THE BLOG

Many Will Be Cashing In On The Polls Leading To 2019

It's an indictment on our political parties that two years before the biggest national elections, we have no idea who is bankrolling SA's political parties.

17/03/2017 03:58 SAST
Mujahid Safodien/ AFP/ Getty Images

They say a day is a long time in politics, so imagine how long two years must seem and how much can be done in those two years. We only have two years before our next national elections, and it is expected that this will be the most contested national elections in South Africa's democratic era. It is an indictment on our political parties that two years before the biggest national elections in our democratic history, we still have no idea who is bankrolling SA's political parties.

But with elections come costly election campaigns and the money will have to come from somewhere. Given that South Africa does not have any legislation that regulates private political party funding, the possibility that special interests will fund political parties with the aim of buying access, influence, preferential decisions and government business at a later stage (or when a political party gets into government) is plausible. Subsequently, it makes sense that any government contract concluded during this period should face the utmost scrutiny.

It is truly bizarre that political parties and politicians in South Africa expect the public to believe and accept that they are different to political parties and politicians elsewhere in the world. That they expect us to believe that, unlike the political parties and politicians elsewhere in the world, they are immune to the corruptive influence that accompanies private political funding. And as a result their party-donor relationships do not need to be regulated.

Across the world, private political party funding is regulated. South Africa lags behind several African countries in legislating private funding. The main purpose of such legislation is to control an environment in which it is accepted as common cause that the relationship between political parties/politicians and their donors is open to corruption and influence. While MVC has mounted a court challenge aimed at ensuring parties disclose their finances to the public, in the meantime political party fundraising and campaigning continues.

In the lead up to the 2019 national election we can expect increased fundraising by political parties as the unofficial campaign period is sure to start earlier than usual. And the longer the campaign period, the more financial resources will be required. Anecdotal evidence suggests that companies wanting to secure lucrative contracts with the South African state donate to political parties in the country. And now that we have a majority party and two strong opposition parties contesting the national elections there are bound to be several companies 'hedging their bets' and donating to several political parties in the understanding that at least one of them will be in national government and that the provincial government's will be run by at least political parties.

However, the impact of these types of relationships will have to be monitored post the 2019 election. What we have to be wary of before the election is the relationship between current political parties in government, in this case the ANC and the DA, and the companies seeking to finalise contracts with government during this period. As in other countries, the possibility of companies either providing funding to the political party in government as a quid pro quo for a government contract or a company increasing a contract amount so that the extra funds can be channelled from government to the political party as a donation exists.

Without legislation governing the influence of money in our politics, it is open season. This is a period in which politicians, on behalf of political parties, will make contractual decisions that do not make any legal or financial sense.

In the absence of private party funding regulation, there are two important exercises for those with the mandate and ability to challenge the influence of money on South Africa's politics. Firstly, we must not be naïve, and to take the stance that we believe that there is nothing untoward in the negotiations of government contracts worth billions of rand will be doing just that. Secondly, we need to interrogate the history and relationship of these companies with our political parties and politicians. It is safe to assume that those that seek to influence are aware that political parties will be in need of donor funds in the next two years and that at least some of them will seek to exploit this.

However, without legislation governing the influence of money in our politics, it is open season. This is a period in which politicians, on behalf of political parties, will make contractual decisions that do not make any legal or financial sense and in some cases may even go against a Constitutional Court judgement. Or when a potential trillion dollar deal is moved from a government department to parastatal for the sake of expediency and limited oversight.

To be clear, for politicians and political parties there is A LOT at stake in the 2019 elections, and for some companies there are billions and trillions of rands to be had. This is not an environment in which one would assume innocence on the part of the interested parties.

In fact, the political parties in South Africa have done little to restore our trust in their motives for public office, by continuously refusing to be transparent about their private funding sources. The impact of money on South Africa's politics is sure to become more noticeable as those that seek power in government become more brazen. However, their confidence in the knowledge that a lack of legislation means that it will take considerable effort for the public to know where their funding comes from, should not be absolute. Because current developments involving government contracts with companies have ensured that the South African public is becoming more aware of how government should not work and very soon they will understand how our politics too should not work.