Friday, 22 September 2023

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Maintain Ren Ci’s IPC status until inquiry is completed

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Ren Ci under probe for financial discrepancies” (ST, Nov 8), and media reports about the Ministry of Health (MOH) conducting an inquiry into Ren Ci Hospital & Medicare Centre, after a review showed that there were irregularities in financial transactions involving Ren Ci and certain external organisations, and other gaps in corporate governance and internal controls.

In view of the ongoing inquiry, which will take about three months, Ren Ci’s Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status, which expires on 27 November this year, will not be renewed for the time being.

In the above news report, it was said that the “approach is to be firm, fair and transparent, and an inquiry is needed when transactions are not well explained by management… such an approach will lead the public to have greater confidence in the charity sector… We should not jump to any conclusion until the enquiry is completed. That will not be fair to the parties involved… will then announce its findings and take appropriate measures should there be wrong-doing'”.

I find the statements and the action taken to be somewhat contradictory.

On the one hand, we are saying that we should be “‘firm, fair and transparent’, ‘should not jump to any conclusion until the enquiry is completed’, ‘That will not be fair to the parties involved'”, whilst on the other hand, we are not renewing the IPC status.

In so doing, is it not in a sense, akin to pre-judging “its findings” and already taking “appropriate measures”, even before any “wrong-doing” has been found?

Ask anyone involved in the charity sector, and they may tell you that taking away IPC status, or in this case it’s non-renewal, may be like sounding the death-knell on a charity, because donations will no longer be tax exempt.

Therefore, in the meantime, and possibly into the future because of the loss of reputation, it may be the patients, staff, and their families, who may suffer the effects of the current state of affairs.

Since the inquiry will take three months, why not allow IPC status to continue for another two and a half months, before deciding when the inquiry’s findings are concluded?

Is another two and a half months going to make a world of difference, since the accounting firm Ernst & Young Associates had ended its general review of Ren Ci in February, whereby eight months have already lapsed by now? Why wasn’t the inquiry commenced earlier say two months ago, which would have given ample time to decide whether to conduct the inquiry in the first place, given that it would have been already about six months after the conclusion of the general review? This timeliness would have avoided the present predicament of Ren Ci being in limbo with regards to its IPC status.

The loss of IPC status is in a way, a permanent blemish that remains forever, as a charity like Ren Ci can never say again that it has been an Institution of Public Character since it’s founding in 1994, because of the two and a half month break.

So, two and a half months in limbo may be, in a way, time in eternity for a charity.

For the sake of helping “the public to have greater confidence in the charity sector”, particularly in the aftermath of the NKF saga, I would like to suggest that Ren Ci’s IPC status be maintained until the inquiry is concluded.

Read also: “Charities urge public not to pre-judge Ren Ci” by Channelnewsasia


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