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RCSC denies re-opening Guo Meimei investigation

By Chen Tian (Global Times)

08:24, April 28, 2013

The Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) denied media reports Friday that it was planning to reopen an investigation into the "Guo Meimei Affair," a scandal that shattered the charity's credibility two years ago, amid widespread criticism and debates over its role in the Ya'an earthquake relief efforts.

Wang Rupeng, secretary general of RCSC, said Friday that reports saying they were starting a new round of investigations were false, but they would "welcome and cooperate" with any investigation launched by the independent committee established to oversee the organization.

Experts have expressed pessimism that an investigation into the Guo Meimei affair would help dispel public doubts over the legitimacy of the organization, instead suggesting significant structural reform.

Li Danyang, a public administration scholar with Beihang University, told the Global Times that an investigation wouldn't solve the RCSC's fundamental problem, which is its very nature as a government-operated charity organization.

Public skepticism toward the RCSC is a reflection of mistrust toward the government, Li said, and the charity's credibility crisis should urge authorities to disclose information in a timely manner.

Shi Changkui, a charity expert with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that credibility crises with government bodies is normal, as China is quickly shifting its society from a tightly controlled one to a society that is more liberal and market-based, with more people are demanding the ability to supervise the work of the authorities.

"Organizations such as the RCSC need time to adjust to these dramatic changes," Shi said.

Li said that the RCSC should be operated by a chief executive officer and watched over by a board of directors.

Both Li and Shi said that the RCSC's credibility crisis had boosted support for non-government charity groups such as the One Foundation, a trend which is likely to continue into the future.

In mid-April, China's legislators announced they would amend China's Red Cross Law, which might reduce government control over the RCSC, staff at the organization said the proposed probe was still pending a final decision.

The independent committee overseeing the RCSC, launched last year, is made up of 16 professionals with various backgrounds including law and finance. The committee said on its official Sina Weibo account that it planned to reopen investigations into the scandal.

The committee members reached a "preliminary consensus" to "thoroughly reinvestigate Guo Meimei" with the help of the public. The post also and the RCSC was willing to offer assistance.

"If the RCSC doesn't thoroughly investigate the Guo scandal, it will be extremely difficult for it to regain its credibility," Wang Yong, director of the supervising committee, said on Saturday.

While the post received thousands of comments and reposts and received coverage from major media outlets, it was denied two days later by Wang Rupeng, who said that the idea to reopen the case was just "suggestions made by two members of the supervising committee."

"No one with the RCSC said we were going to re-investigate GMM, and the social monitoring committee hasn't held any meetings that made a decision to re-investigate GMM," he wrote.

The scandal is still plaguing the charity's reputation as it seeks donations for victims of quake-rattled Ya'an city in Sichuan Province, with thousands of netizens posting "go away" and harsh criticisms on the organization's official Weibo account.

Deng Guosheng, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that grass-roots charities could not replace the RCSC, because government charities have access to much more in terms of financial and logistical resources.

Guo Meimei is a young woman who claimed to be a general manager of "Red Cross Commerce," and bragged about her wealth online in 2011. The charity later conducted an investigation into the matter with the help of government agencies, and issued a report saying that Guo had nothing to do with the RCSC.

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