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Thursday 19 September 2019
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Terrorism and non-profit cultural organisations?

Culture Matters

WHAT IS THE connection between non-profit cultural organisations, money laundering and terrorism?

Before today you would have screwed up your face, looked at me like I was stupid and then said with your most Trini attitude – “nuhting.” Until recently I would have said the same thing, but now I know better. Why? Read on.

In TT we are used to a vast range of cultural organisations. They exist on a national level such as the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, which focuses on indigenous peoples, to Best Village groups, to organisations seeking to revive patois or which use culture and the arts for social intervention.

As the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (the chamber) points out, many non-profit organisations “were formed by citizens to fill a need for a philanthropic, charitable, educational, cultural, scientific or religious cause and conduct yeoman’s service to society.”

Unfortunately, our country’s struggles with corruption go even deeper than many realise and have now begun to affect those of us in the cultural and wider NGO sector. Bear in mind that our international ranking on the Global Corruption Perception Index continues to be unsatisfactory, with our score being 39 out of 100 in 2012, 38 in 2014 and 41 in 2018. The idea is to score as close to 100 as possible.

Our consistently unimpressive numbers in this area mean we are categorised “amongst one-third to one-quarter of what are perceived to be the world’s most corrupt countries.”

At a recent NGO forum, we were informed by the chamber that in 2017, TT was placed on an official list of countries with considerable deficiencies as it relates to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures.

This list is generated by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body established since 1989. Its purpose is to regulate and set standards to help countries improve their internal systems to avoid “threats to the integrity of the international financial system.”

So, on first reading that we are on this list, you may think it is not so bad. “I’m sure lots of countries have deficiencies,” I hear you saying. To offer perspective, the FATF identifies these countries as being “high-risk and other monitored jurisdictions.”

There are 14 nations altogether, including us. Alarmingly, our little nation is in the company of countries like Iran, Serbia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Botswana, Cambodia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Yes, read the list again. You’re not looking at me like I am stupid any more, right?

So how does this affect us in the non-profit cultural sector? Well, it would seem that there has been an increase in the abuse of the fact that we regularly fundraise, hold barbecues and ask for donations, all within a general environment of trust. A weak system of oversight has allowed terrorist groups or individuals to “corrupt” this long-standing tradition and will now change the way we operate.

All non-profit organisations will now be monitored by the Financial Intelligence Unit. Organisations that are not registered will need to do so as soon as possible. At one level, increased structure at any level of our society is required and desired. TT needs to get off that list and any other that damages our global image. However, cultural organisations already operate with so many challenges. Ideally, regularisation should not place greater stress on the way we achieve our goals, but should make it easier for companies or donor agencies to access our services.

Artists and cultural practitioners are only too aware that our financial pool is small and the will to give sometimes less so. Many of us have to look outside TT and even the Caribbean for funds to implement our programmes. Will this process become easier or more difficult? Will the Government, banking and legal networks spare us from even more onerous administration on limited resources as we seek to become compliant?

Certainly, there are opportunities for us to grow stronger as a sector. Organisations or individuals with insights on the new procedures could establish an information-sharing system or support mechanisms to make bureaucratic-speak easier to negotiate. There will be the potential for like-minded organisations to partner. And changes in the environment will push us to remember that we are “mission-driven organisations for the benefit of society.”

Whether we are ready for it or not, change is coming. Cultural entities must be prepared, and, as we say in theatre, “do the work. Just do the work.”

Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN

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