The Political Party Funding Bill, 2017 was introduced in the National Assembly in November 2017 and passed on 27 March 2018. On 20 June 2018, Martin presented oral evidence to Parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Funding of Political Parties in Cape Town on why the Bill should not be adopted. He also wrote the Free Market Foundation’s submission to Parliament on the Bill (available here) and has done several radio and television interviews about its implications.
While the Bill’s content itself is not deeply problematic, bar certain arbitrary limits on the amount of funding and discrimination against foreign funders of political parties, the biggest concern with the Bill is the downstream consequences it will have for opposition party fundraising.
The funding of opposition parties is placed in a precarious position. Funders, whose names have hereinto been kept anonymous, will now be publicly associated with the party they are funding. Out of fear of intimidation from their industry regulators, these funders will likely cease their funding before the Bill is enacted into law. Individuals whose companies are dependent on government contracts, for instance, cannot be seen to be funding the government’s political opponents, lest those contracts be diverted elsewhere. Similarly, operating within certain industries (like the ICT space) often requires certain permits and licences from government. These companies, or their directors in their individual capacities, will not place their licences in jeopardy by continuing to fund opposition parties.
It should be evident, thus, that while the Bill itself attempts to give effect to a valid constitutional right, the regulatory environment that currently exists in South Africa, makes the passage of the Bill dangerous. Before the Bill is passed, as Martin argued before Parliament, the legislature must first review legislation that gives wide and often open-ended discretionary powers to regulators in the executive government, and remove those powers. Only then will it become possible for funders to not fear being victimised by officials owing allegiance to the ruling party.