12 February 2007
by Julia Ng
Singapore City, Singapore:
The Commissioner of Charities (CoC) has said tightened charity registration will not discourage the spirit of volunteerism in Singapore.
In fact, 9 in 10 people who gave feedback during a month-long public consultation last November supported the stricter rules. And to help charities fulfil the registration and reporting requirements, a Charity Portal was launched on Friday.
Six months into his appointment, Commissioner of Charities Low Puk Yeong and his 13 officers are off to a strong start. New powers will be given to the Commissioner when changes to the Charities Bill take effect on 1 March.
With the new powers, the Commissioner can request for applicants' detailed background information, to ensure that only bona fide charities are registered.
He will also be able to monitor newly-registered charities more closely, refuse registration, or strike dubious charities off the list.
A case in point is the Children of Singapore Foundation. It raised $42,000 last year from a three-month public donation drive to help children with leukaemia, but it has yet to disburse the money.
Mr Low said: "You'd be worried if a 20-year-old man, who has never done anything, never involved in charity before, suddenly wants to come and register a charity and say (he wants) to help leukaemia children in Singapore and start raising funds from the public."
Mr Low said he had been putting pressure on the charity to shut down voluntarily.
Mr Low also said: "Some of the people may think that the CoC (Commissioner of Charities) is the cop of the charity sector. I want to clarify that we're not cops but we see our mission as to help, develop and facilitate the growth of the charity sector by helping the charities to improve their governance standard and management system and to guide them and help them do their job better... (so that we can) have an active, well-governed and thriving charity sector that enjoys the confidence and support of the public.
"If the charities are doing their job and serving the public without personal gains and other ulterior motive, there's nothing for them to fear."
In fact, tighter registration rules did not seem to have discouraged people from charity work.
There were 60 applications for charity registration in 2005 and 80 in 2006.
Although there was no outright rejection, the Commissioner of Charities however raised some questions when the applicants had no concrete plans of activities or funding mechanism.
Mr Low said: "I'll give you an example. There's this man who owns a telemarketing company and who is also working as a third-party fundraiser. He set up another charity for the so-called benefit of kidney patients and then he said he's using his company to start soliciting donations from the public. That gave me some cause for concern that he might not be setting up the charity with a true altruistic objective."
Some of the proposals from the public - such as enhancing the registration form - have been implemented, and the Commissioner is in the process of implementing the rest.
While there were some feedback that the charity sector might be over-regulated, others wanted more rules - such as requiring charities to post information like annual reports and audited financial statements on their websites, and disclosing the qualifications of trustees and key executive staff of the charities.
However, for now, the Commissioner said that he did not want to create more rules but leave the suggestions from the public for charities to adopt voluntarily as good practices.
To help people understand and comply with the new rules, a Charity Portal was launched on Friday.
Those who wish to set up charities and Institutions of Public Character (IPCs) can seek advice, information and even register online.
Over the next few months, the Portal will provide an online Registry of Charities which discloses information on all registered charities so as to help the public better decide which charities to support.
The portal will also be enhanced to allow charities and IPCs to post their financial reports and submit annual tax returns online.