Barrister Nazir Ahmed : Bangladeshi Muslims living in the United Kingdom and Europe are very kind and generous when it comes to donating money to charity. They have proved their generosity and shown their apparent kindness in the last decade or so by donating millions of pounds through charity collection programmes on Bangla TV Channels. Charity has a special status in the religion of Islam. Paying zakat (almsgiving) by the financially able and rich Muslims is one of the five pillars in Islam. Apart from its obligatory nature, general and optional deeds of charity are highly encouraged and recommended in Islam, for these are very regardful in the hereafter. It is mainly this religious spirit and teaching which have made Bangladeshi Muslims becoming so generous and kind. Bangladeshi Muslims have made individual donations decade after decade in the past. Most of their individual donations used to be given to their poor and needy relatives. This was, no doubt, a positive approach. However, individual donations had some barriers and limitations. Modern technology and organisational collection facilities have made the collection and distribution of charity much easier. Reputable and credible charity organisations can now reach out with the charitable funds donated to them and distribute the donations in places where it would be impossible for an individual to do so. At the same time, the poor and needy relatives of those donors appear to be deprived of their portions because of the way contributions are collected through electronic media. The donors should therefore make a balancing exercise: donating to the credible charity organisations so that their donation can reach where the donor cannot reach individually and at the same time not depriving their own close relatives, who have rights upon them. It is commonly known that the fee, charge or service charge (whatever one names it) levied for collecting donations is an important and one of the main sources of income for the community based TV Channels. There are five Bangla TV Stations or Channels in London. In the near past, there were six. All Bangla TV Channels are usually seen extremely busy in charitable activities and collecting donations in the holy month of Ramadhan. Few of them appear to be eagerly waiting throughout the year for the month of Ramadhan to come! During other months of the year, charitable collections are arranged occasionally. On special nights (i.e. Ashura, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, Sob-e-Barat, Eidul Azha, Meraj etc.), the charity collection programmes are routinely arranged as well. Two things are fundamental for the viewers in general and for the donors in particular, which they ought to know and consider while donating. Firstly: the costs or service charge the TV Channels make. Neither the TV Channels disclose how much they normally charge, nor do the concerned charity organisations collecting donations tell how much they are required to pay to the respective Channels. The callers themselves are not even told – even when they ask over the phone. The donors do not know that their whole donated amounts or significant portion of it or part of it may not reach to the actual beneficiaries at all, for the amounts collected by some charity organisations are often almost the same or little more than the charge those charity organisations had to pay to the TV Channels for facilitating their charity collection programmes. Secondly: the transparency and accountability of the charities that collect donations are the most important factors. Although there are some nationally and internationally reputable charities that collect donations whose credibility and transparency are beyond any doubt or question, there are some charities whose credibility, transparency and accountability are very doubtful and questionable. There are some allegations against some persons who are behind those doubtful charity organisations. They do not have clean hands nor do they have clean past. Are thousands, often millions, of pounds safe and secured in their hands and at the charity organisations they run and operate? It is worth remembering that giving money to the hands of wrong persons and wrong organizations does not only deprive legitimate beneficiaries but these moneys can also be used in wrong ways, and for destructive purposes and activities. There are no proper mechanism for ensuring the full transparency and accountability of most charitable organisations. Do the funds reach to their destination? Have the beneficiaries – the desperate, needy and destitute for whom these funds were collected – received those funds? Have the funds been spent on the purposes for which they were collected? Money for thousands of cows for qurbani, for example, may have been collected – but how many cows have actually been bought and given qurbani? There is no way to confirm or verify this with absolute certainty. The UK regulatory bodies, such as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Charity Commission can do little when the funds have gone abroad. There are no uniform or standard criteria among the Bangla TV Channels by which charitable organisations which wish to collect donations are judged. The approach taken by the TV Channels for selecting organisations, and the process they use, vary from one to another. One or two Bangla TV Channels appear to be relatively strict in checking the records and credibility of the organisations before giving them the chance and facilities to collect the donations from the public, while other TV Channels do not appear to be following suit. This is why some organisations were seen in collecting donation at TV while they were not even registered with the Charity Commission. A few of them appeared to be using different registered charity organisations’ names while they were collecting donations! Some internationally reputable charity organisations have separate or designated funds to cover for their administrative, promotional and campaign costs and they can easily bear the costs and service charges of the TV Channels, but many charity organisations often struggle to pay even the TV Channels’ charges. If that is so, how can they send the net money collected to the beneficiaries abroad? For example, suppose that a new or unknown charity has collected money at the rate of £500 for hafiz course. The total money it has collected for 25 huffaz is £12,500. Now, if it is required to pay £5000-£8000 to the respective TV Channels’ by way of the costs or service charge, how will that charity send accurate money for 25 huffaz to Bangladesh? This is very important, since each and every donor has given fixed amount of money with a specific purpose and intention. This is one example, and many such examples can be given along similar lines, such as an Alim course, sponsorship of an orphan, and so on. Those points/factors ought to be considered by all concerned. I am not against collecting charity at all, be it at electronic media or on other platforms. Being a practising Muslims, I am a profound supporter of charity for two reasons. Firstly: the religious significance which I have mentioned at the beginning of this article. Secondly: the homeland or motherland or at least the country of origin of the most of nearly half a million Bangladeshi Muslims in the UK is Bangladesh, which is relatively a poor and developing country. More than 50% of the people there are destitute and live well below poverty line. Bangladeshi Muslims living in the UK and Europe are financially well off than their fellow people living in Bangladesh. Thus, they have great role to play. They can contribute a great deal to alleviating poverty and changing the lives of millions. My only concern is the lack of proper transparency and accountability of the various actors involved in the collection of charitable donations. All involved, directly or indirectly, with the collection and distribution of charity must come forward to maintain and ensure the utmost transparency and accountability. It is the public money and beneficiaries’ rights they are dealing with. The donors must be careful where they are donating. They should be made aware of the various charges either by the organisation concerned or by the respective TV Channels as a free and frank disclosure. The donors should collectively demand accountability and feedback in respect of their donation. The TV Channels should strive to agree a uniform procedure for selecting organisations for which they will collect charitable donations, based on a through, robust and vigorous process of checks and assessments. The regulatory bodies should be more proactive to promote and ensure full transparency and accountability.
(Barrister Nazir Ahmed: Legal expert, analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail: [email protected] )