Law on boards of trustees difficult to supervise but vital

10Sep 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Law on boards of trustees difficult to supervise but vital

THE GOVERNMENT has issued a notice to more than 100 organisations of various types of public service vocations, including religious institutions and political parties, to bring to the relevant authorities their boards of trustees and annual returns for the current year.

When an organization that is required by law to show its actual trustees and accounts for a specific period and fails to do so, the clear implication is that it is not being run as a trustee agency, but privately. There is a danger many are in similar situations.

Such an operating environment is automatically in breach of its conditions of registration and merits a review, either to bring it into line with those conditions or if that fails, to strike it out altogether. As those organizations often have a track record of public activities and enjoy uncontested confidence of a section of the population, taking extreme measures isn’t in the first order of priorities when such issues arise. That is why elaborate procedures are followed, including notification, a grace period and reporting frame.

One significant shortcoming in overseeing precepts of the law in relation to such organizations is their charismatic character, that they were formed in the aftermath of generating a significant following of a political or religious kind for the founder. In that case those associated with the leader follow him so long as the preliminary characteristics of the mission so initiated remain in place, that he or she is capable of providing the sort of leadership that the followers yearn for. In that case they stick with him in what he does and if there are any demands they are delivered personally or directly, not procedurally, legally.

In other words there isn’t a defined a defined moment of rendering accountability for the leader for income generated in conducting that work or executing the specific vocation. Only the formal or outward trappings of credible organization will be observed, like proper upkeep of the premises in which the service is rendered, as well as paying salaries to service providers so that there are no complaints that may even tarnish that organisation’s image. When all that is fulfilled, the leader rests assured all will be well.

But before the law all that is just a preliminary issue as the law covers the terms and conditions for which an organization is started, what sort of contract was entered between the leader and signatories who form the board of trustees, what resources are mobilized and how is income utilized. Large organizations of a political or religious sort usually have direct accountability as they have credible periods of service, moments of election and handing over power or authority in an organization, unlike the charismatic sort and indeed most small organizations, habitually. The 100 or so organizations cited are mostly of this kind.

That’s where the law comes up, if people are being shortchanged by shouldering an organization to grow and then it operates like the property of a single individual. As in wider leadership issues, the personal character or attitude of the leader matters a lot in how an organization grows, in which case even law enforcers need to take that into account. Often the following is aware of the megalomaniac tendencies of its leader but outside this attribute, he or she won’t be able to deliver, so such leaders tend to be tolerated.

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