Party Funding Act - is this the kind of transparency SA needs?

Party Funding Act – is this the kind of transparency SA needs?

2022-01-15 08:51:00 AM

Party Funding Act – is this the kind of transparency SA needs?

It’s annoying to dodge potholes on the way to the golf course only to get there and see the mayor playing a full 18 and leaving in a state vehicle.

Political Party Funding ActAt the end of it all, I’m still left thinking, erm, so, like, okay, so what?Sure, it’s interesting and sure, we can investigate the incentives the funding may create, but thinking we’re at that level of political discourse anymore is pretty bold.

I mean, there was a time where South Africa held its own on the world stage (I’m talking post ’94 here).It is, however, also not the time to pretend like knowing where parties’ money comes from is the Everest of transparency for functional governance.

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With roads crumbling, water supply questionable and basic services just lacking, I guess we should be happy that the street lights work. Photo for illustration: citizen.co.za/Michel Bega Democratic activists hailed the Political Party Funding Act that came into operation last year. Sure, in theory, it’s pretty nifty to know who’s funding the people we vote for. It’s probably also a step in the right theoretical direction. At the end of it all, I’m still left thinking, erm, so, like, okay, so what? Of course, we’ll ignore the near 400 parties that didn’t respond to the requirements. It’s not like anybody really cares who’s funding a party that can’t scrape together 1 000 votes. But do we really care who’s funding the big kids either? Sure, it’s interesting... Democratic activists hailed the Political Party Funding Act that came into operation last year. Sure, in theory, it’s pretty nifty to know who’s funding the people we vote for. It’s probably also a step in the right theoretical direction. At the end of it all, I’m still left thinking, erm, so, like, okay, so what? Of course, we’ll ignore the near 400 parties that didn’t respond to the requirements. It’s not like anybody really cares who’s funding a party that can’t scrape together 1 000 votes. But do we really care who’s funding the big kids either? Sure, it’s interesting and sure, we can investigate the incentives the funding may create, but thinking we’re at that level of political discourse anymore is pretty bold. ALSO READ: ‘Out of context’ politicians need to get out of office I mean, there was a time where South Africa held its own on the world stage (I’m talking post ’94 here). It was a time when our electorate could take most basic things for granted and worry about macro matters like foreign policy and national projects; the kind of things that high-end funders would likely try push. And, yes, it’s not the time to take our eyes off of those things lest we get caught off guard. It is, however, also not the time to pretend like knowing where parties’ money comes from is the Everest of transparency for functional governance. Even if we did, it’s not like we can pretend it will make much of a difference. Even looking at most terrorist organisations, finding the sources of their funding, often, if secrets, are pathetically open secrets. The knowledge doesn’t change much. So what would be the path to the summit of transparency? Indeed, there would be many paths, so a better question would probably be, what sort of transparency do we need right now? Do we need to know who funds parties, in order for us to properly exercise our democratic rights? Damn right we do. Is it the most important thing we have to know, though? Probably not. With roads crumbling, water supply questionable and basic services just lacking, I guess we should be happy that the street lights work. Why they insist on burning them during the day is beyond me, though. None of those things get fixed by knowing who’s given more than R100k to a party. Those are the things that need to get fixed by the people elected to fix them; municipal managers, mayors, MECs and the like. So what are these people doing that the situation seems to be getting worse? Well, we know they’re not doing a splendid job at fixing the issues, so they’re either making a poor attempt of it, or not attempting at all. ALSO READ: Stop trying to ‘create jobs’, start creating people who add value This is why, before we start calling ourselves a properly transparent democracy because we’ve issued legislation to reveal funders that most parties have ignored anyway, we need to bring transparency to the ground. It’s heart-breaking to arrive at a business lunch where three car guards fight over who’s going to look after your car, only to find the MEC for economic development having a boozy lunch. It’s distressful to know that people are being paid to do less and less, and there’s little recourse we have. You might say that the recourse we have is in the power of democracy, but I mean, come on. Democracy only works when the lights are on to shine on the performance of elected officials. Keep the lights off and you can get away with the excuses that have become commonplace for years; talking about more inclusion but do nothing, blame the past but do nothing or point to the one good thing you did in three years and ride that out. So, for the sake of democracy, let’s arm the people with real transparency. Let’s force golf courses to report how many weekdays public officials spend on the course. Let’s force restaurants to report how many business hours are spent there by pubic officials. If you want real transparency, it’s not good enough to know who’s funding the people who choose the people who do the work. We also need to know if those people chosen are actually doing the work. READ NEXT: