Party fund ruling aids voters right to make informed vote: MVC

27 September 2017 - 16:00 By Ernest Mabuza
No to secrecy.
No to secrecy.
Image: Facebook/My Vote Counts

The My Vote Counts (MVC) has welcomed a court ruling that information about private funding for political parties and independent ward candidates is required for the reasonable exercise of the right to vote.

MVC said the judgment was a confirmation that the right to vote was the right to make an informed vote and that political party funding information was required to maintain the value of the right to vote.

The organisation launched an application in the high court in Cape Town to force political parties to make funding information available to the public.

In the matter heard last month‚ MVC argued that the disclosure provided the electorate with information on where political campaign money came from and how it was spent in order to aid voters in evaluating political parties.

The Democratic Alliance and the minister of justice opposed the application.

The high court ruled in MVC’s favour on Wednesday and declared that the Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) was inconsistent with the Constitution insofar as it did not allow for the recordal 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.

MVC said the judgment meant there must be a legislative mechanism that allowed access to this information.

It said the current process in Parliament to repeal and replace the Represented Political Parties Act might produce that legislation.

It said the organisation was following that process closely.

“We will now continue to monitor the Parliamentary process so that the legislation enacted on this issue‚ enables an open and transparent political party funding system‚” the civil society organisation’s coordinator‚ Janine Ogle‚ said.

The Council of the Advancement of the South African Constitution also welcomed the judgment.

It said the judgment confirmed that the principle of public access about political party’s private sources of funding was an intrinsic part in exercising the right to vote.

Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said while Parliament’s ad hoc committee on party funding had issued a draft bill that seeks to regulate private and public funding of political parties for comment‚ he believed it was important for Parliament to amend the PAIA to provide for the disclosure mechanism.

Last Tuesday‚ the ad hoc committee invited the public to make comments on the Draft Political Parties Funding Bill of 2017. The closing date for submissions is October 16.

The draft bill aims to provide funding of political parties participating in the national and provincial legislatures and to regulate disclosure of donations accepted.

Ogle said the fact that the draft bill did not provide for regulation of funding in the local government level was worrying.

Ogle said MVC would make submissions on the draft Bill to ensure that disclosure for donations for donations to political parties at local government level was included.

“The great thing about the judgment is that it covers the funding of political parties and independent ward candidates. It is up to Parliament to provide for the disclosure of this information‚” Ogle said.

The Democratic Alliance was still studying the judgment.

However‚ its federal executive chairman‚ James Selfe‚ said Judge Yasmin Meer’s judgment left a question on whether it had not been overtaken by events as Parliament had already established an ad hoc committee to look into party funding

After considering comments on the draft bill‚ the committee expects to conclude the process by the end of the year.

“[The judgment poses]… a question of whether there’s still a need for an amendment to PAIA‚” said Selfe.