Cash advice for charities ruled out

Linda Choy

A PLEA for charities to be given guidelines on the investment of cash donations has been ruled out by the Government, despite the $1.6 million loss incurred by the AIDS Foundation during currency dealings.

The deputy secretary for Health and Welfare, Mrs Shelley Lau Lee Lai-kuen, said yesterday that any control of the financial matters of charities would be too complicated to introduce.

Speaking during a Legislative Council health services panel meeting, Mrs Lau admitted the Government was investigating the AIDS Foundation case, which has prompted widespread concern over welfare organisations dabbling with risky investments.

But she claimed this was not, and would not be, a comprehensive scrutiny of charities' financial management.

She said it would not be appropriate for her to comment on the AIDS Foundation incident as an investigation was under way.

Charities could dispose of their own money in whichever way they chose, as long as they did not include seed money granted them by the Government.

Out of more than 160 charities operating in Hongkong, only seven are governed by independent ordinances under the law.

''Most of these organisations have their own management board and it is up to them to decide which financial investment items their money should go to,'' Mrs Lau added.

But she urged charities not to direct money into high-risk investments where there was a chance of incurring big losses.

Her comments disappointed legislators, who said investment guidelines were necessary to prevent a recurrence of the AIDS Foundation incident.

Panel convenor Dr Leong Che-hung said the Government should consider ways to scrutinise the disposal of government-granted cash and public donations.

''I don't think there is a need to introduce stringent controls on their financial management, but it is wrong to maintain a non-interference attitude,'' he said.

Dr Leong, who is a Meeting Point legislator, said too much government control was unnecessary, as it would undermine the independence and flexibility of such organisations.

''The point is, we ought to strike a balance between the two,'' he said, adding that the AIDS Foundation case was not a single incident, it reflected a wider problem in the society.

Another Meeting Point legislator, Mr Tik Chi-yuen, said the Government's attitude would be a great blow to public confidence.

''It is important for the Government to address the public concern since the number of flag days are on the increase and people care about the use of the money they donate,'' he said.

Independent legislator Mr Peter Wong Hong-yuen suggested the Government organise investment training courses for charities.

Mr Lawrence O'Hoy said the AIDS Foundation case had been the subject of a heated debate at their regular meeting, but it was all academic, as the society was governed by its own rules and regulations which came from Paris.

Mr Ranjan Marwah, chairman of the Mother's Choice, the charity for unmarried mothers, said he agreed with the government's thinking.

''The whole meaning of Hongkong is self-policing, and charities should be seen in the context of self-help,'' he said.

''Excessive regulations would take away the spontaneity and generosity of the community.''