Red Cross in dire need of image transfusion

Updated: 2011-04-21 08:16

By He Wei (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - The Red Cross Society of China, the country's biggest charitable organization, is scrambling to perform first aid on its public image following outrage over a luxurious feast hosted by the society.

Wang Rupeng, secretary-general of the Red Cross Society of China, said the organization is preparing to publicize expenditures and properly manage the funds it raises.

The announcement comes amid public outrage over an expensive banquet in its local division, which Wang on Tuesday said "seriously violated relevant regulations and smeared the image of the Red Cross Society of China".

The financial information will enable the public to monitor the money, audit results and details of ongoing charitable programs, Wang said.

The society was left with egg on its face after a dining receipt was disclosed on on Friday, showing that the Red Cross office in Shanghai's Luwan district spent 9,859 yuan ($1,500) on a lunch for 17 people at high-end restaurant Huigongguan on Feb 28.

At nearly 580 yuan a person, the bill was well in excess of the regulated 150-yuan limit.

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The Shanghai Red Cross quickly defended itself by clarifying that the expenditure was within the government-provided administrative budget rather than from donations.

A staff member from the Luwan office, who declined to be named, confirmed on Wednesday that 7,309 yuan of the bill had been rejected for reimbursement and was paid by the individuals involved.

But that failed to diffuse public concerns of donation abuse. Dubbed the "sky-high priced meal", the revelation has enraged the public and led to calls for a boycott and an audit of the society's expenditures.

For instance, a netizen questioned whether the Red Cross has "eaten" its money, and a micro blog message calling for a halt in donations until an audit took place was forwarded more than 10,000 times.

Faced with skepticism, Wang called on the organization to learn from the incident, and pledged every penny of charitable funds will be used in an efficient and transparent way.

Wang added that the Red Cross Society of China would tighten regulations on the management and use of administrative and donated funds and publicize information in a timely fashion.

"Using donated funds on public affairs and spending administrative funds in excess of the set standard are strictly prohibited," he said, vowing punishment for violators.

A former expertise officer within the charitable circle told China Daily that the Red Cross Society of China was at odds with the Shanghai division concerning the punishment.

"The punishment should at least include certain administrative penalties, and open criticism of the people involved," the source said under condition of anonymity.

Given that disasters have hit China recently, the source said the operational budget was overly high, "sometimes even as much as 10 billion yuan", and believed it will take time for the industry to address complaints from potential donors.

Li Hui, a public policy researcher with Shanghai-based Fudan University, said the incident struck at the root of the problem with charities in China, as non-profit groups are not allowed to operate independently of government.

"If competition exists, different foundations will make themselves transparent to gain popularity and trust. But in China, you might end up with an aid structure even more entangled in bureaucracy, where there is no desire to go transparent," Li said.


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