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The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services yesterday concluded two days of public hearings on the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) Amendment Bill, which specifically relates to donations made to political parties.

Committee Chairperson, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe, said all inputs made by the public and organisations will be taken into consideration when the committee starts processing the Bill.

Over the last two days the committee heard, from among others, AmaBhungane, Allan Gray and a private citizen, Mr James Tunbridge, My Vote Counts, Media Monitoring Africa, Cosatu, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Information Regulator.

The Bill gives an obligation to the accounting officer of a political party (which is defined to include an independent candidate) to create and keep records of any money over R100 000 paid or donated by persons or entities to a political party, any money lent to the political party, any money paid on behalf of a political party, assets, services or facilities provided to a political party and any sponsorships provided to a political party. The records must be made available on social media platforms on a quarterly basis. Furthermore, the clause requires that the records be updated and made available on social media platforms of the political party concerned two months before the election of the National Assembly or Provincial Legislature and before municipal elections.

Several presenters informed the committee that the threshold of R100 000 is not sufficient, and instead urged the committee to consider including in the Bill that all donations be accounted for in record keeping. The committee heard that it would be in the best interest of voters that the ultimate donors of funds are identified and disclosed as part of accounting records. Some organisations also requested that the committee must consider a clause on non-financial donations, as they stated that no direct mention is made of gifts to political parties and their related values.

Several committee members contended that keeping records of all donations could be too onerous and an administrative burden, especially on smaller political parties. Committee member, Adv Glynnis Breytenbach, said this function could become totally onerous to the extent that political parties would need to employ a professional to do that, something which in turn would put vast amounts of pressure on them. Another member, Ms Nomathemba Maseko-Jele, said from the presentations, she got the impression that some people are trying to scare people off from donating to political parties.

Mr Magwanishe said: “All submissions, whether they are oral or written, will hold the same weight. All inputs will be taken into consideration when deciding on the Bill.”

By Rajaa Azzakani
19 September 2019