Donating more for charity

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ACCORDING to a rough estimate, approximately three billion rupees will be donated by the Pakistanis as Fitra on the auspicious occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. The Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy has calculated that five years ago a sum of Rs 70.5 billion was donated by the Pakistanis towards philanthropic causes. This figure must have grown since.

If one were to add to that what people dole out to beggars on the street and the money the devout voluntarily deposit in the donation boxes in mosques, Imambargahs, and mazars — mostly unaccounted for — philanthropy would emerge as a venture which generates probably more what the government collects as revenue.

This is an interesting phenomenon. First of all it belies the general conception that the Pakistanis are not generous in parting with their money for the welfare of others. At the same time it gives rise to some fundamental questions.

Why are the Pakistanis such reluctant taxpayers when they can be so large-hearted in their philanthropy? In fact, many of the same people who are guilty of tax evasion give massive amounts in charity.

This would appear to be a contradiction in terms. But this mindset can be explained in the light of the taxpayers’ lack of confidence in the government. The fact is that many of those who are required to pay revenues to the CBR or any other authority actually feel cheated, given the failure of the government to perform its functions efficiently and with integrity. The benefits that these taxes are supposed to fetch — not necessarily for the person who pays them but for his compatriots — are missing in most cases.

This is to be attributed either to corruption or misplaced priorities in planning and policy making. Take the example of the motor vehicle tax. Can the motorists be blamed for feeling resentful when they have to drive on bumpy and pot-holed roads after they have been paying their MVT regularly? The corruption that is so visible in every branch of the government leaves one wondering where the taxes go and which pockets they line.

There is no reason why the Pakistanis would be reluctant about paying taxes were there more transparency and visibility in how their taxes are spent. After all, they very willingly give donations to help sustain the many non-government projects which depend heavily on public financial support. It seems that once a project gets going and begins rendering worthwhile service to the public, the person running it has established his/her credibility and the results are visible for all to see, getting people to support it is not an impossible task.

As the government has disengaged itself financially from many areas of public life while it has disowned its social welfare responsibilities, it has assigned these tasks to the private sector. This was initially sought to be done by devising a vague concept of public-private partnership. But it soon came to be realized that the private sector in the conventional sense operated only on the basis of profit-making. That rendered its projects beyond the reach of the common man.Hence the concept of the Non-Profit Organizations has been now introduced. Since they are funded by public donations they do not have the compulsion to make profits by imposing high charges.

This pattern of partnership has mostly been applied successfully to health facilities where enterprising health professionals in public sector hospitals have procured funds from the public to upgrade their own departments/wards. Thus islands of excellence have been created in a sea of decay owing to the efforts of a handful of enterprising and motivated individuals. Several wards of the Civil Hospital, Karachi, have been beneficiaries of such efforts which have attracted public donations.

The most outstanding example is the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation which has grown from the urology ward to an autonomous institute for renal diseases and organ transplantation which compares with the best anywhere in the world. There are also the cardiac surgery unit and the intensive care unit in the same hospital which have been equipped with modern technology with help from private donors.

Can this strategy on an ad hoc basis resolve the massive problems the country faces in the social sectors and help alleviate poverty? Given the backlog of illiteracy, ill-health and lack of facilities, can philanthropy meet the needs of the country in all the areas of national life where the government has failed to deliver?

Obviously the government feels that with so much philanthropy floating around in the shape of corporate donors, individual contributors, and the Pakistani diaspora, an impact can be made by mopping it up and channellizing it to important projects. Hence it has proceeded to adopt two measures. First, the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy was set up in December 2001 with the proclaimed object of enhancing the “volume and effectiveness” of philanthropy in Pakistan by facilitating collaboration between the various stakeholders.

The next step was the establishment of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) in June 2002 which seeks to support the government’s line departments mainly in primary education, literacy, income generation and basic health care services. Since the NCHD has the government’s blessing it enjoys some advantages. Thus the president is the patron-in-chief, the chairman is a minister of state and the government has given it a grant of $32 million for its initial seed capital.

But it could also lose the donors’ confidence and goodwill if it fails to deliver on its promises. Moreover, if the NCHD is to serve as a clearing house for the donations which are sent in, it could meet the same fate as the NGO Coordination Council which was set up in 1985 to channel aid/grants to population NGOs but gradually came to be bypassed.

The NCHD will presumably be concentrating mainly on the big donors. There is need to institutionalize the charity given out at the grassroots level, such as the Fitra which many of those living below the poverty line also give out. The amount donated individually may not be very big but it adds up to a substantial amount given the massive number of donors involved.

It is important to set up neighbourhood/community welfare funds to give assistance on a small scale for the same projects which the NCHD will be promoting, namely education, health and income generation.It is a pity that a lot of this money which is donated goes waste because many people believe that charity means doling out money to the beggars most of whom have adopted beggary as a money-making profession.