From a dedicated election fund, separate from the funds currently received to fund any registered political party, to a ceiling on the amount parties receive from Government regardless of the number of seats obtained, these are just some of the proposals made at the just-ended Southern Africa Regional Policy Dialogue on Money in Electoral Processes held in Windhoek. However, Electoral Commission of Namibia’s Director for Elections, Professor Paul Isaaks, refused to comment on the proposals made saying it is still premature. “We were just a co-host, International IDEA organised it so they are responsible for the finalisation of the policy documents. We have to get a final formulation about the resolution. So, I cannot say anything until we get that document,” said Isaaks when queried about the viability of some of the proposals in the Namibian setup. Currently, Southern African countries have adopted different positions on political party funding, with some countries providing public funding while others do not. However, for the countries that provide public funding, the formula governing the distribution of state funds differs in countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa.
The scale of party funding varies in each country, with state funding often seen to favour the ruling party hence pushing opposition parties to explore alternative sources of funding. At the same time, private funding of opposition parties has been seen to compromise their national agenda and political image. According to information compiled in the International IDEA political finance database, 47 percent of Southern African countries have legal provisions to oblige political parties to report on their finances in relation to election campaign.
“While there are legal provisions to ban the use of state resources in favour of political parties in 54 percent of Southern Africa countries, reports from international and citizen election observation groups regularly cite this as a challenge in a number of countries,” said the non-governmental organisation. It further noted that: “Allegations of vote-buying are also wide-spread across the region regardless of the fact that all countries have prohibitive legislation for such malpractice. Furthermore, fair access to public media by all contesting political parties in a number of countries remains a challenge regardless of the fact that 73 percent of Southern African countries have laws which provide for free or subsidized access to media for political parties.”
During the opening session of the convention, National Assembly Speaker Professor Peter Katjavivi told delegates that it is imperative that the freeness and fairness of the election campaign be judged according to predetermined guidelines and legal principles. “This also points to structural obstacles to fairness, which include political campaign finances,” said Katjavivi. In Namibia, the National Assembly is charged with the responsibility of managing public funds earmarked for political parties. Katjavivi highlighted four elements to consider when formulating regulatory policies around party funding, these includes financial statements, making information public, understanding money flows and mandates for independent reviews.
“It is furthermore important to note that many of the values and principles that are important to election integrity are at stake in the area of political finance, particularly electoral campaign financing,” Katjavivi said.
The workshop was aimed at creating a platform for collective reflection and consensus building among regional experts on elections funding in Southern Africa. This was done with a view to unpack the diverse sources for party and electoral campaign financing in Southern Africa and its impact on the quality of democracy; assess the role of and challenges linked to government funding of national electoral processes and political parties and electoral campaigns and to explore the link between intra-party election campaigning finance structures and gender equality. The workshop continued to deliberate on potential strategies for enhanced women representation in elected bodies through equal distribution of resources. It also reflected on the state of legislation as well as reporting/monitoring mechanisms for political party financing and discussed possible reform requirements.