New funding model urged

The current formula dictates that parties receive public funding based on the number of seats they have in the National Assembly and National Council.

13 November 2019 | Local News

Political parties are calling for a new state funding model that would level the playfield when it comes to election campaigning.

The ruling Swapo Party says it is satisfied with the current party funding structure, though.

According to Swapo's executive director, Austin Samupwa, the issue of state funding has not been a topic of discussion in the party.

The current formula dictates that parties receive public funding based on the number of seats they have in the National Assembly and National Council.

Since independence Swapo has received the lion's share of the taxpayer funding. Between 2000 and 2014 it received more than 83% of the N$282 million allocated to political parties.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research's (IPPR) documents for the 2014/2015 financial year, Swapo was allocated N$96.7 million when it secured 77 National Assembly seats and dominated the 24 National Council seats.

The Republican Party, which won one seat in parliament, received only N$958 000, while the official opposition Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) received N$5.7 million for that financial year.

PDM treasurer Nico Smit yesterday said the funding model needs an urgent review because smaller political parties are faced with astronomical challenges when it comes to mobilising the masses.

Apart from the N$5.7 million state funding the PDM also receives donations from local donors, but these have dwindled because of the country's weak economy.

“We definitely need a new model which will allocate a set amount of money to all political parties and then additional funding based on the number of seats in parliament. This new model must obviously keep the state of our economy in mind.

“And only those parties who had registered to take part in elections should be eligible for this funding, we cannot be wasting money on those fly-by-night parties that die after elections,” he suggested. These sentiments were echoed by Swanu leader Dr Tangeni Iijambo, who argues that Swapo enjoys an unfair advantage and its victory remains secured year after year because of the funding structure.

“Swapo, because they get these millions and also have access to state machinery which they use, are empowered to garner more votes, while smaller parties struggle to reach out to rural areas,” he said.

Iijambo added that his party's attempts to solicit funding from foreign embassies based in Namibia had been fruitless because diplomatic staff are reluctant to fund political organisations besides Swapo.

Meanwhile, smaller and entry-level political parties such as the Landless People's Movement (LPM) must rely on dues paid by their members.

“This makes it very difficult for us to reach the people. Right now we only have the donations or contributions from our own party members who can assist with accommodation or with transport,” LPM spokesperson Utaara Mootu said.



Transparency

IPPR researcher Frederico Links says additional sources of party funding can come from membership fees and donations from private individuals or organisations. However, he warns that transparency remains key when it comes to donor funding.

“While these sources of funding can be a way to level the playing field, they can also raise concerns around the influence that funders have on political parties and their policy priorities,” he said.

To illustrate the possible dilemmas that can arise, he cited the American example of powerful lobby groups that can indirectly dictate public policy through substantial donations to a political party.

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