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Laura Noonan: Code sets the wheels in motion for transparency

MORE than 150 Irish charities have already vowed to sign up to a new corporate governance code launched yesterday.

Many more of the country's estimated 10,000 charitable organisations are also expected to join them in the coming months.

However, the likely impact of the code falls far short of what would have been delivered by the promised charities' regulator.

The code was developed by eight charities and a team of experts, who had hoped that it would be introduced to complement the work of a new charity regulator.

The guidelines cover areas such as how a charity's goals should be developed, how staff should be held to account and how charities can ensure they're "working effectively".

It also includes broad statements encouraging charities to be "transparent and accountable" and provide information to stakeholders, like donors.

But there are no requirements to publish specific financial information like salaries and expenses -- unlike in the UK, where extensive information on charities' finances can be found on the Charities' Commission website.

"This isn't a substitute for the regulator by any means," said Deirdre Garvey, head of charities' umbrella group The Wheel, and chair of the working group that created the new code.

"But in the regulator's absence it is all the more important for charities to prove to the outside world that they are well governed; the new code allows them to do that for the first time."

Without a charities regulator, the Revenue Commissioners are responsible for policing the thousands of organisations claiming tax-exempt charitable status. They carry out about 400 audits a year.

Irish Aid, which will give €94m to 19 Irish charities this year, requires charities it funds to publish full accounts on their websites in a timely fashion.

Finances

Charities, voluntary and community organisations that share €3.4bn from the HSE must have their finances audited, while the Department of the Environment requires its charities to submit projected accounts twice a year and audited annual accounts.

A regulator would "harmonise" the level of information charities had to give the various arms of the state, saving the charities' money on administration costs, Ms Garvey said.

Irish Independent