Charities have to move with the times

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2011, 12:00am


Even if it had not been embroiled in a series of scandals, the Red Cross Society of China would have been under pressure sooner rather than later to be more transparent about its work. Donors, especially those who know what the internet is capable of delivering, are increasingly demanding about how their contributions are being used. Whereas once interest ended at the donation box, there is now an expectation that every yuan should be tracked and accounted for. It is a matter the charity's officials have to keep in mind as they try to repair their organisation's dented reputation.

They are as yet not meeting expectations. Scepticism that the charity is not using donations wisely is rife after it was revealed that it had paid for an expensive lunch and a senior officer was accused of using public funds to buy tens of thousands of yuan of products for personal use. A woman who falsely claimed to be working for the organisation further hurt its reputation by posting photos showing her apparently extravagant lifestyle on her microblog. Media reports claim a charity project's purpose was to sell insurance. Restoring confidence after such knocks will require more than putting the details of a few donations on a website.

What is needed is as much transparency as resources will allow within the confines of a charitable framework. That requires getting a balance - and it would seem that initial efforts have not satisfactorily done this. The online comments to its posting on its website last week of information on the source and use of some donations raised more questions. Good has been done, but so too has harm.

The charity has a proud record, but with its operations mysterious to donors, and corruption widespread in society, the scandals were bound to be problematic. Being ever-more transparent and accountable are the best ways to regain what has been lost. Ultimately, though, charities have to be free of government interference so that there is room for independence, competition and full public scrutiny.