/We need elections where ideas count for more than money

We need elections where ideas count for more than money

2019-08-06 05:00

A woman casts her vote for the general elections at the Presbyterian Church ballot station in Dobsonville, Johannesburg, on May 8, 2019. - South Africans began voting today in national elections which the ruling ANC, in power since 1994, is favourite to win despite corruption scandals, sluggish economic growth and record unemployment. The ANC has won all the past five elections, but todays vote is set to be an electoral test on whether the party has staunched a decline in popularity. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

A woman casts her vote for the general elections at the Presbyterian Church ballot station in Dobsonville, Johannesburg, on May 8, 2019. – South Africans began voting today in national elections which the ruling ANC, in power since 1994, is favourite to win despite corruption scandals, sluggish economic growth and record unemployment. The ANC has won all the past five elections, but todays vote is set to be an electoral test on whether the party has staunched a decline in popularity. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

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South Africa needs clear laws to force political parties to reveal the sources of funding, otherwise our democracy will be enslaved by corporate sponsors and cronyism, ultimately cheapening our political process, writes Rich Mkhondo.

He who pays the piper expects to call the
tune. As we know, it is the powerful and the wealthy who fund political
parties, not the marginalised and the deprived. The big question is: What do or
did people who funded President Cyril Ramaphosa get or expect to get in return?

Some people may be pondering: Is the
president’s defense of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin
Gordhan because he was central to raising funds for his election?

Also, what did or will those mentioned in the News24 leaked
emails
as having contributed more than R200m towards President Ramaphosa’s
successful 2017 ANC presidential campaign get or expect to get in return?

While the president and his election machinery did nothing wrong in
raising funds, in the absence of political party funding legislation, the anxieties surrounding money’s
role in politics will continue to fuel speculation and mistrust.

Political
funding has become both global and pressing. Almost 87 years ago, James Kerr
Pollock, opened his pioneering study on political finance practices in Britain,
Germany and France by saying “the relation between money and politics has
come to be one of the great problems of democratic government”.

In
more recent time, the relationship between money and politics has become more
necessary because of the need to fund mass media campaigns, particularly
television and large billboard advertising campaigns across the country.

Election campaigns have become more costly. Poor parties do not
win elections because they cannot campaign effectively and get their message
across to the masses. Parties need money to pay workers and hold meetings and
rallies. They need money to run effective public relations machineries.

Parties
and their leaders are under immense pressure to raise large sums of money and
thus become susceptible to engaging in illegal acts and corruptible. 

We
are not alone in the political party funding dilemma. All democracies are faced
with the challenge of trying to ensure equality, fairness, transparency and
integrity in political fundraising. We need only look to the United States,
where the issue remains a hot potato after more than half a century.

America’s
dilemma was best summarised by the late Senator Edward Kennedy when he said: “…the lack of transparency of private funding
enables the great corporate interests that control the economy of our countries
to impose their own agendas on governments, congresses and docile parliaments
through the unlimited financing of parties and candidates, which will then
represent their particular interests and not those of the people who elect
them. This is a breeding ground for corruption in the public administration,
since the representative is not account able to his electors, but loyal to
those who paid his campaign expenditures
.”

These
sentiments have prompted legislative efforts across the globe to define, clarify
and regulate political party funding.

 

Seventeen
years ago US lawmakers approved the most comprehensive package of political
finance regulation in a generation, claiming that it would “help untangle the web of money and influence
that has made the Congress and the White House so vulnerable to the appearance
of corruption”.

Far-reaching
political finance reforms have also been enacted in Canada, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Mexico, Panama, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, to name
but a few cases.

Today,
virtually every democracy exerts some legal control over the flow of money to
and from election campaigns and other party activities. A successive wave of
democratisation and the rising cost of political campaigns spurred the need for
transparency. The growing awareness of the risks posed by corruption to the
viability of democratic elections have moved the funding of political activity
to the centre of public debates all over the world, including here on our shores.

We
all acknowledge that democracy is a system resulting
from popular governments born out of the support of the majority of the people.
And so it follows that to win over the majority of the people, either the party
must have effective grassroots fundraising machinery or must depend on larger contributions
from corporates or individual businessmen.

Here
is how secret political funding endangers our democracy:

  • Unrestricted
    and secret flow and distribution of political funds impinge directly on
    electoral equality, on the actual possibilities enjoyed by candidates and
    parties to put their message across to the voters.
  • While
    we need to hear our leaders and political party messages, too much money
    bestows on parties and candidates an unevenly distributed opportunity to
    directly participate in elections. Therefore when political power merely
    reflects economic power, the principle of “one man, one vote” loses
    its significance and democracy ceases its role to counterbalance economic
    power.
  • The
    dangerous influence of political funding comes when the millions paid
    influences opportunities for the articulation of quid pro quos between private
    donors and policy makers, or, at a minimum, for the emergence of continuous
    conflicts of interest for the latter.   
  • At
    best, secret political donations or fundraising can jeopardise the public
    interest and at worst destroy the integrity and autonomy of policy makers and
    privatise their decisions.

There
is no doubt that the purchase of influence and access is a form of public corruption, and if the current commissions are
anything to go by, secret political funding here and across the
world has a long and intimate relationship with
corruption.

In many cases political party contributions put the party under obligation. If
the party wins and forms a government, it will have to return the financial
favours. This, in fact, means the party has been bribed and favours are payback
for the financial support.

That subtle payback to political funders may come in many forms
such as giving them tenders or passing legislation favouring politically
connected companies or even rendering a personal service to a donor such as
granting them a licence or a permit for whatever.

By secretly giving the party money, a businessman or a company is
in fact bribing a future government and political leaders for special
consideration.

Therefore
complete transparency and honesty about party funding, by individuals,
institutions and corporations, should be the cornerstone of our thriving
democracy.

If our parliament does not build
checks and balances on political campaign funding, political parties and
billionaires or companies funding political parties will have too much power in
determining what legislation is passed and not enough interest in passing laws
that benefit us, the members of the public.

We need clear laws to
force political parties to reveal the sources of political party funding, otherwise our democracy will be enslaved
by corporate sponsors and cronyism, corruption and nepotism, ultimately cheapening
our political process.

The
onus is now on the parties, President Ramaphosa and the Electoral Commission to
arrive at a fair solution to this increasingly grave problem.

Let us have elections where ideas count for
more than money.

– Rich Mkhondo runs
The Media and Writers Firm, a ghost-writing,
content development and reputation management hub.

 

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