Charity reform begins on street
The sight of people raising funds for charity on our streets is a common one. Most approach passers-by with a smile and a polite request that they donate to a worthy cause. But some, often working in groups, can be overly enthusiastic in their attempts to persuade members of the public to part with their cash.
Such behaviour can fuel suspicion and deter potential donors. Charities depend on street donations to support their valuable work. However, the occasional nuisance caused by some has prompted the government to roll out new guidelines.
Starting from August, no more than eight workers will be allowed to gather around each spot; and they are not to move more than 10 metres from the kiosk they put up. The groups are also required to release audited reports on the money raised within 90 days.
The administrative measures are a welcome step amid calls for higher transparency and monitoring. But this should be the first of many more steps to come.
The number of tax-exempt charities rose from 3,819 in 2003 to 5,898 in 2009. Tax-deductible donations rose from HK$2.99 billion in 2003 to HK$7.03 billion in 2008. But there is no legal definition of what constitutes a charity.
Nor is there a single piece of legislation governing charities and the use of donations. Confusingly, regulations are currently spread across several departments.
Long overdue reform is finally taking shape. The charities sub-committee of the Law Reform Commission is to issue a consultation paper on a regulatory framework underpinned by law.
But any legislative process which follows could take years to complete. In the meantime, charities have to exercise self-discipline to maintain public confidence in their work. Striking a balance between operational efficiency and public accountability is essential. We need a regime that would not stifle charity work while enhancing public trust.