As donations began flowing into Sichuan after the recent earthquake, something curious happened. The Red Cross Society of China, the government-administered Red Cross association operating in Mainland China, was receiving donations at a level lower than other private aid organizations. By the end of Sunday, one day after the earthquake, the Red Cross had only received approximately $10 million in donations, while other private charities had received over $12 million.
Chinese philanthropists are still wary of the organization after a scandal in 2011, when a woman claiming to be a senior member of the Red Cross publicly flaunted her wealth. She posted pictures of her multiple high-priced hand bags and bragged about her Maserati and Lamborghini on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
That scandal only highlighted a larger issue at hand — the fact that the Red Cross in China is a government agency.
While Red Cross organizations all over the world operate with special government exceptions — for example, the American Red Cross is formally authorized by law to provide emergency services, the administrators of China’s organization are paid by the government. The work that the organization does and the aid that they provide is decided on by government employees. They are one of two aid organizations in China that can solicit donations.
And while government involvement in an organization would logically make the organization more transparent and open to scrutiny, the opposite is true in China. Charities run by private businesses in China report more information to the public and have been much more efficient and much more accountable.
While the work done by the Red Cross Society of China is laudable, so much more could be done if the organization worked independently of the government. Much of their work is already funded by the goodness of the people. It’s time for transparency and to let the goodness of the people guide the organization as well. (end)