By Lee Siew Hua & Jennani Durai, Straits Times, 21 Jul 2o12
SALES manager Benjamin Kong, 39, started giving to his Methodist church in his teens, putting a dollar or two into the offering bag on Sundays. He had simple notions then of how the collection was spent, figuring that ‘the church needs upkeep, the staff need salaries’.
Two decades later, he notices more. The church bulletin carries news about groups supported by his parish, so he senses that cash is worthily deployed. ‘We also get an annual report and I glance at that but don’t query the accounts,’ he says.
He would, however, expect fuller transparency from a charity. So if he donates to a specific cause such as buying walking aids for the disabled but the money is used for something else, he would be upset.
‘But for a church or other religious groups, because expenditure covers such a range of things, people believe the money is going to some good cause somewhere,’ he says. ‘People are less likely to question where exactly the money has gone.’
Across faith groups, this abiding trust in the goodness and wisdom of spiritual leaders seems pervasive.
It is not blind faith but recent charges against leaders of City Harvest Church, for alleged criminal breach of trust, have put back in the spotlight the sensitive issue of religious giving and how best to regulate it.
The sums involved are large. In 2010, religious charities received $1.6 billion.
That figure would be even higher if older institutions such as the Anglican and Catholic churches here, which are exempt from registering under the Charities Act, were included. The stakes are high because the monies being donated are tied to individuals’ faith in their spiritual leaders and God.
The challenge is complicated by the range of religious groups, which differ in size and vintage and leadership structures.
The task is perhaps beyond any one regulator. That is why the Commissioner of Charities (COC) makes plain in its 2011 annual report that it looks to the public to play its role, by ‘donating with generosity and discernment’.
SINGAPORE has in recent years seen the rise of new, rich spiritual players, such as mega-churches. Also, there is a trend of charities engaging in business.
In 2010, the charity sector had a total income of $10.7 billion. Of this sum, the ‘Religious and others’ sector received $1.6 billion (15 per cent) – from donations, government grants and fees for services.
Religion ranked second behind the mighty education sector, which topped the income league of charities by pulling in $6.8 billion (63.4 per cent).
The presence of religious groups is huge. In 2005, the ‘Religious and others’ category formed the lion’s share, or 51.4 per cent, of all registered charities. This figure climbed to 59.5 per cent last year – or 1,245 religious charities. Continue reading