A spokesman for MOH refuted Venerable Ming Yi’s comments that the probe was not a big issue and that the amount under probe was only a few hundred thousand dollars that’s not being repaid. In reality, a few million dollars was being investigated upon, and the issue doesn’t lie with whether the monies can be repaid or not. Rather, it’s a matter of proper accounting on where the money had been to.

This discrepancy hovers around the fact that the amount that is claimed to be lent does not tally with the amount that the borrower had recorded – rather than whether the monies can be returned. While the latter issue is one, the fact that proper transactions hadn’t been recorded means that some money had not been accounted for, i.e. missing from their coffers.

There were also mixed reactions from the public on whether Venerable Ming Yi should be driving a car to a meeting, but I feel that the matter at hand now is not so much with the car, but rather how the funds are managed. I am not hoping for another saga like the NKF.

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday refuted the head of Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre’s remark that the ministry’s probe into its affairs ‘is not a big problem”.

Ren Ci’s honorary chief executive officer, the Venerable Ming Yi, was quoted in the press last week as saying that he was not worried about the probe as only $200,000 to $300,000 of the multimillion-dollar charity’s money was unaccounted for.

An audit had turned up discrepancies between what the charity recorded it lent and what the companies involved recorded as having borrowed. The Venerable Ming Yi had said that most of the money has been recovered.

A ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times yesterday: ‘When financial irregularity in a charity is uncovered and is not properly explained by management, it is necessary to conduct a proper inquiry to get to the bottom of the matter.

‘The amount of money involved and the ability to repay is not the issue here.”

Saying that it is important for charities to be transparent and to build trust with the donating public, the spokesman added: ‘That some repayments have been made, after discrepancies have been identified by auditors, does not detract from the need to establish the facts surrounding the original transactions.’

The Sunday Times understands that the amount of money not accounted for adds up to a few million dollars, and not a few hundred thousand as the Venerable Ming Yi had said. Some of the loans were apparently made without approval from the board.

The Venerable Ming Yi was both board chairman and CEO till February this year, when Ren Ci was asked to split the two roles following a review by accounting firm Ernst & Young ordered by MOH.

One of the companies which was given an interest-free loan of between $200,000 and $300,000 was the Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre.

The Venerable Ming Yi and a former Ren Ci board member, Mr Wee Beng Seng, are the two registered owners of the centre. Mr Wee has said the centre is not making any profit and has not repaid the loan.

The probe into the charity, the second largest under MOH’s jurisdiction after the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), was announced last Wednesday.

The charity will not have its Institution of a Public Character status renewed when it expires on Nov 27. This means that donations will not be tax-exempt.

Almost a third of the charity’s $30 million income this financial year came from tax-exempt donations. The inquiry is expected to take three months.

The MOH spokesman said: ‘Managing a charity, or volunteering to help out in one, is not just about doing charitable work.

‘It is also about carrying out the work professionally, with good systems in place. Charities have a stewardship responsibility to the donating public.’

She said that there are many charities that are doing good work and their efforts should be recognised.

Pointing out that public confidence in charities had ‘taken a beating’ since the largest and best known charity, the NKF, was found to have misused public funds, the spokesman said of the probe into Ren Ci: ‘We urge the public not to jump to any conclusions or be overly speculative.’

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 11th November 2007

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