Charity case

Sometimes giving isn’t so easy. Time out investigates why becoming a licensed charity in Dubai can be a tricky business

The Knowledge

Many of you have probably heard of Feline Friends – a Dubai-based organisation that rescues and rehomes cats. Veteran Dubai residents will remember that this organisation has been around since the early ’90s. But they probably don’t know that Feline Friends is not actually licensed as a charity by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD).

‘I don’t think we are recognised at all by the IACAD,’ says Lesley Muncey, chairperson of Feline Friends. Even their efforts to host a ball to raise money for their activities was thwarted after they were asked to pay tax on ticket sales, which would have wiped out all profits intended for their work.

It seems that many other noteworthy groups are also not licensed to raise funds for projects. ‘If a charity is not registered with us, they are not allowed to raise funds,’ states Ali Al Mansoori from the IACAD. ‘Even if some organisations are registered, they are not allowed to raise funds. It depends from case to case.’

So why the extra-complicated rules? ‘We used to have so many examples of people saying they were raising funds for a specific cause, but then, at the end of their collection drive, they would take the money and flee the country. We need to be sure all charity money goes where it’s intended.’

But surely charitable organisations that have been here for almost two decades are not expected to abscond? We put the question to Mr Mansoori but he declined to talk about any specific charity.

Meghan Cabral and her friend Renata Giovannoni are part of a group aiming to bring a non-profit event called the ‘Night of a 1,000 Drawings’ to Dubai this November. They are currently in the process of getting permission from the IACAD to host the event, which aims to collect 1,000 hand-drawings and sell them at prices between Dhs50-Dhs100. The money raised is intended for Gulf for Good’s ‘Cycle the Seven Emirates’ Challenge – 50 per cent will go to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund for essential medical equipment; the remaining 50 per cent will be split between two UAE-based registered charities.

‘I have spoken to the IACAD on the phone,’ Meghan says. ‘They requested I send details of the event including time, place and how the funds will be donated. I have sent the email and I’m awaiting feedback.’ In the initial stages, then, they have not faced any problems. Giovannoni is optimistic: ‘We are hoping that the Department of Islamic Affairs will see our vision for this project. Inshallah [God willing] we will get the permission with no hassle.’

Muncey, however, wants results after being denied official recognition for almost two decades. ‘Feline Friends does a lot for Dubai. Not for personal gain, but for Dubai,’ she says. ‘Things should be changed to allow long-term non-profit-making organisations like ours Government backing to continue our welfare work.’

Mansoori says unlicensed charities can liaise with licensed charities to raise funds. However, Muncey tells us that when they contacted each and every charity on a list given to them, not one agreed to help. ‘As a resident of Dubai,’ she continues, ‘I want to see big changes in charity regulations, to promote the wonderful and caring place Dubai is.’
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