Donations to mainland charities are believed to have fallen by a fifth to about 80 billion yuan (HK$98 billion) last year, after the Guo Meimei scandal made the public more distrustful of the sector.
Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo told a press conference in Beijing yesterday that public donations totalled more than 100 billion yuan in 2010 but were likely to have fallen to about 80 billion yuan last year.
He said media criticism of some projects run by 'a certain charity organisation' in the past year 'reflected the great public attention to philanthropy, as well as the lack of openness and transparency' of those involved in its distribution.
Guo claimed - though falsely - on her microblog last year to be 'commercial general manager' of the Red Cross Society of China, the mainland's largest charity organisation, while showing off her luxury cars and designer handbags, sparking a public outcry over the handling of charitable donations on the mainland.
Jia Xijin, deputy director of Tsinghua University's NGO Research Centre, said the battering of the Red Cross' image had made the public less enthusiastic about donating money to charities. 'Besides, there were already doubts over the use of donations, such as tents for earthquake victims, before the Guo Meimei saga,' she said.
Li said that although the mainland's charity sector had grown significantly since 2000, the number of charity organisations was still small and their activities lacked supervision, and more public participation in charities should be encouraged.
He said non-government organisations in the fields of charity, industry, trade, commerce and social services had been able to register directly with civil affairs departments since the second half of last year, no longer needing to be registered with a 'patron' government agency. The old rule had been a big hurdle for NGOs wanting to set up - and especially rights-advocacy groups - because administrative departments were worried about being held responsible for their actions.
Li said political and rights-advocacy groups were not being encouraged but would be treated equally during the registration process.
However, Jia said the government was only offering to simplify procedures for NGOs it believed were safe, and would not loosen controls on those focusing on politics or human rights. 'Still, as long as they [NGOs] are concerned with politics or the [socialist] system, there's no way they could be established,' she said.
Like most mainland regulations, rules being drafted to regulate NGOs would include a provision allowing 'flexibility', she explained.
Li said more time was needed to finish drafting regulations related to application procedures.
A draft regulation released for public consultation last Thursday by the Ministry of Civil Affairs would make charitable foundations more transparent and credible by forcing them to disclose income, spending and use of donations.