Anger as China Quake Donations Left Sitting in Bank

The Epoch Times
Thursday, Sept 18, 2008

TORONTO—Anger has erupted in Toronto’s Chinese community after news that money donated in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake sat in a local bank account for nearly four months.
A local Chinese organization—the National Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC)—has been under fire for holding onto roughly $1.3 million in donations, and questions are being raised about why the group had not put the money to use earlier.

A 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated parts of central China when it struck Sichuan Province on May 12. Over 70,000 are believed to have died, many of them school children. The quake was felt 1500 km away in Beijing.

The NCCC, a nationwide pro-Beijing association, responded quickly after the quake. With the help of Toronto Liberal Member of Parliament Jim Karygiannis, the group was able to gain temporary charitable status from Revenue Canada just 12 days after the disaster hit, on May 24. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) even agreed to match donations.

Karygiannis joined leaders of the NCCC and officials from the Toronto Chinese consulate at a press conference to announce the donation drive. The consulate endorsed the effort.

With the charity in place, the NCCC soon collected $1.3 million, much of it from individual donors. The group sent medical supplies and 2,400 tents to China, but the rest of the money sat in an account at the Toronto branch of the Bank of China, a Chinese state-owned bank of which NCCC executive Ping Tan is a chair.

But as weeks and months passed, donors began to raise questions about what had happened to the funds. Those questions soon turned to sharp criticisms.

“How can you expect anything from these people?” wrote one participant in a Chinese-language chat room.

“The rebuilding after the earthquake is close to finished, yet they still have 80 per cent of the donations in their account,” wrote another. “The relief fund was like saving people's lives. I cannot understand what was in their minds.”

Many others expressed similar views
A well-known Toronto Chinese charity fundraiser was among those to raise concern. Helen Lu, a member of the Order of Ontario and recipient of the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship says she can’t understand why the money was held for so long.

“If you have a fundraiser you have to right away give the money,” she said.

Lu, who raises funds for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, United Way, and other organizations, says she normally sends her donations onto to recipients within a week.

Lu declined to offer her opinion of the NCCC but said she questioned where the organization gets its influence. She says she turned down an offer to serve as a consultant to the NCCC in its donation drive.

She’s now concerned that the controversy may deter Chinese donors from contributing to other charities.

“It will make people think next time, and worry that someone will keep the money,” she said. “How come the money was still in Canada? It was supposed to go to China a long long time ago.”

The Epoch Times put that question to Ping Tan, the NCCC executive leading the Sichuan donation effort.

“I don’t have to tell you,” Tan answered, when reached by phone Wednesday.

He told an Epoch Times reporter to refer to Chinese media reports.

But Chinese-language media reports appear to leave many questions unanswered. The Global Chinese Press quotes Tan as saying the delay came about because fundraising is complex and the nine-member foundation committee was busy with their own work.

Other reports were searing
One article on September 8, North America Weekly Times, a Toronto Chinese newspaper, quoted sources saying the NCCC originally intended to invest it in Sichuan, a charge Tan later denied.

In fact, in early September a storm of criticism began brewing in local Chinese-language press and chat rooms, where many expressed anger that their donations had not been put to use.

But as the controversy mounted, Tan was nowhere to be found. He was on a month-long trip to China, which included attending the Beijing Olympic Games.

After the Olympics, Tan made a trip to Sichuan and, according to reports, spent at least one day investigating conditions in earthquake-torn areas.

Tan returned to Canada on Sept. 5. A day later, Tan and the other leaders of the National Congress’s Sichuan earthquake committee met to discuss what to do with the funds, reports said.

On Sept. 9, eight of the nine fund executives were present at a press conference where they announced the money would be donated to the Red Cross of China by way of the Canadian Red Cross.

On Sept. 13, at an event in Montreal the NCCC presented a cheque for $1.3 million to the Red Cross. Ping Tan also presented an award to MP Jim Karygiannis.

“When the Congress called on him for help, he was there right away,” Ping Tan is quoted as saying in a post that appears at the top of Karygiannis’s election website. “He devoted considerable time and energy to help us mount the Canada-wide relief effort.”

Karygiannis’s website makes no mention of the controversy that surrounded the donations and he did not return phone calls from The Epoch Times as of press time.

Reached Wednesday, a Red Cross spokesperson declined to comment on whether the delay in sending the funds was unusual, but she noted the money would “be put to use immediately.”

Nonetheless, some in the Chinese community remain upset. Some say they contributed to the NCCC because they were concerned of corruption in the Chinese Red Cross, where the money will now be transferred.

Others were left wondering why, if the NCCC had intended to donate the funds to the Red Cross, they had waited so long to do it.

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