Remember those who still need our help, says Andrew Loh.

Even if these men fail…

Andrew Loh

Reading about the Venerable Shi Ming Yi being charged for 10 counts of impropriety in handling funds collected through the Ren Ci charity organisation makes me very sad indeed. (Yahoo News)(CNA)

Venerable Ming Yi’s case follows that of Catholic priest Joachim Kang and the National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF) Chief Executive TT Durai. All three were trusted by members of the public and had collected millions in donations. Ren Ci and the NKF are two of the biggest and well-known charity organisations in Singapore.

While the monk’s guilt is yet to be ascertained, Durai and Kang were found guilty and were given prison sentences.

What is happening to our society, when even such men fail?

On 7 July 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for more Singaporeans to “donate according to their means and from their heart”. He revealed that charitable donations to non-profit organisations (Institutions of Public Character) increased by more than 50 per cent to S$820 million last year. (PMO)

PM Lee said this tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism is needed to “keep our social fabric strong and vibrant”. However, with these recent cases of impropriety by the heads of charity organisations, one wonders if the ‘social fabric’ is being torn apart. Will Singaporeans’ generosity now be curtailed voluntarily? Will Singaporeans be more stingy in giving? Can we blame them if they are?

Part of that ‘social fabric’ is the trust and faith which the public places on the people who are responsible for handling public donations – donations which are meant for the needy.

Perhaps what is more significant, and which we should pay attention to, is whether these cases indicate something more deep-seated – that we have become a society where money is cherished above all else, even above the trust and faith which is freely and readily given.

But looking at things in perspective, there are many charity organisations in Singapore who are doing selfless work in helping the needy, the sick and the poor. Thus, it would be sad and inappropriate to tar all these organisations with the failings of the few.

Singaporeans should continue to give and support these organisations.

At the same time, the government and the relevant authorities should be ever vigilant in keeping an eye on these Institutions of Public Character. Here, I would like to commend the Health Ministry for its timely intervention and investigations into the affairs at Ren Ci last November, leading to the present charges against Venerable Ming Yi. The Health Minister, Khaw Boon Wan, should also be commended for his impartial handling of the case in its earliest stages. He had called for patience and fairness for Ren Ci and the individuals involved until the investigations were completed.

“It is important to let the investigators do their job. Let’s not speculate or jump to conclusions because that would not be fair to Ren Ci and the individuals involved”, he said. (Straits Times)

“I wanted to get to the bottom of it because if you leave it hanging and leave questions marks, it’s not fair to Ren Ci. Then people would jump to their own conclusions.” (Today)

Ren Ci’s two medical facilities – one at Buangkok View and the other at Jalan Tan Tock Seng – have a total of over 400 beds. A third hospital, being built near Tan Tock Seng Hospital, is due to be completed in September. The hospital is reported to be $4 million short of its target for the funds needed for this third hospital. The Straits Times said that “MOH is funding $21.04 million of the hospital’s construction costs, which come up to $30.8 million, according to previous reports.” (Straits Times)

While we may feel betrayed or angry over these cases, let us not forget the very good work which the other volunteers and staff at these organisations are doing, and there are many of them.

Yes, the heads of these institutions may have failed and abused the trust of the public but let us not forget that when we give or donate to these organisations, it is the needy, the sick and the poor that we are thinking of.

The onus is on the government to correct the shortcomings in the system which allows such abuse. For us, the public, we should question those who ask for our donations when we are approached.

But we should not stop giving.

For even if these few men fail, we ourselves must not fail those who need our help still.