x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Flexibility needed to empower charity

Charities need to be regulated, but the worthy ones also need the freedom to accomplish as much as possible.

To the 218 former prisoners whom she has helped repatriate over the last 11 months, Rubina Umer must seem like a lifesaver. For people who have attempted to start their own charities, she might seem like a magician.

As The National reported yesterday, for the past year Mrs Umer has paid the airfare of workers who have been stranded in the UAE. There are still many others who are languishing in prison because they can't pay for their flights home. It is both a waste of their lives and an unnecessary burden on the penal system.

What makes Mrs Umer's work all the more remarkable is the difficulty of launching a charity here. The Freeing Prisoners Project has so far raised Dh40,000 to help prisoners return home, despite the legal hurdles that face so many philanthropic organisations.

Federal law imposes a considerable bureaucratic burden on prospective charities. Even if an expatriate has an Emirati sponsor, proposed charities are required to have 20 founding Emirati members and a board of directors before the Ministry of Social Affairs will even consider an application. If it is launched, a successful organisation still often relies on social connections to operate.

There are some notable exceptions, of course. Feline Friends has been working out of Abu Dhabi for 10 years and is very active in animal-welfare advocacy. But most other successful efforts tend to be spearheaded by corporations. The annual Box Appeal, for instance, which collects toiletries and other items for labourers, is an initiative of Radisson Blu and Park Inn hotels, and the Red Crescent.

The law governing the establishment of charities does serve an important purpose: to stem the illegal flow of money to illicit organisations through loosely regulated entities. No doubt these safeguards must remain. But the system could be revamped to make it easier for charities with certain emphases- such as helping labourers or repatriating impoverished expatriates - to channel money to obviously benevolent causes.

There is no shortage of people in the UAE, Emiratis and expatriates alike, who are willing and eager to share their good fortune with a worthy cause. Sometimes those efforts are stymied by a simple lack of awareness about how to donate. But in cases where there is such an obvious, unadulterated good, the law should be flexible enough to allow this generosity.