2006 was another busy year for the Core Team and the Montreaux Initiative partners. In February, a series of meetings were held in London. One of the outcomes of these meetings was the appointment of Said Mohammed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Montreaux Initiative’s board of trustees. His foremost responsibility was to lead the core team in making budget for the initiative. Later meetings focussed on the occasion of charitable organizations in the Middle East. During a conference in the Sheraton Hotel, a presentation was given about the Montreaux Initiative and its role in the global war on terror. During the conference, the Core Team established important formal encounters with leading personalities. After discussions, it became apparent that some delegates were suspicious of the real mission of the Montreaux Initiative. In a way, it was felt that the suspicions harboured by a section of the delegates were due to the perceived competition between the Humanitarian Forum and the Montreaux Initiative, whose missions were fairly similar (Jonathan, 2008).
By large, the Core Team had difficulties coordinating different aspects of the meeting. In particular, the team had difficult time drafting a constitution for a new legal entity to be formed under the Swiss law. For convenience purposes, it was agreed that the proposed office holders of this new entity be Swiss nationals with the original mandate to guide stakeholders in implementing the provisions of the Montreaux initiative. It was contended that formation of the new legal entity would signal departure from the previous approach that the meeting would be on equal basis so as not to be perceived as being imposed on Islamic charities by Western governments. Still, some charities were not convinced that the initiative could be relied upon to protect their interests.
On a more positive note, delegates spoke of the possibility of initiating contacts with governments in Muslim countries. Such contacts would signal desire by the Core Team to elicit the help of governments in the Muslim world in facilitating understanding regarding the oversight and control of Islamic charities. To this end, the team prepared compliance assessment manuals and compliance indicators were prepared to provide directions and guidelines on self-assessment as well as external assessment of charities. Each of these compliance indicators was propped by expected objective evidence based on deliberations, contracts and meetings with key stakeholders outside the forum. While these indicators were not intended to be used as stand-alone documents, they would be used alongside standards for risk analysis and strategic procedures by the initiative (Jonathan, 2008).
Following revelations that many Islamic charities operated on weak administrative systems and lacked internal control mechanisms, the Montreaux Initiative resolved to encourage Islamic charities to embrace a culture of self regulation as a positive step towards facilitating confidence building. Specifically, the concept of Hisbah was adopted, which calls upon charities to put in place self monitoring and social accountability mechanisms as part of internal administrative procedures. It was also emphasised that various standard operational management tools be adopted in order to make it easier for charities based in more difficult regions to perform their functions. Regarding the issue of suspicion, charities were encouraged to carry out rigorous due diligence and background checks on their partners, donors and recipients and to also examine their own internal controls to determine the extent of compliance with applicable laws and regulations (both national and international).
The second meeting was held in Montreaux between the 21st and 24th of May. Delegates and representatives from various charities and stakeholders attended the Montreaux meeting. First on the agenda was the issue of suspicions raised against Islamic charities. It was regretted that due to the effects of the global war on terrorism, Islamic charities were now being coerced to offer concessions instead of being treated as victims. Moreover, Western governments were accused of not being ready to offer necessary help to Islamic charities. Therefore, high level of practical commitment from the Western governments rather than mere dialogue was encouraged. In addition, the delegates discussed progress made as a result of early exchanges initiated with some Gulf countries and the United States.
It was revealed that Islamic charities were united in their demand for lifting of unjustified and arbitrary sanctions imposed by some Western governments against them. These sanctions had made it extremely difficult for the Islamic charities to access funding for their activities, notwithstanding the fact that most of them were engaged in legitimate and lawful activities. It was also revealed that majority of charities were bothered by the continued unjustified surveillance and information tapping by some Western governments and intelligence agencies. Eventually, the meeting resolved that it would be better for the issue of oversight and control of charities to be approached as a legal process rather than a political one. This could appease Islamic charities and make it easier for them to support the initiative (Jonathan, 2008).
Several Gulf charities registered objections regarding the assessment processes proposed in early meetings. It was felt that some of these processes were heralding foreign interference in the activities of lawfully constituted charities. Therefore new options were suggested, one of which called for the Montreaux Initiative to be incorporated into a larger international framework regarding regulation of charitable organizations. The second option was emphasis of the role of accrediting agencies in each country. The accreditation process and requirements could have to be standardised in a manner that could lead to an international regulatory body with support from all stakeholders. There were, however, fears that small countries would have a limited say as the drafting of such an international standards would closely emulate those of more powerful countries such as the United States.
In July, another meeting was held at the Swiss embassy in London. In this meeting, members of the core team met with representatives of the United States government and discussed ways of ironing out differences between the United States of America and the Montreaux Initiative provisions on monitoring, control and oversight of Islamic charities. Several presentations were made, most of them emphasising the need for the United States to throw its weight behind the Montreaux initiative. Representatives from various charities expressed concerns that the United States’ rigid laws implemented in response to the 9/11 attacks were a major impediment to the growth of the charity sector at the global front. In particular, majority of the charities decried that the United States had made it difficult for them to raise funds, transfer funds to legitimate recipients or conduct awareness campaigns. On their side, the US representatives expressed optimism that the Montreaux Initiative was a good idea but that it needed to make clear several legal issues in order to secure the full support of the United States, the European Unions and other Western countries (Jonathan, 2008).
The July meeting was followed by another meeting in Heathrow, London in October. This meeting was attended by members of the technical team as well as representatives from the US Food and Drug Administration and selected Islamic charities. During the meeting, it was stressed that the Montreaux Initiative was under jeopardy, particularly because of the political implications of its recommendations.
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