So, a little bit of background as to why I’m asking this potentially inflammatory question…

The Political Party Funding Act comes into effect on 1 April 2021. The intention behind it is to regulate both the public and private funding of political parties by limiting the amount that can be donated to political parties, and prohibiting donations from foreign governments, agencies, persons and entities.

In addition, any donations received by members of any political party have to be strictly for political party purposes only, and any such donations over R100 000 must be disclosed.

Naturally, the presidency is might chuffed with itself for bringing this law into being – albeit over three years since it was first signed into law in 2018.

In theory, it will work as follows:

  • Parties will have to declare all donations of more than R100,000 every three months (as well as ahead of General Elections). This information will be published by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and submitted to Parliament.
  • The IEC is currently developing an online disclosure system which will allow both parties and donors to make these disclosures electronically.
  • Funding from foreign entities is permitted as long as it’s for training, skills development or policy development.

Am I the only one seeing more than a few red flags here?

We only have to look at the recent and frankly appalling misappropriation of funding meant for Covid-19 relief and procurement of desperately needed PPE to know that donations intended for one thing seldom, if ever, end up being used for their original purpose.

Positive Or Naïve?

There are, of course, a lot of people who see the Act as a very positive step.

IEC deputy chairperson Janet Love said it means “South Africans would know by the local government elections later this year, exactly who funded which political party.”

The presidency says the act “will have far-reaching consequences for good governance and ethical political activity. It will strengthen the confidence of citizens in the democratic political process and enable them to assert their right to information.”

And even though Sheila Clarke of MyVoteCounts, a national campaign to improve transparency in elections, warned of “many loopholes” in the law, she still welcomed the move.

“One of the problems is that donors can still donate anonymously, as they can still use bank accounts that hide the true source of the money,” she said. “But we’ll have the numbers…which is better than anything we’ve had since the arrival of democracy in 1994.”

And it is that, essentially, that so accurately encapsulates what we as South Africans are so guilty of. Because we’re so starved of good governance, we are grateful for any crumbs that even resemble transparency in the way our country is run.

And in the meantime, we deal with the fact that government departments are not delivering the value they should by creating workarounds. We “make a plan.”

We can’t rely on the police to protect us because they are underfunded and largely corrupt, so we use private security companies instead.

We’ve lost faith in our government hospitals to look after our health, so we spend fortunes on private medical insurance.

And we feel we can no longer rely on our courts to deliver real justice, so we have to turn to the arbitration process for help instead.

We’re basically putting plasters on gaping wounds and hoping that will stop the bleeding, telling ourselves that “everything is OK.”

But here’s the problem with workarounds: They take the spotlight off the real problems.

So, because we’re not focussed on fixing those problems, they just get worse. It’s become our default mindset to expect less and less from the government departments that we, the taxpayers, are paying for. And guess what? Less and less is exactly what we’re getting.

Even the chairperson of the IEC, Glen Mashinini, cautions us against thinking that the Political Party Funding Act would resolve the issues associated with party funding.

He said, “Let me issue a word of caution against viewing [the Act] as a solution to all the challenges, dangers and risks associated with the funding of political parties.”

Losing The Hand That Feeds…

Of course, it goes without saying that anything threatening the comfort of a little gratuitous pocket lining is always going to ruffle feathers.

The ANC’s own Jessie Duarte told Eyewitness News on Friday last week there were some concerns presented by the new Act, emphasising the potential impact it will have on donors.

“Limitations on fundraising are not fair, and I think it does present a problem to funders,” she said.

A problem to funders, or to the people used to being on the receiving end of that funding?

You’ll have to forgive me for my cynicism. It’s an unavoidable by product of living in a country recognised as being in the top 50% of the most corrupt nations in the world.

The 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index assigned South Africa an index of 44 out of 100, ranking us 69th out of 180 countries. Countries with scores below 50 are believed to have serious corruption problems.

It’s sadly an accurate assessment.

An article in the Daily Maverick puts the cost of State Capture during the second term of the Jacob Zuma administration at around R1.5 trillion. To put that in perspective, South Africa’s entire budget for 2019 was R1.8 trillion. Or, from a different angle, and to quote the Daily Maverick:

“State Capture has wiped out a third of South Africa’s R4.9-trillion gross domestic product, or effectively annihilated four months of all labour and productivity of all South Africans, from hawkers selling sweets outside schools to boardroom jockeys.”

Let’s look at how that cost is made up:

  • R252,5-billion in lost Budget.
  • R67-billion more in debt service costs.
  • R90-billion lost in tax revenue collection.
  • R506 billion lost from the value of South African bonds and listed companies in the March 2017 midnight Cabinet reshuffle.
  • R378-billion wiped from the JSE thanks to Nenegate.
  • R200-billion overspent on the Medupi and Kusile coal power stations that are still not functioning properly.

Not to mention, of course, the R1-billion McKinsey consultancy fee, R659-million Eskom prepayment for coal to the Gupta-owned Tegeta, and the R5,3-billion finder’s fee to a Gupta-linked company in the Transnet locomotive deal.

In October 2018, the Stellenbosch-based Bureau of Economic Research calculated that South Africa’s GDP could have been anything between 10% and 30% higher, and between 500,000 to 2.5-million more jobs could have been created were it not for State Capture. And between R500-billion to R1-trillion more tax revenue could have been collected between 2010 to 2017.

I am aware that President Ramaphosa is not Jacob Zuma, and he is making a lot of encouraging noises about rooting out corruption and punishing the perpetrators. But noise, at the moment, is all it is.

My point is this:

There really is no point bringing in new laws – no matter how well-intentioned – if government officials see no reason to abide by the laws we already have. Why do we think this new one is going to be any different?

All laws need to be policed and, more importantly, enforced. And there need to be serious consequences for anyone – not matter who they are – not abiding by them.

Perhaps a little less time focused on arresting surfers and more time addressing corruption might help?