FCC 'education ball' committee resigns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 September, 2008, 12:00am

The entire organising committee of the Foreign Correspondents' Club Ball resigned en masse this week due to 'deep concerns' about the level of support the annual charity event receives from the club.

The move has cast doubt over the future of the ball which has been held since 2002 and raises money for university scholarships for orphans cared for by the Po Leung Kuk and language classes in the orphanage.

In a statement to donors to the charity fund, the organising committee said: 'Despite a wildly successful ball this month and quantifiable success at every level over the past seven years, the charity ball receives inadequate support from the current president and board of governors of the Foreign Correspondents' Club.'

While members were 'extremely proud' of the ball's achievements, the letter continued, members of the board had 'repeatedly attacked the event and its purpose'.

'Facing these attacks is unpleasant but our real concern is that a small but vocal group within the club could undercut the ball midway through planning next year's event.'

The annual ball has become a key event in the city's social calendar and has raised more than HK$36 million since 2002.

It provides for 64 university scholarships and for a specially designed programme teaching English and Putonghua to 300 children.

Part of the proceeds of this year's event, held on September 13, is to be used to build a language centre in Kowloon that will teach 600 underprivileged children.

This year, a group of the first scholarship winners formed an alumni association aimed at strengthening their ties with the club and giving back to the fund.

Thomas Crampton, outgoing co-chairman of the organising committee and one of the event's founders, said the club had previously been supportive of the event but more recently a campaign of 'negativity' had built up within the club and its board.

'There are members of the board who made opposing the charity ball part of their platform for election,' he said. 'People have said they don't want the ball to be in the face of the club. They want us to downplay it.

'Members of staff have been made to feel as though they should not be involved. There are people who do not like this event and appear to be against it, for whatever reason.'

He said the committee had sought a 'clear mandate' for the club's support of its charity work but the board had declined to vote on a motion at a meeting last month.

'We just feel that we want to make sure this thing we have built up over seven years has continuity going forward,' he said. 'We haven't got that feeling from the FCC board.'

He said the organising committee had come to the conclusion that it would be better to separate their fund-raising activities from the club.

'At this point the scholarship fund has grown to such an extent that it is raising expectations within the Po Leung Kuk. At the youngest end, we have young children aspiring to get the scholarship,' Mr Crampton said. 'We, the organising committee, feel very passionately about this cause. It will happen again, regardless.'

Although he hoped to resolve the issues with the board, he said it looked likely next year's event would be run independently of the club.

However, FCC president, Ernst Herb, said he had 'no idea' why the committee was upset.

'As far as I know, as president, everything is fine,' he said. 'I don't understand why they came to that conclusion.'

Although there had been some discussion about what form or direction next year's ball should take, he denied it had taken a negative slant.

He said the FCC remained committed to raising money for the charity and he was adamant another ball would be held next year.

Mr Herb said he did not feel concerned that the entire organising committee had resigned.

'They are just a few people out of 1,900 members,' he said. 'They are just tired. They have been working on this for too long.'

Mr Crampton said he found the president's surprise to be 'completely disingenuous'.

'I have had numerous meetings with Ernst Herb about this very issue,' he said. 'If it had been addressed earlier, we could have done this in a different way.

'The two founding members of this event and all the major organisers are standing down. The FCC could put on a ball again but it would not have the package of support we have put in place.'

A kuk spokeswoman said it was not involved in the dispute.

'We are just the charity organisation which receives their donation,' she said. 'The Po Leung Kuk is not in any position to comment.'