Ren Ci board tightens checks and balances to strengthen governance

The Straits Times, Jul 17, 2008

Singapore -- THE new board of Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre has put in place stricter checks and balances and a more transparent system for approving financial transactions to strengthen governance of the charity, which came under probe by the Commercial Affairs Department earlier this year.

For example, a cheque must be signed by two groups of people instead of by two individuals previously.

The stricter procedures and governance were disclosed at a press conference on Thursday morning called by the new board, led by Mr Chua Thian Poh, who took over as chairman of the Buddhist charity in last September.

Mr Chua assured the public that their donations to the charity have not been squandered.

Fielding questions from the media, he said loans amounting to $361,000 to Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre, a shop which deals in Buddhist artefacts, have been recovered.

The press conference came two days after the former head of Ren Ci Hospital, Shi Ming Yi, 46, was charged in court on Tuesday with 10 counts, including forgery, misappropriation of funds and conspiracy to give false information to the Commissioner of Charities.

Two other men, his associates, were also charged, and a fourth man was charged with possession of obscene videos and films in an apartment at Cornwall Gardens.

Reserve enough to last 22 months

Mr Chua, flanked by his board members, told reporters that public donations to Ren Ci have plunged from $9.3 million from December 2006 to June 2007 to $1.1 million between last December and June this year.

This was largely because the popular Ren Ci charity show, which brought in the lion's share of donations for the community hospital, was stopped while the probe was underway.

The televised show, started in 2003, raised more than $7 million per show in the past two years.

Mr Chua said as a result, Ren Ci's reserve has shrunk to $28.6 million, which is enough to run the charity for another 22 months, if no extra funds are forthcoming.

The charity's annual operating cost is about $18 million.

Ren Ci is the second largest charity, after the National Kidney Foundation, overseen by the Health Ministry.