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Strengthening governance in the charity sector

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards

15 November 2017
Dr Gerard Ee, Chairman of Charity Council
Partners and Sponsors;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. A very good evening! I am happy to join you at the Charity Transparency and Governance Awards.

2. Tonight, we recognise 41 charities that have upheld the highest standards of governance and transparency. 
Congratulations to all winners!

Strengthening Governance in the Charity Sector

3. At the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, we believe that strengthening governance in the charity sector is an important journey we must take together. When charities are well-governed, public trust in the charity sector is strengthened, and the public will donate or volunteer more readily. This enables the sector to harness more resources, and do more for our beneficiaries.

4. Whether the sector can grow depends on our collective commitment to governance. Like how one bad apple can spoil the entire barrel, a charity with poor governance can affect public confidence in the whole sector.

5. To strengthen governance standards, the Charity Council refined the Code of Governance earlier this year. The Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) will also be amending the Charities Act to better protect charities and donors. The amendments include introducing suspension orders for improper fund-raising appeals, and strengthening the disqualification and removal regimes of key position holders in charities to safeguard the charities. We aim to foster a safer giving environment, where there is a high level of public trust and confidence.

6. Another proposed amendment clarifies the current position that all fund-raising appeals, whether big or small, online or offline, are subject to basic regulatory requirements. All fund-raisers have a duty to provide accurate information to donors, manage and use donations responsibly, and keep proper records of donations received and disbursed. This ensures transparency and accountability of all fund-raising appeals conducted in Singapore.

7. We have held dialogues with many of you, and sought feedback from the public before coming up with the proposed amendments. We hear your concerns, especially about the administrative burden on small-scale fund-raising efforts. I would like to assure you that the regulatory requirements will take into account the nature and size of the fund-raising appeals. We will review our fund-raising regulations to exempt small fund-raising efforts from some of these requirements. For example, a small fund-raising effort conducted among family and friends for a local cause will not be required to maintain detailed accounts.

8. As we enhance the regulations, we are also building capacity in the sector to adopt good governance practices. For example, the COC is working with partners to set up shared services to help small charities. This will be particularly useful when electronic filing of charities’ annual submissions is made compulsory. You can also tap on our VWOs-Charities Capability Fund to purchase computers for electronic filing.

Co-Development of Code of Practice with Crowdfunding Platforms

9. Our systems and practices must stay relevant and current as the charity landscape evolves. There has been a rise in online fund-raising activity and a call from the public for more regulation in this area.

10. The COC is currently in discussion with key players in the online giving ecosystem to develop an industry Code of Practice. The Code will set out recommended practices for crowdfunding platforms that serve as trusted intermediaries between donors and beneficiaries. These include conducting due diligence to ensure legitimacy of fund-raising appeals; and ensuring transparency by providing status updates on amounts of donations received; and accountability of donations received. We welcome the active participation of industry players in raising accountability and transparency for online giving and look forward to the finalisation and adoption of the Code.

Walking the Journey Together to Raise Governance Standards and Foster a Safe Giving Environment

11. For the sector to thrive, we, the regulator and the charity sector, must work together in three ways:

a. First, all charities, big or small, must build capabilities and uphold a high standard of governance. New Hope Community Services, a winner of this year's Charity Governance Awards, is an example of how you can do well in governance with modest resources. With clear strategies, policies and processes for transparency and accountability, and an emphasis on ethics and conduct, it has made governance part of its corporate culture. Everyone at New Hope appreciates that strong governance helps them become more effective in serving their beneficiaries.

b. Second, Charity Council as an apex body should continue to provide leadership and guidance to the charities, especially those that are constrained, as you have done so in the past 10 years. This is so to up-lift the standard for the sector over time as good practices are spear-headed by the leaders, and shared and adopted by the rest of the sector. 

c. Third, the private sector, which has a rich store of expertise and manpower in professional services such as accounting, secretariat, strategic planning and legal, can play a key role in helping the charity sector raise the standards. I hope more firms and corporations can step forward to support the sector.

12. The COC is committed to walking together with all of you on this journey of good governance. We will continue to engage you to better understand your needs, and provide you with resources. We also welcome your suggestions on how we can better support you.

Conclusion

13. Our hope, and I am sure it is also yours, is to grow philanthropy and volunteerism in Singapore. All of you, all of us, want to make Singapore a more caring and inclusive society where those who have, will reach out to those who do not. This is what our national movement, SG Cares is about – looking out for one another and ensuring that no one is left behind. As we make economic progress, we must make social progress our priority at the same time. Having a healthy, thriving charity sector where there’s public confidence and trust, allows us to do much more by channeling goodwill and resources to the intended places. We thank all the winners, the Charity Council for leading the way; our strategic partners and the judging panel for your contributions; as well as all the volunteers, many of you who are here, who spend your time and efforts doing good for society.

14. Enjoy the evening!
Last Updated: 16 November 2017

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