Many UK charities are providing relief to people suffering from the Syrian conflict.
The Charity Commission is concerned about charitable funds being diverted to fund the conflict.
There is also a wider issue about whether charities might be abused by terrorists or extremists.
This Islam Channel programme discussed the issues.
Transmitted 24 April 2014. Posted 25 April 2014.
On 24 April 2014 the whole of the Islam Channel's "Analysis" programme was devoted to discussion of the possible abuse of charity funds to support terrorism. The first half of the programme was specific to the Syrian conflict; the second half looked at the wider UK issues.
I contributed to both parts of the programme.
Charity funds and the conflict in Syria
On YouTube the Islam Channel has entitled this half "Are Charities threatened by extremists?" The programme was chaired by John Rees and in this half the panel comprised:
This part of the programme focused entirely on issues around whether there was a risk of charitable funds being diverted into paying for weapons and conflict in Syria.
Some of the points I made were:
We should all be able to agree that charitable funds should be spent on food and medicines, not diverted to paying for bullets. Accordingly there is a need for good accountability and audit.
I recognise that most people in the charity sector genuinely want to provide relief in Syria, but there is a risk of some people wanting to divert funds for weapons. I don't have any facts; that is the purpose of the investigations that the Charity Commission will make.
The Charity Commission has suffered budget cuts as has most of the public sector.
It is important to get the law right, for example by disqualifying convicted terrorists from serving as charity trustees.
The full 22 minute discussion can be watched below.
The appointment of William Shawcross as Charity Commission Chair, and Peter Clarke as a Board Member
On YouTube the Islam Channel has entitled this half "Were Shawcross's comments valid or a witch-hunt?" John Rees continued to chair the programme, but the panel changed to:
The background to this part of the programme in particular was an interview given by the Chairman of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross CVO, to the Sunday Times. The presenter also questioned whether Peter Clarke (former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police Service where he was Head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch and National Coordinator of Terrorist Investigations) was suitably qualified to be a member of the Board of the Charity Commission.
Some of the points I made were:
I do not know how much charity money is being diverted to fund terrorism, but I do not believe William Shawcross would have made his remarks if he were not seriously concerned.
I regard Mr Shawcross as a perfectly valid appointee for the Charity Commission Chairman. While the Henry Jackson Society (where he was previously on the Board) is well to my right, I do not regard that role as disqualifying him.
Most board members of "quangos" come from a Labour background. We need more political diversity in such appointments, which is another reason his right wing background does not concern me. While 77% of Guardian readers may have objected to him, I suspect a poll of Financial Times readers would give a different answer.
John Rees was criticising Peter Clarke's police background as not qualifying him to be a Charity Commission Board member. I disagreed. One does not rise to Deputy Assistant Commissioner without a wide range of skills which are transferable to his current role.
I amplified the point by noting that one could challenge my fitness to serve on the Council of Salford University by complaining my entire career was spent dealing with tax law, ignoring the wide range of skills my career gave me.
People should not be paranoid about giving to lawfully constituted charities. I gave the example of my donating annually to Interpal, and stating that on my website. (Interpal has been the subject of many allegations which I regard as politically based, but has been cleared upon investigation which is why it is a properly registered charity.)
The full 21 minute discussion can be watched below.
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