The Bangladeshi Muslims living in the United Kingdom and Europe are very kind and generous in donating money at charity. They have proved their generosity and shown their apparent kindness in the last decade or so by donating millions of pounds through Bangla TV channels' charity collection programmes.
Bangladeshi Muslims donated individually decades after decades 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 charity collection and distribution much easier. Reputable and credible charity organisations can now reach with donated charity and distribute in places where it would be impossible for an individual to do so. But at the same time, the poor and needy relatives of respective donors appear to be deprived of their portions because of the organisational collection and donation through electronic media. The donors should therefore make a balancing exercise: donating at the credible charity organisations so that their donation can reach to where they cannot reach individually and at the same time they should not deprive their own close relatives who have right upon them.
It is commonly known that the fee/charge/service charge (whichever way one names it) levied for those collection is one of the important and main sources of the community -based TV channels' income and funding. There are seven Bangla TV Stations/channels in London. All Bangla TV channels are usually found to be extremely busy in charity activities and donation collection in the holy month of Ramadan. Few of them appear to be eagerly waiting throughout the year for the month of Ramadan to come! During other months of the year, charity collections are occasionally arranged/organised. On the occasion of special days (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 do or 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, when they ask over the phone, are not even told. The donors may 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 charity organisations that collect donation. This is the most important factor. Although there are some nationally and internationally reputable charities that collect the donation whose credibility and transparency are beyond any doubt or question, there are some charity organisations 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 at their hands and at the charity organisations they run and operate? It is worth remembering that giving money to wrong persons and wrong organisations do not only deprive legitimate beneficiaries but these moneys can also be used in wrong ways, and destructive purposes and activities.
There are no proper mechanism for ensuring full transparency and accountability of most of the charity organisations. Do the funds reach to the destination? Have the beneficiaries - the desperate, needy and destitute for whom the very funds were collected - received those funds? Have the funds been spent for the purposes they were collected for? 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 with absolute certainty. The 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 uniformity or standard criteria among the Bangla TV channels for allowing the organisations to collect charity. The approach and mechanism of TV channels for selecting organisations 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 chance and facilities to collect the donations from the public, while other TV channels do not appear to be following the same suit. This is why some organisations were seen in collecting donation at TV while they were not even registered with the Charity Commission.
Some internationally reputable charity organisations have separate or designated funds to cover for 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, a new or unknown charity has collected money at the rate of £500 for 'hafiz' course. Their total collected money for 25 'huffaz' is £12,500. Now, if they are required to pay £5000-£8000 to the respective TV channels' by way of the costs or service charge, how will those charity organisations 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 in such lines.
I am not against collecting charity at all, be it at electronic media or in other platforms. Being a practising Muslims, I am a profound supporter of charity for two reasons. Firstly: the religious significance. Secondly: the homeland or motherland or at least the country of origin of the most of nearly half a million UK's Bangladeshi Muslims is Bangladesh, which is relatively a poor and developing country. More than 50 per cent people there are destitute and live well below poverty line. Bangladeshi Muslims living in the UK and Europe are financially well-off compared to their fellow people living in Bangladesh. Thus, they have great a role to play. They can contribute a lot in 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 charity collection.
All involved, directly or indirectly, with charity collection and distribution must come forward to maintain and ensure 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 concerned organisations or by the respective TV channels as a free and frank disclosure. They donors should collectively demand the accountability and feedback of their donation. The TV channels should strive to form a uniform procedure in selecting organisations for charity collection through robust and vigorous checks and assessment. The regulatory bodies should be more proactive to promote and ensure full transparency and accountability.
Barrister Nazir Ahmed is analyst, writer and columnist.