LETTER: Transparency may backfire - Business Day, 03 October 2017

The High Court in Cape Town has ruled in favour of the My Vote Counts campaign and ordered Parliament to make provision in the next 18 months for political parties to publicly disclose private funding.

 

By Gabriela Mackay 

Transparency is good, but what the ANC might do with it isn’t. The High Court in Cape Town has ruled in favour of the My Vote Counts campaign and ordered Parliament to make provision in the next 18 months for political parties to publicly disclose private funding. However, this increased transparency may have unintended consequences.

In well-established democracies increased levels of transparency are to be welcomed. Requiring political parties to disclose who their private donors are is good for accountability because it enables voters to judge what vested interests political parties may have. Yet in a democracy that is marred by corruption, state capture and patronage, this court ruling may in fact damage opposition parties.

Private donors who donate to opposition parties may find themselves overlooked for government contracts or saddled with unfavourable legislation. Opposition parties rely on additional funding from private interests as the Represented Political Parties Fund provides funding to parties proportionate to the number of seats they win in the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures. They need private donations to help them run political campaigns. Governing parties are always likely to attract significant private funding because they control access to patronage.

Ensuring that political parties are transparent and accountable is paramount if we are to succeed in avoiding potential future corruption. However, we need to make sure that the way in which it is implemented does not inadvertently harm SA’s fragile democracy by suppressing the plurality of views and strengthening a corrupt governing party.

*Gabriela Mackay is a research analyst at the Institute of Race Relations, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. 

Read letter on Business Day here

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