Thursday, August 26, 2010

Qatar Charities: A Question of Oversight

This recent article assures readers that funds given to Qatar charities do not wend their way into the pockets of extremists or terrorist-minded folk, citing receipts, "strict regulations" and the fact that "most charities are regulated by the government."

Hopefully this is all true. Qatar and its citizens have underwritten a tremendous amount of charitable work for people in need throughout the world - including here in the United States - and one wants to think only the best about such a considerable humanitarian effort.

But there are of course allegations and general atmospherics in today's world regarding charitable work in troubled areas (such as Gaza, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, and Indonesia) that cannot reasonably be ignored. And, unfortunately, some allege that a Qatar charity was a trusted cash mover by Osama bin Laden and, as a result, may have been involved in unpleasantness in Chechnya, as well as the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Africa and a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Knowing already that the US is frustrated with Qatar's cooperation on counterterrorism issues, I was prompted to check out the US government's specific views regarding Qatar's anti-terror finance efforts which, for reasons known only to some horrible clutch of federal bureaucrats, can be found nestled deep in something called the International Narcotic Control Strategy Report (INCSR).

While the 2010 report is full of interesting information about what Qatar does (and doesn't do) to fight financial crimes, it includes no mention of charity oversight. But checking the 2009 INCSR report proved more fruitful:
Law No. 13 from 2004 established The Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities (QACA), which monitors all charitable activity in and outside of Qatar. Only officially registered organizations can collect and disperse money for charitable purposes. There are five officially registered charities in Qatar: Qatar Charity, the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al Thani Charitable Association, the Qatari Red Crescent, the Jassim Bin Jaber Bin Mohammad Al Thani Charitable Association, and Reach Out to Asia (ROTA). Two additional charities are in the process of being registered. The Secretary General of the Authority approves all international fund transfers by the charities. The Authority reports to the cabinet via the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and has primary responsibility for monitoring overseas charitable, development, and humanitarian projects that were previously under the oversight of several government agencies. The IMF assessment found that domestic measures to prevent abuse of nonprofits go beyond FATF recommendations, and the QACA appears to ensure effective implementation of the requirements in place.
Sounds promising, though a report by the Congressional Research Service provides an important additional fact:
"....However, Article 24 of the law establishing the Authority allows the Emir to grant an exemption from QACA oversight to any organization at any time."
This would seem to set the stage for circumstances that jibe with the quote in the story about how "most" of Qatar's charities are regulated by the government, the exceptions of course being those that The Big Fella does not want regulated.

This was reported in a May article in The Peninsula about a meeting of charitable organizations from within the Organization of the Islamic Conference, where the authority's dissolution "raised several eyebrows" and was "met with astonishment." Some excerpts:
The additional absence of Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities, which was recently dissolved after gaining prominence in the Arab and Muslim world, also raised several eyebrows. It was particularly surprising to participants from the GCC, namely the delegations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE....

While some Gulf states are currently awaiting decisions approving the establishment of independent supervisory and regulatory work of assemblies and civil society institutions in their home countries in the forthcoming days, current news regarding Qatar’s dissolution of the Qatari Authority and distribution of its duties was met with astonishment. It is somewhat similar to a setback since Qatar is regarded as a leader in the region.....

Through the amendment of the Act a few days ago, the amount of capital required for the establishment of associations and private institutions was increased to a minimum of 10 million riyals, as well as the dissolution of the body responsible for planning, developing , and activating the role of civil society institutions, transferring its responsibilities to a mere department, rather than transforming it into a comprehensive, independent sector, otherwise known in today’s world as the Third Sector.
The report leaves the reader wondering exactly which governmental entity is now charged with overseeing Qatar's charitable organizations. Given the vast amount of charitable work that Qatar supports - sometimes even with the help of chili cook-offs held by their new friends from the West - such ambiguity seems counter to everyone's best interests, most importantly those in distressed areas who will benefit from a continuation of Qatar's robust charitable impulse.

Since I've been unable to find any other information that can fill in the blanks, I've begun simply asking people who might know, beginning with the Qatar embassy and the State Department (which still advises citizens to contact the defunct charity authority with questions). I'll update with any new information gathered, and of course welcome the views of anyone who may have insights on this matter at


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