This is how you are funding political parties through Parliament
South African taxpayers will indirectly assist in funding political parties to the tune of roughly R375 million during the 2021/22 financial year through “constituency support”, or funding for constituency offices. This was revealed by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) in their comment on Parliament’s draft budget which will come under scrutiny during the parliamentary vote today.
But what happens to this money, which flows directly from taxpayers’ pockets to Parliament and from there to political party coffers? “Sadly, the short answer is that nobody knows,” says Chris Scholtz, OUTA’s Parliamentary Liaison.
OUTA analysed Parliament’s budget and found that just over R350 million was spent on constituency support in 2020/21, and close to R400 million is expected to be spent on it in 2022/23.
While more money flows to Parliament each year, its own Joint Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament admitted that there is no way to know how this money is spent by political parties.
“As if this is not concerning enough, during a recent National Treasury briefing on Parliament’s budgetary challenges, members of the committee stated that the amount of money allocated to political parties to run constituency offices each year is not enough. They claim they can hardly afford to hire offices - let alone put competent secretarial staff in those offices,” says Julius Kleynhans, OUTA’s Executive Manager: Public Governance Division.
Constituency support falls under a broader programme called “Associated Services”.
“It’s worth noting that this programme absorbs roughly the same amount of money as ‘Core Business’ (R750 Million in 2021/22). Remember that Parliamentary committees get the money they need to conduct oversight from the Core Business budget,” Kleynhans explains.
According to Scholtz, former Speaker Baleka Mbete and others claim state capture and corruption cases were ignored due to Parliament’s insufficient funds. “Due to Covid, resources were repurposed to allow virtual gatherings instead of face to face meetings. Changes like this can be made to use available funds more efficiently. Remember that it was also revealed in the press that parliamentary funds are used to cover the travel expenses of former cabinet ministers (and MPs). If Parliament is short of funds, should taxpayers’ money be used to subsidise travel for already wealthy former ministers? Or should it rather be used to root out corruption?”
The South African political landscape has seen tectonic shifts and the bedrock supporting impunity is eroding fast. The Political Party Funding Act has also recently been formally implemented, meaning political parties must account for both private and public money they receive.
OUTA has attempted to gain access to information about how the political parties will account to Parliament for constituency funds, but with limited success. “We have exhausted nearly all channels available to us to get basic information from all political parties represented in Parliament about their constituency offices. These offices ostensibly translate community struggles into items on the Parliamentary agenda, but is it really happening? Unfortunately we don’t really know,” Scholtz says. “What we do know is that Parliament’s budget has been focused on providing MPs with the sort of salary and facilities that the majority of South Africans will never be able to enjoy.”
OUTA says it is time for citizens to insist on changes in the allocation of Parliament’s budget. “We should insist on oversight and accountability when it comes to Parliament’s budget. While there is no oversight, we have absolutely no guarantee that the money taken from us to fund Parliament is put to good use. Parliament needs to come clean on exactly how they spend it. If they cannot do that, then – given our serious fiscal constraints – this money must be repurposed. There are many other urgent priorities in South Africa.
A soundclip with comment from Julius Kleynhans is here.