Party funding should be transparent

Feb. 12, 2014 (6 years, 5 months ago)

February 11 2014 at 10:45am

By Murray Hunter and Vinayak Bhardwaj

The front-page report in the Sunday Independent that billionaire Natie Kirsh may be the ³mystery donor² behind the failed DA-AgangSA merger has excited much interest in his alleged role as a political donor. Rightfully so.

But this is an illustration of a much greater scandal and the ANC would be deeply dishonest to try to score points off it.

The news had not been on the streets long before readers began to piece together information about Kirsh¹s contentious ties to the security barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank. The Kirsh Group is the major shareholder of Magal S3, which controversially received lucrative contracts with the Israeli Ministry of Defence to provide security systems at the wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.

While Kirsh¹s controversial business interests and purported financial links to opposition parties caused much chatter among the Twitterati, it appears to have obscured rather than highlighted the greater scandal: it is disgraceful that no major political party has declared the source of its funding.

It is right that prospective voters for Agang or the DA conduct ³due diligence², on the reasonable inference that Kirsh is a financier of one, or perhaps both, to decide whether or not such a financial link would change their vote or have any role in shaping their party¹s policy or programme.

But such ³due diligence² is almost universally denied to South African voters across the political spectrum. Ducking international best practice, South Africa¹s political parties have refused time and again to disclose their sources of funding providing an opportunity for anonymous billionaires, corporations and even foreign governments to buy influence and shape policy from the shadows.

Many remember Idasa¹s unsuccessful legal challenge to secret party funding in 2004, but perhaps the parties have forgotten their undertaking before a court that Parliament should enact party-funding regulations, including transparency, around major donors.

In the past 10 years, Parliament has resolutely failed to pass or even consider such legislation, and a refusal to disclose sources of funding seems to be the one thing all major parties agree on.

Recent, frustrated efforts by the My Vote Counts campaign to get Parliament to make good on its promises are evidence of how deeply unwanted such regulation is. Even while opposition parties have argued that the current system has disadvantaged them, their lacklustre effort to drive for reform is telling.


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