Be charitable: 
Spare us!

The Portfolio of Legal Affairs has invited the public to provide comments by July 7 on its plan to regulate local charities. Excellent. Here’s ours: Back off. Don’t do it.

This legislation appears to be one more example of government’s concocting a solution in search of a problem. Our overall view is that government and its civil service needs to be contracting, not expanding or legislating its way into every corner of our lives. More bureaucracy, more costs — and to what end?

Of course, virtually any government-imposed dictum can be cloaked in the guise of “national security.” Throw in a reference or two to money laundering and terrorism and international pressures and you’re on your way …

Never mind that many, probably most, local charities exist in order to fulfill a basic public need that government should be providing, but isn’t, such as education, health care and animal control, to name a few. Instead of carrying out its basic functions, and thereby making charities redundant, government is attempting to burden the charities with paperwork without taking over any of their responsibilities.

We challenge the proponents of this bill to present to the public one documented case of substantial abuse of a Cayman Islands charity that would justify installing the expensive and tedious bureaucratic structure contemplated under the legislation, which calls for the creation of a new Register of Charities, overseen by a Registrar of Charities wielding wide discretionary powers — including over religious groups.

Look at Cayman’s current charitable landscape. In grocery store parking lots, armies of spare change–seeking schoolchildren brandish tin cans in hopes of financing overseas sports camps or beauty pageants. On the beaches, people host barbecues and fish frys to benefit a family member who requires a costly medical procedure.

On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of well-established organizations, run by well-known people, hold public gala events at first-class venues, collecting sponsorships and pledges individually worth many thousands of dollars.

Where, in this picture, is money laundering or terrorism financing supposedly occurring? Seriously, how many money launderers or, worse, terrorists are calling the local Red Cross to practice their craft?

Under the new bill, anybody accepting property or money for the furtherance of a good cause will be committing an offense if they have not been approved by the Registrar of Charities, even if it’s a short-term campaign or one-time event. As for the young people asking for quarters and the family members selling lunch plates, the new bill will either make them outlaws or extinguish their efforts altogether.

As for the large “name brand” organizations, they keep better financial records than their aspiring government regulators, not out of some legal obligation, but out of necessity — because people with the means to cut large checks generally abide by the dictum caveat donor.

Of course, the new bill, as written, does throw one bone out to charitable organizations — by exempting them from Cayman’s Gambling Law and in effect legalizing church raffles, cake walks and the like. (Time will tell if this hot-button provision will make it into law.)

Any time the government proposes to create a new public entity, expand its authority or add new regulatory powers, the onus falls squarely on the government to demonstrate why this is necessary. Fear mongering about terrorism aside, the new Charities Bill is no different, and so far government has failed this simple litmus test.

What is really happening, this Editorial Board suspects, is that the revivification of the Charities Bill is the product of outside pressure from the United Kingdom and/or the United States. In other words, Cayman officials are simply doing as they’ve been told.
The practical outcome, in all likelihood, will be another confusing law on the books that is ill-suited to reality in Cayman and won’t, or can’t, be enforced equitably.

Our advice to those behind this bill is to do yourselves (and us) a favor and take the rest of the day off …

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2 COMMENTS

  1. We have all heard it before, one rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.

    Is everyone with a donation sheet using the money collected as promised? I would hope so but I personally seriously doubt it.

    There needs to be some regulation but I agree that it should not be incredibly difficult to register your charity. In fact some sort of official seal might quickly alleviate concerns of potential givers that the funds are not being used as promised and may in fact boost the charities coffers, especially regarding the lesser known/temporary charities.

    A little regulation could go a long way to getting rid of the many frauds abusing the loopholes and the literal robbing the generally unaware public. For example, a simple official numbered receipt book would go a long way.

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