EDITORIAL: Donations should go to relief

Thu, Apr 07, 2011 - Page 8

Unlike the high-profile, flamboyant Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao (陳光標), many Taiwanese carry out their charitable deeds quietly. Donations for relief efforts after the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 are no exception. Government information shows donations from Taiwanese and local charity groups had reached more than NT$3 billion (US$103.5 million) by late last month.

It therefore comes as a shock and causes mixed feelings among many donors to learn that the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China (ROC) decided to send only a fraction of Taiwan’s collective love to Japan in what the organization called the initial phase of relief. According to the organization, a total of NT$1.5 billion had been raised from the public as of March 28. During a meeting on March 31, its management unanimously agreed to give the Red Cross in Japan US$15 million for emergency relief first and withhold the remaining sum until the Japanese came up with a clearer reconstruction and rebuilding plan.

This is dumbfounding. How could the Red Cross Society of the ROC take upon itself to decide how the funds should be used when Taiwanese donors’ intentions were clear that their donations were for relief, not to meddle in Japan’s domestic affairs?

The organization, in its defense, argued that it is its long-standing policy to give out large disaster relief funds in phases, depending on the need of the country.

As Article 19 of the Charity Donations Act (公益勸募條例) clearly stipulates that donations raised by charitable groups cannot be used for purposes other than what was stated in a plan approved by the authorities, the Red Cross in Taiwan should make its plan public. If the plan is found to contain little detail, the responsibility would fall on the authorities.

The latest controversy concerning the organization reminds many that this is not the first time it has seemingly taken the liberty to allot funds donated by the public for purposes different from the donors’ original intent. Many vividly recall that in June, 2008, it decided to donate NT$64 million — an amount it received from the Taipei City Government’s leftover 921 Earthquake relief funds — to a school in China following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

While some may argue that the donation went to a good cause anyway by helping the students in Sichuan, the problem lies in donors not being properly informed as to how their donations will be used.

While the latest controversy should not denigrate the Red Cross Society of the ROC, which has earned recognition for its good work in the past, the latest incident was a further instance of the organization seemingly arbitrarily deciding how to use donations without the donors’ consent. The organization should conduct its operations with transparency if it is to maintain its reputation.

Some Netizens posting on a Facebook group said that they had lost confidence in the Red Cross Society of the ROC and would take their donations to other relief groups. It would be an utter shame if the organization tarnished its hard-won reputation — and more importantly, tarnished Taiwanese humanitarian relief efforts and betrayed the kindness of the Taiwanese.