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Monday, January 11, 2016

Political parties must break silence on funding

Transparency is important, until it comes to us.
This was the apt observation by the spokesperson of the Right2Know Campaign, Murray Hunter, about the hypocrisy of political parties in the wake of this week’s Constitutional Court dismissal of an application seeking to enforce the disclosure of private political funding.
The DA preaches transparency and accountability in almost all its public discourses.
Yet it would have quietly joined the ANC in welcoming the ruling that served a body blow to the campaign to get political parties to reveal who their funders are via Parliament.
The DA has been putting out many fires this week – from Dianne Kohler Barnard’s shared Facebook post praising PW Botha to the axing of convicted abaThembu King Dalindyebo.
But this distraction would not have been the reason for its masters of spin neglecting to issue a statement after the ruling on Wednesday – a day in which the party churned out at least six media statements.
The uncharacteristic coyness on the My Vote Counts ruling might have had more to do with the fact that the DA is reluctant to voluntarily advertise the awkward reality that when it comes to its coffers, the party is not brave enough to support transparency.
Much like the ANC, which has dithered for more than eight years on taking the promised action on this vexed issue.
When pushed to comment on the ruling, which ironically fell on the day of anti-corruption marches on Parliament and the Union Buildings, the DA’s James Selfe told Media24 that “in a perfect world”, there should be rules enforcing the disclosure for donations over a certain amount. But he said the ANC was intent on remaining in power at all costs.
“Therefore, there is a real or perceived belief by donors who give money to opposition parties that if their identities were disclosed, they would suffer real personal or financial danger.”
It would be naive to dismiss this, but the negative consequences of secrecy for voters are more severe.
Political donations are the common dirty thread that run through too many of the corruption scandals that have dented South Africa’s moral standing. This week’s revelations about murky multimillion-rand exchanges between Hitachi and the ANC’s Chancellor House are a case in point.
The DA is not a virgin to scandal either.
In 2002, a team of journalists led by the Cape Times’ Tony Weaver lifted the lid on shady financial exchanges between senior Western Cape DA leaders, and German fugitive and con man Jurgen Harksen.
A commission set up afterwards failed to uncover if Harksen’s generosity had extended to the party’s coffers.
The campaigners behind this week’s failed court bid are on the money on this principled issue. If politicians are serious about stopping the rot, they must stop waiting for a perfect world.
They needed to have acted already to unmask the sources of their privately generated incomes.
* This article was first published in various Media 24 titles on on 3 and 4 October

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