China / Society

Wenzhou aims to cut red tape for charities

By YU RAN in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-16 03:14

Wenzhou authorities have vowed to simplify licensing procedures for charity groups that want to offer residents free food and drink.

The city in Zhejiang province, one of China's richest, has a centuries-old tradition of altruism, and today it has at least 1,600 small, independently run street stalls that provide passers-by with simple dishes or tea.

But since the city government introduced a permit requirement early this year to standardize the sector, just one group has successfully applied.

"We wanted to run our charity like an enterprise, with a legal representative and accountant," said Zhang Xianding, 74, one of three retired businessmen behind Zhuangyuanting, which was licensed in April.

His nonprofit stall has been giving away congee in Longwan district since March, and has since received more than 600,000 yuan ($96,200) in public donations.

"With help from the city's civil affairs bureau, we've got an accountant, gone from eight volunteers to 86, and can now give invoices (approved by the tax authorities) to donors," Zhang said.

According to Su Benyun, deputy director of civil affairs in Longwan, his office carries out regular inspections to ensure the stall is safe and fair.

However, most similar operations approached by China Daily said they either did not know about the permits or had no intention to apply because of the time and cost involved.

An application costs 30,000 yuan and takes about three months.

"I've never heard of this license, and I don't think we need to spend such a large amount of money to have other people inspect our work regularly, as we are just serving free tea to passers-by," said Wang A'nong, who runs the Hongriting tea stand. "We're not causing problems for anyone else."

He added that he felt larger organizations do probably need such a license as they have to manage more volunteers and deal with larger donations.

Civil affairs official Su said his office had not received any applications in the past six months, and conceded that "it's a bit difficult for small charity groups to prepare the documents and the money".

Authorities are trying to simplify the process and minimize the costs to encourage more applications, he said.

According to Deng Guosheng, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University, such licenses are important for charities with long-term aspirations.

"They bring more benefits to NGOs that aim to get more people involved in their activities and gather more donations," he said.

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