Wed, 23 Oct 2019

Several civil society organisations want political parties to disclose donations under R100 000.

Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and correctional services is currently discussing the Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Bill. This bill will amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

One of the proposed provisions in the bill would force political parties to publicise the identity of donors and the amounts of money paid by all persons or entities who donate more than R100 000 per financial year.

On Tuesday, when the committee started with hearings on public comment on the bill, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and investment company Allan Gray said the threshold should be lower than R100 000.

"We believe the R100 000 threshold is too high," said amaBhungane's advocacy co-ordinator, Karabo Jajuili.

She added it should not be contained in legislation, but in a regulation, saying it would create a concern that donors could split their donations into amounts smaller than R100 000 to go undetected and the bill in its current form does not have any safeguards against this.

Hermanus Wiid of Allan Gray said R100 000 was too high and defeated the purpose of the amendment bill, which was brought on by a ruling of the Constitutional Court.

"We further contend that it is in the best interest of voters that the ultimate donors of funds are identified and disclosed as part of accounting records."

Wiid said their concern was that people might hide behind shelf companies.

MPs questioned why they believed R100 000 were too high and complained about the "administrative burden" a lower threshold would create for political parties.

"In principle, it should be desirable for political parties to be funded by many smaller donors rather than few big donors," DA MP James Selfe said.

Other civil society bodies who have made written submissions to the committee, but have not yet presented their submissions, are also concerned about the R100 000 threshold.

My Vote Counts wanted political parties to record all donations.

"This is because the threshold of R100 000 is cumulative. If a person or entity donates R10 000 on 10 occasions within a financial year, this will require disclosure," read its submission.

Media Monitoring Africa called for safeguards to be introduced to the bill to prevent obfuscation.

"Of particular importance, the bill should address the need for political parties to make disclosures in circumstances where the same person or entity makes multiple donations that in aggregate exceed the threshold," read its submission.

The ANC's alliance partner, Cosatu, described the R100 000 threshold as "fundamentally flawed".

"It undermines the very progressive spirit of the act and provides a loophole so large that it will very likely collapse all the positive anti-corruption objectives of both the [Political Party Funding] Act and the [Promotion of Access to Information] Amendment Bill," read its submission.

"It will not take long for those who seek to buy political parties and avoid the glare of public transparency and accountability to simply donate amounts of less than R100 000 to circumvent the act and bill's anti-corruption provisions. It is shameful that Parliament passed such a glaringly obvious enabling provision to allow corruption and state capture to continue."

At the hearings of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) on the regulations for the Political Party Funding Act, the matter of the R100 000 threshold was also a bone of contention between civil society and political parties.

A court application by My Vote Counts brought about the amendment to PAIA.

Last June, the Constitutional Court confirmed a Western Cape High Court ruling that the PAIA was unconstitutional because it did not provide for the disclosure of information about the private funding that political parties receive.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ordered Parliament to amend PAIA and "take any other measures it deems appropriate" to provide for this within 18 months.

Hence, the amendment bill.

As it stands, the bill requires political parties to appoint an accounting officer who will have to keep records of the following: the identity of and amounts of money paid by all persons or entities who donate more than R100 000 per financial year; all money lent to the political party; any money paid on behalf of the political party for any expenses incurred by the party; the provision of assets, services or facilities for the use or benefit of a political party whether on commercial terms or not and any sponsorships provided to the political party, excluding services rendered by volunteers.

Furthermore, the accounting officer will have to make the records available every quarter on the party's social media platforms, or at least two months before an election.

The records must also be kept for at least five years.

The hearings will continue on Wednesday.

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