Senate gives nod to Charities Act 9 years after passage

NINE years after Parliament passed the Charities Act, the Senate on Friday affirmed regulations to operationalise the law and bring the country into compliance with international anti-money laundering standards.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown said, however, that he is disappointed that the provisions do nothing to ease the red tape that hampers the donation process.

Brown said he understood the international concerns, but that the regulations should include provisions to expedite the processing and handing over of donations contributed by charities overseas, to help those in dire need here.

“These regulations seem, to me, to be influenced, as the law itself was influenced, by foreign concerns – anti terrorism, anti-money laundering – but it isn’t so much concerned with the ease of getting charity to those who need it. Those in poverty, the disabled, the vulnerable,” Brown said.

“I had hoped we could find a way to make these regulations allow for easier reach, easier delivery of charity. I would have loved to see something that expedites these gifts. There are many Jamaicans abroad who want to help their country but they run up into a red tape, a roadblock when they send things and theyre told they didn’t go through the charities regulations or Act [and] have to pay taxes; we shouldn’t be running down $5 million in taxes, preventing people from getting [help]. Let’s find a special window to allow the clearance of these gifts to the Jamaican people,” he added.

Brown pointed to a 2016 case in which a Jamaican Diaspora group in the UK wanted to donate an ambulance to the Noel Holmes Hospital, but the institution had to wait 11 months while local authorities demanded millions in taxes to clear the unit.

“That ambulance sat on the wharves of Kingston for over a year because the Government of Jamaica said they wanted $5 million in taxes. Thankfully, the minister of health intervened and after one year of wasting away on the wharf, the ambulance was released to the people in Lucea,” Brown said.

In November 2017, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton advised members of the diaspora at the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference that under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the Government could not grant a waiver to clear the emergency vehicle.

Brown, meanwhile, said the regulations are onerous and would turn off organisations, pointing to the criminal sanctions. “Too often we treat all our people as criminals and we start off by saying everybody is criminal [and] so find regulations to bar everybody. There are many people in the world that want to help, but would never do it with these regulations.”

Tabling the 57-page regulations, minister for industry investment and commerce, Aubyn Hill noted that with non-governmental organisations included under the remit of charitable organisations, the regulations are necessary to ensure that these organisations are in a position to protect themselves from being vehicles of money laundering, and other financial crimes.

The regulations will, among other things, require organisations to provide additional details in relation to their application for registration as a charity; the renewal of certificates of approval; and verification of donor identity. It also prohibits the use of certain names, titles and words by organisations not registered under the Act; and creates the designation of protected charities after consultations with relevant agencies involved in cooperation, coordination, and information exchange in relation to combatting financial crimes, such as the police, and tax administration.

Hill noted that the regulations also provides procedures to prevent protected charities from forming donor-recipient relations, or from carrying out a one-off transaction with any donor without meeting certain criteria. There is also a requirement for the protected charity to confirm the identity, credentials and good standing of its beneficiaries and associate charitable organisations, document the identity of their donors and ensure that donor information is treated with confidentiality.

Protected charities are also prohibited from allowing any donor to conduct business with the entity using a numbered account from other jurisdictions, anonymous, or fictitious accounts. Organisations are also subject to audits of their operations, management, and finances by the authority, and are required to change their own auditors at least every five years.

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