Should you know who funds political parties? ConCourt to hear arguments

13 March 2018 - 06:00 By Ernest Mabuza
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The Constitutional Court will on Tuesday hear an application to confirm a high court order that information about private funding for political parties and independent ward candidates is required for the reasonable exercise of the right to vote.

My Vote Counts (MVC) launched an application in the high court in Cape Town last year to force political parties to make funding information available to the public. MVC is a non-profit organisation which aims to improve accountability and transparency of elections and politics in South Africa.

The high court held in June last year that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was inconsistent with the Constitution as it did not allow for the recording and disclosure of private funding information.

The court suspended its order of invalidity for 18 months to allow Parliament to remedy the defects in PAIA to allow for the disclosure of private funding for political parties and independent candidates.

On Tuesday‚ My Vote Counts will ask the Constitutional Court to confirm the high court order.

The organisation said it believed that information about the private funding of political parties and independent candidates was reasonably required to exercise an informed vote at the ballot box.

It said access to information about the private funding of political parties was not required during the apartheid era‚ and more than 20 years into South Africa’s democracy political parties continued to insist on accepting private funds in secret.

In its written arguments before the Constitutional Court‚ the organisation said the right to vote was the right to cast an informed vote - and the right to make political choices was the right to make informed political choices.

“Secrecy of donations to political parties (whether by wealthier citizens‚ or even by noncitizens‚ such as local corporations‚ foreign individuals or corporations‚ or even foreign governments) distorts and devalues the accuracy of the information that is available to citizens exercising their electoral and political choices‚” My Vote Counts counsel Max du Plessis said in written submissions to the court.

He said having equal access to accurate information regarding by whom a political party was funded‚ and thus to whom it was likely to owe political loyalty‚ was critical for all citizens to make equally informed political choices‚ particularly when they cast their votes.

However‚ the Minister of Justice is appealing the high court order.

The minister said MVC failed to join all the political parties in its high court application as these parties were likely to be affected by the order the organisation sought. The minister said MVC had also not joined the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) in its high court application.

“For this reason‚ this Court should refuse to confirm the declaration of invalidity with costs‚” the minister’s advocates Thabani Masuku and Liziwe Dzai said in their written submissions.

The minister said the legislature did not intend to regulate the disclosure of public or private funding of political parties and independent candidates in terms of PAIA.

“Public funding of political parties is regulated in terms of the Public Funding Act. There is no equivalent legislation regulating private funding of political parties although Parliament is currently processing such legislation in terms of the Draft Political Party Finding Bill 2017.”