Why I didn't donate to Sichuan earthquake relief

To blame Hongkongers as being 'selfish' or 'cold-hearted', as some opinionated and angry mainlanders claim on weibo, is simply wrong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 9:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 10:15am

As a Hong Kong citizen, it intrigues me to read Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s response to lawmakers’ boycott on her motion to donate public funds to earthquake relief efforts in Yaan. A South China Morning Post article quoted her as saying: “We have to put trust in the system.”

To be honest, her stress on “trust” sounds meaningless and almost sarcastic to me.  It is practically impossible for Hong Kong people to trust the mainland political system after seeing piles of evidence that previous donations for various Chinese developments ended up in corrupt officials’ pockets.

“Trust” has to be earned through actions - not from an official’s public speech like hers.

The tension between Hong Kong and the mainland has been intensifying in the past 15 years. There are complicated reasons behind that. But I should point out that what a big chunk of Hong Kong people read about the mainland in the news is about corrupt officials and hilarious stories of unaccountable money spent for their own good. This has given the majority of Hongkongers pause before committing to disaster-charity donations for their “fellow countrymen”.

In 1991 after the eastern China flood, the former British colonial government donated HK$5 million into the disaster relief fund, and many non-government organisations raised money for relief efforts. A total of HK$470 million was donated in total, according to media reports.

The devastating flood in the 1990s was unforgettable. After that, whenever there were natural disasters in China, the Hong Kong government would make donations and the community would launch fundraising efforts. However, it is frustrating to see constant news about misused funds.

The HK$1.2 billion donation to the 2008 earthquake relief in Sichuan was also misused for infrastructure and government banquets, as reported by the media.

In 2011, a 20-year-old named Guo Meimei put the state-owned Red Cross Society of China to shame, after she allegedly posted pictures of herself with a Lamborghini, Maserati and Hermes handbags and bragged about her extravagant lifestyle on the Internet. Later, some internet users exposed her ties with a senior official who was involved in fundraising for the Red Cross.

These are the stories we read every day. And to blame Hongkongers as being "selfish" or "cold-hearted", as some opinionated, angry mainlanders claimed on weibo, is simply wrong. We still want to help, but we need to adapt to new ways to help. And some HongKongers already have.

A friend of mine founded an education charity fund in 2009 with several high school friends working in various professions, including law and finance. They have been fundraising for a few book-donation projects in Yunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces and have sponsored to build two libraries in Beijing and Guangzhou.

They have never directly transferred the money to any of these local governments or organisations. Besides giving money, they keep visiting the sites to make sure the children in need fully receive the benefits from the fund.

But “trust the system”? I don't think so.