It Doesn’t Add Up
Few people may have realised that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has a charitable foundation attached to it. The Muslim Council of Britain Charitable Foundation (charity number 1084651) was established in 2001 to spread Islam and educate the public about it, as well as to ‘relie[ve] poverty, sickness, distress and suffering.’ The website of the Charity Commission allows you to examine a charity’s financial records and those of the MCB Foundation are fascinating, revealing a very poor track record of submitting accounts on time (a statutory requirement for charities). Their accounts for 2001 and 2002 both arrived extremely late — an example of management failure.
Furthermore, if one examines the list of trustees for the MCB Foundation, among them is to be found Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the MCB. Sacranie is also a trustee for Balham Mosque (charity number 271538) and when one examines their records, things are even more poorly managed — they have not yet even filed their accounts for the year ending 31 March 2004. Perhaps Sacranie is too busy with his media and political work to carry out his legal responsibilities as a trustee?
The ease with which the Charity Commission website enables one to examine charity records led us to ask another question. Of the MCB’s 400 or so affiliate organisations, how many have charitable status? Having established that, we could then explore how many of those also had their accounts out of date. The results were extremely interesting. By carefully trawling the Charity Commission’s Register of Charities on 21 October 2005, we discovered that among the MCB’s affiliates, 139 organisations have charitable status, allowing them a number of legal and tax related privileges. However, there are also responsibilities: the trustees of a charity have a statutory duty to submit their Accounts and Annual Returns on time. We examined the Register of Charities entry for each of the 139 MCB affiliates in question and discovered that 48 (34.53%) have some accounts outstanding; their trustees have failed in their statutory duty to submit financial data on time.
The full analysis can be downloaded (as a PDF), but here are just a few examples. The Al-Asr Scholastic Research Establishment (charity number 1050383) has accounts missing for the entire period from 1 April 1997 to 31 March 2005. In similar vein, the Dudley Muslim Association (charity number 1094858) has submitted no accounts since it was registered on 2 December 2002. Even the Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association (charity number 327741), presumably packed with professionals, has five years worth of accounts missing. And so the list goes on: from mosques to schools, charitable trusts to community projects, more than 1 in 3 of MCB affiliates with charitable status have poorly maintained, out of date accounts.
To provide a little context, we decided to produce some control figures. What percentage of all charities have poorly maintained accounts? Are MCB affiliates better or worse than the norm? To answer this, we chose 20 charities at random and examined their financial records — you can download a spreadsheet with those figures (PDF link). Of these, 3 had holes in their accounting records, a figure of 15%. Thus MCB affiliates would appear to be twice as likely as other charities to have accounting problems. What about religious charities? Perhaps MCB affiliates are too concerned with the hereafter than with accounts in the here-and-now? For our second set of control figures, we chose 20 Christian charities at random and examined their records (PDF link). In this case, only 2 had gaps in their accounts, a figure of 10%.
To summarise: on average, 15% of charities appear to have problems maintaining accurate financial records. The Christian charities we surveyed were slightly better than this norm, at 10%, but MCB affiliates were more than twice as likely — a figure of 34.53% in fact — to have poor accounts.
What is the explanation for these figures? From the data we have available it is difficult to say if what we are seeing is sheer incompetence, utter disorganization, or, more worryingly, corruption. However, it does reflect badly on the MCB and once again illustrates the need for them to instigate a code of conduct for affiliates. Those with poor financial management need to be encouraged to seek proper training and accreditation; if they repeatedly fail, the MCB should eject them from its list of affiliates. However, since the MCB Secretary-General himself, Iqbal Sacranie, is himself a trustee of two poorly managed charities, this change may be a long time in coming.
Sher Khan, Chair of the MCB Public Affairs Committee, has warned Muslims to be careful about what charities they give to:
It is very important that when you choose your charity you check your money really is going to those most in need.We could not agree more. Given the figures above, it would seem that if you donate to an MCB affiliate, there is a more than 1 in 3 chance that your money will not be properly accounted for. In short, if you want to give to charity and ensure that your funds are wisely used, it would seem best to avoid many of the charities affiliated to the MCB.