Protect those who donate to charity
A lack of transparency, due to the absence of a charity law, opens the door to abuses and betrayal of public trust
Hongkongers have a fine reputation for charity, reflected in fundraising for one cause or another nearly every day. Public compassion wells up in times of tragedy and dire distress after disasters such as a major earthquake or tsunami. Trusting donors therefore deserve the protection of a proper charity law. If the Law Reform Commission had its way, there would be one now. Sadly, its vision has gone into the too-hard basket.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung says that without a single independent authority, the implementation of a new regulatory framework as recommended by the commission would be “highly complicated”. The government, he said, “needs to consider the views and feedback of the public and various stakeholders, including charitable organisations of different types”.
We trust this does not mean that the public interest was outweighed by vested interests. That said, it is good that Cheung pledged to improve the transparency of charities and the ways they raise funds. This includes financial disclosure, a one-stop approval service and a hotline for the public to lodge complaints.
It is also encouraging that the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which represents about 400 of the city’s 9,000 charities, welcomed the new measures. But business director Cliff Choi rightly called for more coordination between the different departments involved in one way or another in monitoring charitable fundraising.
The Audit Commission recently highlighted the issue of poor governance and regulation of charities, prompting a Legislative Council panel to express “grave concern and dissatisfaction” over limited monitoring. The auditor said one charity rewarded nine directors with HK$13 million between 2012 and 2014, while another gave a director HK$236,000 to renovate ancestral halls and graves. It would be a tragedy for those in need if abuses like these, which betray public trust, prompted would-be donors to keep their hands in their pockets. The government must substitute talk for action and, if this fails to stamp out abuses, it should revisit the Law Reform Commission’s proposal for a more rigorous charity regime.