Blowback over new political party funding laws for South Africa

 ·10 May 2024

Civil society groups and opposition parties have voiced concerns over the recently accented Electoral Matters Amendment Act.

They claim the new laws contain loopholes that reverse the progress in achieving transparency in political party (and independent) funding, which previously set donation thresholds and requirements for parties to declare their external income.

The Act, signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 7 May 2024, amends the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) to allow independent candidates to run for positions in the National Assembly (NA) and provincial legislatures and access the Multi-Party Democracy Fund.

However, the amendments went further, with critics saying that the laws were “used opportunistically… to undermine political party funding laws.”

According to the electoral non-profit My Vote Counts (MVC), the Act is “deeply flawed and unconstitutional,” for enabling secrecy around party funding and leaving gaps in the PPFA.

Secrecy in party funding

The new laws remove the clause in the PPFA, which sets a R15 million annual limit on donations from a single donor and the R100,000 threshold for declaring donations to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

“Unless the President simultaneously proclaims the regulations governing the upper limit of donations and the reporting thresholds there will be NO limits and NO reporting requirements,” said MVC.

This means that parties and independents will be able to take donations, of any nature and amount, and not have to make this public until the President sets the thresholds.

Excessive power to the President

It places the decision as to what limits should be declared in the hands of the President following advice from the NA.

“This arrangement essentially allows the President to set rules that could disproportionately benefit their political interests, creating an unequal playing field for other political entities,” said MVC.

“It is also irrational to vest these powers in the President,” it added.

Senior researcher at MVC, Joel Bregman, said “when it comes to party funding, changes to the law could benefit that party.”

“This is the type of environment that enabled State Capture,” added MVC.

Flawed public participation and consultation process

Despite concerns voiced by civil society, opposition parties, and a Parliamentary Legal Advisor about its constitutionality, the EMAB was adopted by both the Portfolio and Select Committees in March and sent to the President for signing.

Urging the President not to sign it into law, MVC and opposition parties highlighted its potential to harm transparency, backed by warnings from the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council.

In May, a parliamentary legal advisor acknowledged a legal gap in the EMAB related to donation limits, suggesting a resolution by the National Assembly for the President to enact necessary regulations.

“Despite this, the President has defied the spirit of the Constitution and signed the EMAB,” said MVC.

Following the signing of the EMAB, Ramaphosa said “in a year in which voters are presented with the greatest diversity of electoral choice, the legislation that is now enacted constitutes tangible, material support for a vibrant, competitive, open and equitable electoral system and democratic culture.”

However, MVC rebukes this.

“This political spin has little to do with democracy or the electorate or enhancing our electoral system – there was no need to amend the PPFA in the way it has been,” said MVC.

As of now, the EMAB, required to be enacted before the May 29 elections, has not become law as the President needs to outline its commencement date, leaving the PPFA unchanged.

Read: 7 more laws for Ramaphosa to sign – but new school rules on ice for a week

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