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Red Cross faces credibility crisis

(China Daily)

08:32, August 10, 2011

A few days after the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan earthquake struck in May 2008, Li Wenyu donated money to the Red Cross Society of China. She expected her donation would help relieve the suffering of victims, help them overcome perhaps the hardest time of their lives.

She asked for a receipt and later found a record of the donation on her online bank account. The Red Cross never told her how the money was spent, she said, but she trusted the largest emergency aid foundation in China - until late June.

A woman calling herself "Guo Meimei Baby" claimed on her micro blog to be the "commercial general manager" of the Red Cross, boasted of her fortune and posted pictures of her Hermes handbags and white Maserati. The photos plunged the Red Cross into a credibility crisis over its use of donations.

"Guo" later admitted that she had made it all up, but the damage was done. The Red Cross could only disavow any association with her; it did not provide accounting data as evidence.

"I felt like I had been cheated," said Li, 36 and a software engineer. "The scandal changed my attitude toward public foundations. Next time I will choose more transparent organizations in Hong Kong and Taiwan or send the money directly to the target recipients."

To pacify the angry public, the Red Cross rushed a donation information platform onto its website on July 31, but various mistakes drew harsh criticism.

For example, Web users found that two health centers for women and children built in earthquake-stricken Yushu, Qinghai province received equal allocations of donations, although one was five times larger than the other. The Red Cross Society of Qinghai apologized, blaming a staff worker for sending wrong data to the Red Cross Society of China without having it examined by the supervisor.

"The platform is an important step toward transparency, which the Red Cross promoted. It is still in a trial period and will probably come up with more problems," the national society said in a written statement sent to China Daily.

"We will collect complaints and suggestions from all sides, take the rational part of the opinions, and make improvements to better satisfy the information-searching demands of our donors."

The public didn't buy it. Li did not even bother to go to the platform to check where her money went, after she had learned that only those who donated at least 100,000 yuan ($15,550) could find their names.

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