New controversy over the handling of public health donations

  • Home
  • >
  • News
  • >
  • New controversy over the handling of public health donations

After the recent criticism levelled at the Red Cross Society of Hubei for allegedly mismanaging donations, another charity has come under criticism for the way it has handled donations for the coronavirus health crisis.

The Wuhan branch of the China Charity Federation is now finding itself at the centre of controversy, after it was reported last week that it had transferred most of the donations it received from the public to the local government. The Charity Federation, alongside the Red Cross, is one of the five charities that have been officially appointed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs to handle all public donations of money and supplies going to the coronavirus outbreak. The China Charity Federation was officially established in 1994 as a membership association, with government backing. It reports to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

As reported by Caixin, the controversy erupted following an article published on the 10th of February by a magazine belonging to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, claiming that by the 2nd of February the Wuhan Charity Federation had received a total of 3.02 billion in public donations, and that it had already turned over 2.7 billion to the city’s finance department. This attracted criticism from both the public and academics. On the 12th the Wuhan Charity Federation released an official statements, explaining that the Wuhan Epidemic Prevention and Control Centre (武汉市疫情防控指挥部) had determined that it should make use of general donations to the Wuhan Charity Federation, in order to integrate and centralize the management of the funds and ensure that they were used to the best effect. The statement also revealed that the funds had been put to use to build quarantine facilities and provide other supplies in a number of different hospitals.

Caixin then contacted members of staff from the Wuhan Epidemic Prevention and Control Centre, who confirmed that the Finance Department was only managing the funds on their behalf, and that their institution would decide how to distribute the funds to aid the relief efforts. Prof. Ma Jianyin, director of the Research Centre on Charity and Non-profit Law at Beijing Normal University, told Caixin that “according to the ‘Charity Law’, when a charity disburses its funds it cannot turn them over to the government in such a simple fashion. The government should have a concrete plan or program design for using the funds, in order to apply for the deployment of the donations. The plan and program design for the use of the funds should first be submitted to the charity for reference. Even if there is an urgent need to use some of the funds immediately, detailed records should be kept”.

Tinsghua Professor Jia Xijin was reported by the South China Morning Post as saying that the Charity Federation would have best managed the donations itself, rather than simply handing them over, and that the Federation’s statement does not provide sufficient details regarding the way that the donations were used (link here). The China Philanthropy Research Institute of Beijing Normal University also weighed in with an article published on its WeChat account, in which it argued that according to the relevant laws and regulations, it is appropriate to hand over donations to a government agency in the case of an emergency, as long as the funds are used exclusively to deal with that emergency. The article also argues that the Ministry of Civil Affairs clearly stated in its original announcement on the 26th of January that donations of unspecified use going to the five appointed charities should in principle be deployed by the local epidemic prevention and control centres.