Public suspicious after cheating charities caught in scandals

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/4 18:38:39

A volunteer in Chengdu shows a painting created by a child with disabilities as a part of the charity project on August 29. Photo: IC

The sale of autistic children's paintings to raise funds to help them has sparked concern online after the organizations behind the charity event failed to release detailed information about donations, with experts urging charities to make the donation process transparent.

An event in which people spent a single yuan ($0.15) or more to "buy" pictures painted by autistic children, went viral on WeChat last week.

The charity project, titled "Enlighten Life with Art," was promoted by online charity platform gongyi.qq.com, which is affiliated with Chinese tech giant Tencent. The project aims to help people with mental and intellectual disabilities, including those with infantile autism, brain paralysis and Down's syndrome, gongyi.qq.com told the Global Times on Thursday.

The project, which kicked off on August 17, received more than 15 million yuan from 5.8 million donors as of last Tuesday.

Shenzhen's civil affairs bureau said on Thursday that the Shenzhen-based Ai You Foundation, which is in charge of the project's finances, registered with the bureau a few days ago.

The bureau last week said it would publish information about who donated and how much, and how the money will be spent, in a few days.

However, neither the foundation nor the bureau has published this information as of press time.

Cash flow

This heightened many netizens' concerns about where the money will go and how it will be spent.

According to China's Charity Law which took effect in September 2016, charity organizations should release information on platforms which are approved by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, read a press release on the ministry's website.

Some of the money will be used to reward the kids, and the rest will be spent on the development of the grassroots charity working with autistic children, the Shanghai-based NGO WABC, Miao Shiming, initiator of the program and head of WABC, was quoted by thepaper.cn as saying on Thursday.

He added that the donations that are spent on the organization's development will mainly be used to pay teachers' salaries, buy art materials and rent of their facilities.

A netizen surnamed Chen who bought five "paintings," told the Global Times that her suspicions grew after seeing Miao's interview. "I thought the donations will go directly to the kids to help them. I did not expect them to be spent on the organization," said Chen.

However, a parent of an autistic child surnamed Zhou told the Global Times that the organization's desire to build itself up is legitimate, as it is a good idea to ask such organizations to take care of autistic children because they require special facilities and professional attendants, which are pricey.

Moreover painting is something many autistic children enjoy. "I can see these kids calm down and enjoy the process of painting, as if they are trying to express themselves with their pens," said Zhou.

Scandalous sector

The public's suspicions are well-founded, as several charity events that were shown to be corrupt or misleading have severely damaged the credibility of China's charity sector, Qi Xingfa, a professor with the political science department of East China Normal University, told the Global Times.

In December 2016, a father who identified himself as Luo Er apologized for the "negative influence" he caused after accusations of fraud were levied against him following his calls for donations to treat his sick child.

Luo garnered nationwide attention, but was soon plagued by controversy after social media users cast doubt on his motives, questioned his story and accused him of working with a marketing company.

The public also has little trust in official charity organizations after scandals hit China's Red Cross Association earlier, said Qi.

The association has grappled with trust issues since 2011, when a woman called Guo Meimei, who claimed to work for an association affiliated with the Red Cross Society of China, posted photographs of her lavish lifestyle online. This led to speculation that donations may have been embezzled to fund her extravagances.

Qi noted that in order to regain trust, the donation process must be transparent. "Organizations should keep publishing information a long time after the donations, to let the public know their money is helpful for the needy to some extent," said Qi.

Also, it is necessary to have charities be supervised by government bodies and independent auditors.

China's Charity Law, passed in March 2016, includes strict regulations to prevent fraud and calls for tighter supervision on the management of charity groups.
Newspaper headline: Donors in the dark


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