Ven Ming Yi recounts struggle to set up Ren Ci Hospital

The Electric New Paper, April 23, 2009

Singapore -- HIS parents disapproved of his becoming a monk. It took him six years to persuade his mother, former Ren Ci chief Ming Yi told the court yesterday.

<< Ming Yi

Taking the stand for the first time, he broke down several times and choked back tears as he related his struggles in becoming a monk and later the abbot of Foo Hai Ch'an monastery.

He was also emotional when talking about his setbacks when setting up his 'baby' - Ren Ci Hospital.

As the youngest child and the only son, he revealed, one of his many struggles was to overcome his parents' initial disapproval of monkhood.

Testifying in English, he said that he spent six years persuading his mother to let him become a monk.

She eventually relented when he was 22 years old, and her only advice to him then was for him to become a good monk.

As a novice monk, he said he had to make ends meet by conducting funeral rites, which he disliked doing.

Ming Yi is on trial, together with his former personal aide, Raymond Yeung Chi Hang, for covering up an unauthorised loan of $50,000.

Shin Min Daily News reported that Ming Yi, 47, broke down when he spoke about his benefactor, the late Venerable Siong Khye.

Using his hands to wipe away his tears several times, he related how he became acquainted with Venerable Siong Khye and how the latter had asked him to take care of the Foo Hai Ch'an monastery before he died.

He spoke about how Venerable Siong Khye had approached him in 1990 for help in running the monastery after the previous female abbot left suddenly.

He teared up as he described how the two men found the monastery compound in disrepair when they visited it and how most of the temple's property had been removed and sold.

Venerable Siong Khye died soon after undergoing an operation to remove a tumour from his brain.

Fighting back tears, Ming Yi also described how Ren Ci hospital was set up to fulfil Venerable Siong Khye's last wish.

His move to fulfil his mentor's wish for a hospital for destitutes run by Buddhists started modestly with a day care centre for the elderly in Yuhua.

Then the ward's MP, Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, suggested that he take over a wing in the then-Woodbridge Hospital for the destitute and mentally ill.

Patients tied to bed

He broke down again as he recounted his first visit there and saw some patients screaming and crying and others being tied to their beds.

He faced naysayers who thought the idea was too far-fetched and tried to dissuade him from going ahead.

'I am a Buddhist monk. The worse it is, the more I have to go into it,' Ming Yi said.

So he persevered and set up the present Ren Ci Hospital.

But funding pressure eventually led to the management committee venturing into business, and that was how an artefacts firm called Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre came about.

The ongoing trial centres on the $50,000 loan that Ming Yi supposedly gave to Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre but which had ended up with Yeung, who apparently used the money to renovate a friend's flat in Hong Kong.

The court has also heard that Ming Yi owns three properties in upscale areas - on Orchard Road, Stevens Road and Holland Road - which were bought with Foo Hai Ch'an monastery's money and were meant to be investments.

He even owned a BMW car in Melbourne, Australia, as recently as two years ago.

The court proceedings also revealed that Ming Yi kept no record of and never paid taxes for the hongbao donations he received from his followers.

It was revealed that he received as much as HK$100,000($19,500) in donations from Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing, reported Lianhe Wanbao.

He used the donations to pay for his lavish lifestyle, including his credit card debts.

According to documents tendered in court, he had so many credit cards, he could not keep track of them.

He had at least nine gold credit cards to his name from different banks and gave supplementary cards to three men but could not remember how many each had.

Two of the three people were his former personal aides.

Ming Yi's explanation for his lifestyle was: 'I think we are living in a modern world.'

When asked what he meant by that, he replied: 'The modern world. I think the world is different, right? The world has changed. It's different.'

He added: 'A lot of religious people, not only myself, are very different now.'

The case continues.

About the case

MING Yi, the former chief of Ren Ci Hospital, faces four charges for making an unauthorised $50,000 loan from Ren Ci's funds to his former personal aide, Raymond Yeung, on 17 May 2004.

He is also said to have provided false information to the Commissioner of Charities in stating that the $50,000 loan was to buy wood for statues.

Yeung faces two charges related to the case.

It was revealed that Yeung was paid by Ren Ci Hospital, although he had no permit to work here. His pay was credited by the charity into the salary of Ming Yi, who then passed Yeung what was due to him.

Ming Yi earned a salary of $16,000 in May 2001. But this was increased to $20,700 a month later to take in Yeung's pay.