I strongly suspect a number of organisations listed in the register of New Zealand charities just shouldn’t be there. The Department of Internal Affairs provides facilities to search the charities register – it is worth doing if you have your suspicions.
Why is this important? Well, registration as a charity provides tax-free status to an organisation. In effect this means all taxpayers are subsidising their activities. While most of us are probably happy to subsidise genuine charities it goes against the grain when they are not genuine.
Here I will look at just one suspicious organisation – the New Zealand Health Trust.
The New Zealand Health Trust
This trust is in the news lately because last November it took a High Court case against the South Taranaki District Council aiming for a judicial review over a decision to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley (see Chch group tests fluoridation push and Taranaki fluoride ruling ends up in court). [See Update below.] Such legal action is not cheap yet the New Zealand Health Trust is a registered charity so tax exempt. We are affectively subsidising the legal action – like it or not.
Fortunately, registration means that some information about the organisation and its finances must be provided and documents are available on the register. The New Zealand Health Trust registration details claim its purpose is education, training and research. It provides advice, information and advocacy with the main beneficiaries being the “general public.”
The trust deed (available on the register – rules.pdf) gives more detail – but still expressed in a very general way (I guess organisations like this want to keep their options open). Besides talk of promoting education and well-being, research, relief of poverty and the promotion of “other charitable objectives” the document declares some more relevant goals:
“5(e): encourage and provide opportunities for persons and corporate bodies within New Zealand to take an active interest in complementary health care products, devices, practices and services and general health research for prevention, diagnosis and treatment;”
“5(j): lobby decision making bodies on issues affecting the charitable purposes with a view to furthering the charitable purposes, and use such media campaigns and promotions as may assist;”
If you want to put 2 + 2 together, have a look at their web page. It soon becomes obvious the trust is a political lobbying organisation working to promote the interests of the industry selling “natural health products” and “health care products, devices, practices and services within New Zealand.”
So, New Zealand taxpayers are subsiding an industry lobby group, with commercial interests and aims. Inclusion of words like “health,” “natural” and “alternative” does not make it any different to any industry lobby group with commercial interests.
Have another look at the website and you will see this group has political as well as commercial aims. As well as working hard on fighting parliamentary consideration of treating natural health products as drugs (the ANZTPA Debate) it is also active in the following issues:
Yes – as taxpayers we are subsidising political activity on chemtrials, way-out medical procedures and a lot else. We are subsiding opposition to vaccines, genetic modification and aspartine.
We are also subsidising their expensive legal action to fight fluoridation.
Registration as a charity requires annual financial returns and these are available on the register – from 2008 – 2013 for the New Zealand Health Trust. I don’t have the financial literacy to understand these returns completely but details of their main sources of income and main expenses for each year are interesting. Here is a page from their 2013 return.
Their main income was not from donations (sort of expect that with a charity) but from undefined “grants.” And their main expense was not the education, research or relief of poverty talked about in their deed document but “consultancy and legal expenses.” Nowhere in any of the returns could I see any expenses related to research, education or relief of poverty.
The plot below shows a lot of variability year to year in the size of the “grants” received and in their “consultancy and legal expenses” – completely consistent with their main purpose of lobbying on specific political issues and, for 2013 (and presumably 2014) the High Court case in South Taranaki.
Where’s the money coming from
Unfortunately the financial returns don’t show that detail but the round numbers of 2011 and 2013 suggest single sources – and wealthy ones. (There was also a grant in 2010 of $534,521 which appeared to largely wipe out loans from a single person, P. D. Sloan, in earlier years.) Call me cynical but these “grants” look very much like payments from corporate companies for supporting their own commercial interests.
The Charities Register lists the sole officer of the trust as “New Zealand Health Limited” and the Charitable Deed Trust lists the parties as:
“1. PATRICK DAVID SLOAN of Christchurch, Company Director (“the Settlor”)
2. NEW ZEALAND HEALTH LIMITED, a duly incorporated company having its Registered Office at Christchurch (“the Trustee”).”
Patrick David Sloan is listed as a director of several companies, including My Health Limited and NZ Essential Limited. A brief internet search showed Mr Sloan is director of a number of natural or alternative health companies. He has also been active in the anti-fluoridation movement – making a submission (all the way from Christchurch) to the Hamilton City Council fluoridation hearings (see Submission No: 1650 – Hamilton City Council).
My conclusion is that the trust is being financed by levys or contributions from the industry as a whole or individual companies in the alternative health industry. From the complex web of links between the directors and companies that I looked at briefly it could be that grants are made from just one or a few larger companies in behalf of the industry.
Incidentally, my interaction with anti-fluoridation activists and spokespersons also suggests a high proportion of people who work in this industry. Especially alternative health practitioners.
The NZ charities register
In recent years the Charities Commission and the Department of Internal Affairs have taken steps to clean up the register. A number of “charities” have been removed because they do not satisfy the criteria. I suggest that the New Zealand Health Trust should also be considered for removal.
I am sure that this Trust is not the only organisation getting tax exemption unfairly. Any organisation doing this should be exposed. This is not a judgment on an organisations aims – just that they should not have their work subsidised by the taxpayer if their aims are not genuinely charitable.
Perhaps more seriously, the presence of such commercial and political organisations on the New Zealand Charities Register brings the area of charities into disrepute.
Update: These articles refer to “New Health New Zealand” as taking the legal action. To clarify – New Health New Zealand was created by the New Zealand Health Trust. See their note:
“New Health NZ Incorporated has been formed by the NZ Health Trust because our supporters can’t become members of a Trust. New Health allows you to join up and show your support for the work of the NZ Health Trust in a way that costs you nothing, and imposes no obligation on you.
New Health acts alongside the NZ Health Trust as the voice for all NZ Consumers and the more members it has the more influence it will have.”
You can find details of this body on the Register of Incorporated Societies at the Companies Office. Their recent financial returns show no income and a net debt – they will obviously not be financing any legal action.