A GOVERNMENT team investigating the running of charity organisations in Hong Kong is about to recommend the toughening of existing laws in an effort to clamp down on bogus operators and make legitimate groups more accountable. The working group, set up a year ago at the direction of the Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, in response to public concerns over where their donations were going, wants to see all charity organisations under the control of the Government. Under the Social Welfare Department (SWD), which currently has what has been described as ''rather limited'' control over charity organisations, the working group has been searching for a quick-fix to the problem. But while established charity groups have welcomed any attempt to stamp out the swindlers, they were also at a loss to understand why they had not been consulted at any stage over the past year. In fact the groups contacted by the South China Morning Post - the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), the Community Chest and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) - did not even know the working party existed. Kay Ku Yin-kay, acting director of the HKCSS, which has 210 member agencies, said the working party's decisions affected all charity organisations and that at least some representative body should have been involved in the discussion. ''We in the council are, in fact, very concerned about this issue - now and then we come across complaints from the public about bogus organisations soliciting funds from them and others not knowing where the money goes - that sort of thing. ''The council was not informed or invited to give opinions as far as I know. I think I would have wanted the Government to involve bodies like the council or the Community Chest or other charitable bodies who do a lot of fund-raising.'' Paul Wong Po-wah, SWD assistant director, subventions, said the working party planned to contact charity organisations in the near future. The working group has representatives from the Health and Welfare and Security branches, police, City and New Territories Administration, Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority, Legal Department and Constitutional Affairs Branch as well as the SWD. It is planning to present its recommendations to the Health and Welfare Branch and the Legco Panel on Social Service within the next few months. THE working group was given a very broad set of terms of reference: namely to review the fund-raising methods of charity organisations and to see if existing legislation should be amended to require organisations to keep audited public accounts lodged withthe Government. ''Our current control is rather limited, therefore quite a lot of fund-raising activities are organised without the control of government departments,'' explained Paul Wong. ''In our considered opinion, that control should be extended to cover other activities as well in order to respond to the public concern. ''If we require accounts to be properly audited by a public accountant and to be made available for inspection, then I think that can help to resolve a major part of the problem.'' Mr Wong added that it was likely the working group would recommend the auditing of accounts when it drew up its final report. ''There are more sophisticated ways, like setting up a charities' commission, which they have in the UK, or requiring bodies to register as a charity organisation. ''But that would take a long, long time. If we want an early implementation of control, the best way would be to amend the existing legislation and extend the power of control - requiring all fund-raising activities, wherever they be held, to apply for apermit from the SWD,'' said Mr Wong. There is little concrete information available on the money raised by charity organisations in Hong Kong or the amount taken by fraudulent operators. The SWD only issues permits for the raising of money in public places, such as flag days, and only has records covering the number of permits issued and amount of money raised. But this represents only the ''tip of the iceberg'', with no comprehensive government records on fund-raising gala events, raffles or walkathons or how the money raised is spent. Last September, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service set up a hotline for people with queries about social welfare facilities. Its main objective was to provide the public an avenue for inquiring about charity organisations and to report any suspect bogus operators. Of the 849 calls it received between the end of September and the beginning of May, around 35 per cent of the enquiries concerned charity organisations. ''Even if the number is not in the thousands, it shows it is going on and that these bogus operators are damaging law abiding charities,'' said Kay Ku. The council wants the Government to ''close the gaps''. Ms Ku believes the existing legislation and powers are there but they just need to be toughened and policed. Under the Registered Societies Ordinance it is very easy to get a charity organisation on the list, as the Government's directory of Charitable Institutions and Trusts of a Public Character shows. Among the thousands of organisations with charity status are The Hong Kong Pottery Workshop, the Friends of Cambridge University Hong Kong, several museums and art galleries and the Hong Kong Mathematical Society. The terms and conditions covering charity organisations - from definition to monitoring - are loose, says Ms Ku, adding that a number of organisations they have been alerted to by members of the public are listed in the Inland Revenue Gazette and enjoy tax exemption status. The RSPCA's fund-raising manager, Helen Clements, agrees that if the government wants to control charity organisations, it should closely monitor who is getting charity status, if it is actually a bona fide charity and who is benefiting from the money. She also believes the public has to be educated, through public announcement campaigns and the availability of an information source for them to check whether the individual charities are recognised by the Government. The RSPCA is aware that there are unscrupulous people out there ready to cash in on the legitimate fund-raisers - Ms Clements has just spent two days cutting up old flag day bags to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands. ''There are so many charities in Hong Kong you begin to wonder if the work they are supposedly doing is just to get out of paying tax,'' she said. Being a charity operator in Hong Kong is hard work - ''If you're not the designer charity of the month, you will not get money thrown at you''. And at the moment animals are rating behind AIDS, children and cancer. And you've got to spend money to make money. While the charity working group is looking into how to control the percentage of ''event-raised'' funds which are spent on production and administration, Ms Clements says it is hard to avoid spending a lot in this area. Even though it may be a ball for charity, people still expect ''the full treatment'', she says. ''It is difficult out there, it's a hard slog and there are an awful lot of charities,'' she added.