By Jacob Peenikaparambil
The New Indian Express on March 30 reported that the Punjab Police claimed to have recovered 96.6 million rupees of hawala money from six persons, including a priest belonging to Jalandhar diocese.
It is a huge amount of cash. Those who were caught by the police and Income Tax department may try to prove that they have the documents to substantiate that their money is not unaccounted. Keeping enormous amount of cash at the end of the financial year increases suspicion among the people. The image of the organization is already tarnished because of keeping huge amount of cash.
It is difficult for the common people to believe that the money is accounted. If the money is accounted what was the need for bringing it to one place instead of depositing it in the banks at different places on the same day of collection?
Companies that are transparent in their functioning do not keep the cash accumulated. Moreover, they try to reduce cash transaction by encouraging non-cash mode of payment. Keeping huge amount of cash at one place is also very dangerous from the point of view of security.
A company can have different bank accounts at different places and deposit in the bank the cash receipts every day except on bank holidays. The practice of keeping large amount of cash is highly unprofessional and also suspicious.
Against the contradicting claims made by the persons who were caught by the police people naturally come to the conclusion that something is fishy about the whole episode. The explanations given by the spokesperson of Jalandhar diocese is totally unconvincing.
The integrity and credibility of the Church is in peril because of the misdeeds of some individuals. These individuals are the real enemies of the Church, if at all there are enemies, and not those who point out the mistakes in the Church because of their concern.
Church organizations registered as profitable companies are very rare. There could be some organizations registered as Charitable Companies under section 25 of the Income Tax Act. The income tax norms for these companies are the same as applicable to Charitable Societies and Charitable Trusts.
Persons guided by religiosity may not have difficulty to adopt unethical practices in obtaining and using money. But persons guided by spirituality will always say no to unethical and illegal practices. Those who resort to unethical practices in acquiring and using wealth cannot be spiritual, however religious, pious and dogmatic they appear to be. Financial manipulation and spirituality do not go together.
Those who are responsible for the management of finance in Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs), particularly Church based organizations, have to understand that that they are only stewards and not the owners. This is the very foundation of the spirituality of Finance Management.
Therefore they should be honest, trustworthy, responsible, accountable, and transparent. Their integrity should be unquestionable. Almost all Church organizations come under the category of Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs). The heads of these organizations are not the owners, but stewards.
The NPOs are accountable to the government, to the donors, people and to their won governing structures like General Body and Governing Body because they deal with public money. Whatever finance the NPOs get as donations or through other permissible ways, is meant for the welfare of the public.
Secondly, they are to be handled and used as per the rules and regulations of the government. The finance should not be utilized for the benefit of the members of the organization. By the very nature a Non-Profit Organization exists for the people and all its resources are to be utilized for the realization of the objectives of the organization by strictly following the rules and regulations issued by the government from time to time.
According to the Trusteeship concept of Mahatma Gandhi the wealth of a private person is given to him for the benefit of the community. “Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth-either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry- I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me; what belongs to me is the right to an honorable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community,” Gandhi wrote while explain his concept of Trusteeship.
What are the ways and means for practicing the spirituality of Finance Management? First of all organizations, dioceses, provinces/congregations shall have a Finance Policy, delineating various aspects of finance management and it should be strictly followed.
The Finance Policy should be made public. For example the Finance Policy of a diocese is to be published in the diocesan bulletin and the website of the diocese.
Secondly, the dioceses, religious congregations/provinces and other Church organizations shall put in place systems and process to ensure transparency and participation in the management of finance. The audited statements of account are to be published and made available to the public. Many NGOs publish their audited statement of account along with the annual report and make them available to the public.
Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore has an open Annual General Body meeting. Besides the members, those who are interested in the USM, friends, principals, representatives of students and teachers are invited to participate in the Annual General Body meeting.
They are given all documents like annual report, audited statements of account and annual budget. They have the freedom to ask questions and clarifications as any other formal member of USM. The Church organizations also can adopt this practice as an expression of their transparency.
The parishes shall present the annual report, audited statement of account and the annual budget in the parish council and allow the members to ask clarifications. These documents shall be published in the parish bulletin. Similarly the dioceses shall adopt the practice of presenting annual report, consolidated audited statement of account of the diocese and the budget for the coming year in the Pastoral Council, which is a representative body of the priests, religious and lay men and women. The members of the Pastoral Council should be given the opportunity for asking clarifications and proposing suggestions.
In many religious congregations the ordinary members do not know anything about the finance of the province or congregation because the statement of account is presented only in the provincial and general chapters.
Some provinces of certain religious congregations have the practice of presenting the annual report, statement of account and the budget in the annual province gathering to which all members of the province are invited. In order to enhance transparency the religious congregations/provinces shall publish annual report, audited statement of account and annual budget in their publications and website.
The third practice all NPOs including the Church based organizations have to adopt is to say a firm no to all unethical practices like signing payment vouchers for a particular amount and paying less than what is signed for. Similarly there should not be any amount for which a formal receipt is not issued. All receipts are to be entered in the receipt book and a formal receipt is to be issued for any amount received. In other words all receipts and payments are to be accounted.
Now there are various ways of receiving money and paying money other than cash. Almost all families have bank account. The payment for the poor people who work under Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act (MNAREGA) is paid through bank. Cash payments are to be reduced to the minimum. The Finance Policy of the dioceses and religious congregations and NPOs shall prescribe the maximum amount that can be paid by cash.
It should not be more than 10,000 rupees. For the NPOs that have registration under 80G the cash receipt should not be more than 2,000 rupees. The Finance Policy also specify the maximum amount of money that can kept in cash on a particular day in any organization or institution.
“Power tends to corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, says Lord Acton, a British historian. In the same way money corrupts and too much money corrupts excessively. The organizations and institutions whose main motive is to make money are bound to land up in scandals.
Hence the basis of the Spirituality of Finance Management in the Church based organizations is to be satisfied with the minimum and put their trust in the providence of God. Along with trust in the providence of God they should avoid all unethical practices and follow strictly the rules and regulations of the government.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)