Shelley Weir: Charities commission a must

A call is again being made for the establishment of a charities commission in this country.

President of the Hope Foundation and non-governmental organisation (NGO) management consultant, Shelley Weir, is adamant that this must be the route Barbados takes to ensure better administration, registration and regulation of local charities and NGOs going forward.

Weir went further, suggesting during an interview with The Barbados Advocate, that there is absolutely no reason why such a commission cannot be a reality in short time. Pointing to the 2016 diaspora conference where the idea of a commission was discussed, she noted that some organisations have already expended a lot of time and money exploring how it would work, and she feels strongly that it should be a priority for whichever political party secures the reins of power in the upcoming election.

By so doing, she contended it guarantees that any entity that sets up in Barbados to do charitable work operates above board.

“The lack of regulation among NGOs is a problem and from the international finance side, where money laundering and the funding of terrorist activities are concerns, we in Barbados must put provisions in place to be very transparent with respect to what charities do. This would certainly ensure that there are no corrupt entities coming on to the scene, but purporting to be doing good,” she stated.

Weir added, “Moreover, with dwindling funds from all over Barbados needs to be able to better take care of its own business, so that fund-raising for instance is better structured, there is transparency and confidence in the work that charitable organisations are doing. I would further suggest that in establishing a charities commission, it would improve the relationship between Government and the NGO sector and reduce the duplication of efforts that is sometimes seen.”

The NGO management consultant went on to say that such a commission would need the support of Government to get started and to finance it operations, but Weir is adamant that such a commission should not be controlled by Government. She said an example that Barbados can turn to for insight on how to set up the commission in Barbados is the Charity Commission for England and Wales.

“That entity is fully funded by the government, but is above political interference. What I would want here is to see a commission be responsible for subventions given to organisations within the sector, which would ensure subventions are awarded on merit and not who you know,” she added.

Weir stated that a commission would also assist entities operating in the sector or wishing to do so, to understand better how to setup and what they are entitled to under the Charities Act and any other pieces of legislation.

“I don’t think that the environment should stop anybody who is doing the right thing for the right reason, and the benefits should be clear to everybody. So I should not have to go for a lawyer or have a friend who is a minister, a PS or anybody in authority, to know what the entitlements are, it should be clear and I firmly believe that a charities commission could bring about that clarity,” she said.

The NGO management consultant’s comments came as she expressed her belief that a commission would also be beneficial in building the capacities and capabilities of NGOs and by extension help to strengthen the structure of the NGO sector in Barbados. She went on to note that the “top down approach” is not ideal to address some of the issues facing this country, and this is where she said NGOs have a fundamental role to play.

“We in the sector do our work at the grassroots level which puts us in a unique position to be able to identify problems as they are emerging, and with an active partnership with government and the private sector, we can remedy the problems before they fully develop and get away from this thing of having to respond to crises. That kind of structure, where we are all working together, is to my mind what a mature society looks like,” she said.

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