Around JM$40 billion, mostly in cash, is paid out to registered charities in Jamaica annually, according to information shared by the Department of Cooperatives and Friendly Societies (DCFS), which supervises locally registered charities.
The DCFS indicates to the Jamaica Observer that it is still in the middle of collating 2020 donations made to registered local organisations which number over 1,000. However, it also discloses that billions are channelled to the charitable bodies from companies and individuals for projects which are expected to improve social conditions for many families and individuals in Jamaica.
Among such companies are Food for the Poor and the Salvation Army. Many local companies have also established subsidiaries dedicated to corporate social or charitable projects which channel funding to registered charities.
The DCFS indicated on August 26, 2021, “Further to your request in relation to the subject, the DCFS can report that as at March 2020 there were approximately 1,228 registered charities operating in Jamaica with a combined total donations of approximately [JM]$43,660,471,769 in 2019.”
For the year 2018, total donations for the charity sector was JM$40,440,632,993. The DCFS told the Business Observer that “given considerations to issues of confidentiality and without prior notification to those entities, [it] is not inclined to divulge the names of the charities that topped the donations list in terms of total value of donations.” It however stated monetary donations constituted the highest value in terms of donations.
The Charities Act implemented by the Charities Authority and the Registrar of Charities, which took effect on December 24, 2013, provides for a comprehensive regime for registration, monitoring, and tax treatment of charities.
The Act requires that registered bodies be established exclusively for a charitable purpose, are intended to and do operate for the public benefit; and no part of their net income or assets benefits any governing board member or settler of the charity, or of any other private individual.
There are 13 “charitable purposes” exercised for the public benefit. These include the prevention or relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; the advancement of health or saving of lives; and the advancement of good citizenship or community development.
The other listed purposes are the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage, or science; the advancement of amateur sport; the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution, or reconciliation; and the relief of those in need because of youth, advanced age, ill health, disability, and financial hardship or any “other disadvantage”.
The Act notes that the minister of finance “can add other purposes to the list” that are close in meaning to the current listed purposes.
“Public benefit” is defined to include benefits available to members of the public at large or to members of the public determined by reference to a specific geographic area.
Each of the governing board members (ie the directors or trustees and the secretary) of a charity must be a fit and proper person. This means that such persons must not have been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or be an undischarged bankrupt, and must be, in the authority’s assessment, a person of sound probity, able to exercise competence, diligence and sound judgment in fulfilling his or her responsibilities.
Applications for registration are to be made to the DCFS. When an application for registration is being made the directors or other governing members of the charitable entity must satisfy the DCFS that they are “fit and proper” persons.
It is noted that charities are required to periodically file corporate information and financial statements with the DCFS in order to maintain approved charitable status.
A company spokesperson told the Business Observer, “The department is currently spearheading compliance initiatives to have all entities complete the filing of their annual return for 2020 in order for us to do the necessary computations for total donations by the sector, and therefore we’re not able to give a conclusive report at this time for donations in 2020.”
He also indicated that based on the reporting requirements for charities, data pertaining to donations for 2021 would not be available for reporting before the end of the financial year.