Crackdown on concert swindlers

CHINA has set out to revamp the overheated concert business, especially those organised in the name of charity, by punishing officials who have pocketed money from these activities and tightening related rules.

This week, two officials in the central Hunan province were reportedly punished for trying to make off with more than one million yuan (HK$888,000) raised during two charity concerts by Hong Kong pop stars, Sally Yeh and George Lam, last July.

Earlier this month, the official People's Daily carried an investigative report revealing similar malpractices by Chinese organisers in a charity concert starring another Hong Kong pop idol, Andy Lau, in the southwest city of Chongqing.

These scandalous reports prompted the Government to act.

Not only are concerned officials punished, in the Hunan case one was sacked and the other expelled from the Chinese Communist Party, the Government promptly asked local government to keep strictly to regulations and prepare corresponding measures for better control.

One of them, according to the Hong Kong China News Service, is that there is only one authorised organiser in each city to avoid swindling.

And regulations concerning commercial concerts starring Hong Kong and Taiwan artists, drafted by the Ministry of Culture, stipulates plans on the time, place, frequencies, duration and programmes of performances, have to be deliberated and must get advance approval.

As with charity concerts, Li Chen, head of the Culture and Sports Department of the local branch of Xinhua, (New China News Agency), said they have to go through similar formalities with the Civil Affairs Ministry.

''Relief activities such as charity concerts are new in the country and rather active in the past few years,'' Mr Li said.

''Some people just exploit these activities to make money and something has to be done.'' In the two concerts for the 1993 Flood and Disaster Relief Campaign, held in the provincial capital of Hunan, Changsha, on July 13 and 14, 1.4 million yuan was raised, but the two officials failed to hand over any of the money.

The Hunan Southern Commodity Company reportedly paid the Hong Kong promoter 2.3 million yuan to arrange the concerts, but after the events failed to recoup the costs, officials tried to withhold the 1.15 million yuan they were contracted to hand over to the local civil affairs bureau.

The Andy Lau concert in Chongqing was hit by similar problems. Publicising the show as a charity event, the organiser failed to give any money from the three million yuan raised to the promised Trust Fund.

Given the tight controls on cultural activities in the mainland, sources say the only way local bands and Hong Kong pop stars can perform on the mainland is by staging charity concerts for officially sanctioned causes such as flood and disaster relief.

Mr Li maintained that Hong Kong stars performing in China was positive in enhancing the people's cultural life.