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Red Cross Society promises reforms

Updated: 2012-08-03 09:46
By Shan Juan ( China Daily)

Red Cross Society promises reforms

Zhao Baige, the executive vice-president of the Red Cross Society of China, at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday. [Photo// China News Service]

In a bid to regain diminished public trust, the Red Cross Society of China has promised a series of reforms, including an online donation tracking system that is expected to be in place by year-end.

Zhao Baige, the society's executive vice-president, outlined the plans at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday.

The news conference follows the State Council's Tuesday release of guidelines on developing the country's Red Cross missions.

"The document, for the first time, clearly defines the nature, position, role, and responsibilities of the Red Cross in China today, which should be an open and transparent humanitarian organization, not just a fund-raising charity group," she said.

The guideline recognized the Red Cross as an indispensable auxiliary to the government in the humanitarian field, and as such, one that requires a favorable environment of law, policy, and public opinion.

"That's recognition and support from the government for the Red Cross, which previously suffered a credibility crisis," said Deng Guosheng, a professor specializing in philanthropic studies at the School of Public Policy and Management with the Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The Red Cross faced such questions of its credibility last year after Guo Meimei, who claimed to be a manager of a Red Cross-related organization, flaunted a lavish lifestyle over the Internet. That sparked mass speculation about possible corruption in the society.

Zhao called that incident a "growing pain" of the Red Cross, adding that the controversy has "somewhat prompted a top-down reform in the organization to address existing problems and gradually meet public expectations."

Creating transparency tops the reform agenda.

The Red Cross Society at various levels must provide information related to fundraising, financial management, tenders, procurement and distribution of donations. Donors and the public have the right to know the details, the guidelines said.

To facilitate that, an efficient, transparent and normative system of management, information and supervision, including a donation-tracking system, will be established within three to five years, Zhao said.

Furthermore, the system will be expanded to 80 percent of the provincial branches of the RCSC by the end of 2013 and later to more than 50 percent of the Red Cross organizations at the county level by the end of 2014, she added.

"It will help the RCSC improve its transparency with the functions of fundraising management, publicizing the use of funds, and risk warning in material management," she said.

The guidelines also outline a fund-management plan for the society.

The costs for carrying out humanitarian tasks supported by donations can be disbursed but must be publicly publicized, the guidelines said.

"That's in line with international practice, and we need an operation mechanism that correspond with both the socialist market-economy system and international humanitarian values to sustain our work," Zhao said.

A spokesman system will be introduced to better communicate with the public and help secure transparency, she added.

Deng, the Tsinghua University professor, praised the reforms but expressed concerns about their implementation.

"Regarding reform measures, particularly those on strengthening the society's management and supervision over its local branches, I don't think they have the incentive to do so, given that they are now funded by local governments," he said.

Zhao agreed, saying, "The way it has operated and practiced for so long might be a barrier to the reform."

Wang Rupeng, the society's secretary-general, said that in some areas, there is too much government interference into the local Red Cross's organizing mechanism, internal governance, and routine operation.

At more than 40 percent of the Chinese counties across the mainland, the Red Cross remains under local health departments, he said.

"The Red Cross should be allowed more independence to better carry out its tasks in the country," Deng said.

He expected that such a document issued by the State Council would help propel the new reforms, particularly at the local level.