it is now urgent that South Africans can shine a light on the flow of money to the people and parties in power.’

For further information contact:

Judith February, Senior Researcher, Governance Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria: +27 83 453 9817, jfebruary@issafrica.org

About the Institute for Security Studies
The ISS is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.
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