AIJC 2022 – follow the money to root out corruption

By: Excel Fongoma

The South African political party funding act has given new levels of insight into the individuals and corporations that fund political parties.

Journalists attending the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC) were taught how to follow the money, in a session called: ‘How the South African Political Party Funding Act helped to expose stories behind party donations’. The session was held as a discussion that was conducted by Kyle Cowan from News24. Cowan started working on investigative stories of corruption after noticing unfinished government projects, often relating to service delivery. Through his research, Cowan found that most government officials give tenders to their family and friends, then buy much cheaper material for projects than budgeted for. This prohibits progress.

Izak Minnaar, coordinator for AIJC training, said, “South Africa is one of the first African country’s that introduced legislation that forces political parties to declare donations. This turned out to be a very good tool for journalists to do stories and connect the dots, between the people who donate money, the companies who donate money and also some government contracts. It is great that journalists as well as the public have access in the databases.”

Minaar said this open access provides a foundation for greater transparency and makes sure that political parties and their funders cannot hide behind backdoor deals.

According to Cowen, the act is vital to the democratic process: “People are unwilling to discuss these funds, and voters for various political parties, particularly those from rural areas, are frequently kept in the dark regarding donation information.

“The ANC doesn’t want to tell voters in rural regions about how their leaders in the metropoles waste money while they are in need yet continue to support them. The government official has made a deliberate decision to deny us access to the financial flows and to publicize the stories.”

Cowen said corruption thrives in an environment where access to information on financial flows is kept secret. He encouraged journalists in the room to use data to connect the dots when pursuing investigations.

Politicians often accuse media houses of being funded by certain companies or individuals, labelling them as ‘paid media’, but through the information coming out of the disclosures in the political party funding, it seems they might be the ones who are bought by vested interests.

The published declarations from political parties can be viewed on the Independent Electoral Commission’s website.