Charities' chance to restore credibility

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2012, 12:00am


Charitable organisations have an important role to play in the nascent development of the mainland's civil society, as do non-government organisations that fill the gap between what government and free markets provide. But public confidence in them has been dented by a lack of transparency and scandals that tarnished the image of one of the most visible of them, the Red Cross Society of China. Now the Ministry for Civil Affairs has moved to restore credibility by launching a public consultation on a draft law to make them more accountable.

The mainland's leaders have kept a tight rein on civil society to prevent challenges to their authority amid suspicions about foreign-funded groups and rights lobbying organisations. NGOs say a recent easing of registration requirements in Guangdong does not make much difference, but it is a tentative sign of recognition of their potential as intermediaries between the people and government.

Hopefully the regulation of public-interest charitable organisations to open them to scrutiny and minimise the temptation for wrongdoing is also a step in that direction. The draft rules on the handling of donations and disclosures of finances and business activities follow last year's accusations of misuse of Red Cross funds. The issue came to a head when a woman, who falsely claimed to work for the organisation, sparked an outcry after posting pictures online of her with luxury cars and handbags. The scandal prompted the government to propose strict guidelines on operating and administrative costs, including regular reports of fund-raising and spending for emergencies such as natural disasters. With more transparency in place, Beijing should also open up the sector to foreign NGOs and make donations to approved causes tax deductible to encourage a culture of giving by an increasingly wealthy society. The urbanisation of China with huge populations is ripe for development of a vibrant civil society to broaden participation and promote social cohesion.