Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pastor Kong Hee accused of plagiarism

by Angela Lim

The hits just keep on coming for City Harvest founder, Pastor Kong Hee.

Two weeks after it was revealed that the 46-year-old is among a group of 17 church members being investigated for misuse of funds, Kong Hee is now being accused of plagiarism in his books and website.

The Straits Times reports that two American authors of a Christian study book have accused him of using their work without proper credit or permission.

Although Professor Sid Buzzell and Dr Kenneth Boa say they will take no legal action on Kong Hee, both have asked the Pastor to stop using their material immediately. Otherwise, Professor Buzzell would “threaten him with exposure to his church”.

Kong Hee had copied the authors’ work without due credit in two books he published entitled ‘Renewing Your Spiritual Enegery in 90 Days’ Volumes I and II. Both books are still available at major Christian bookstores from $15 to $18.90.

Apart from the two books, Kong Hee had also been using the American authors’ material for daily posts on his personal website. His last entry in his blog ‘Daily Devotion’ was posted last Monday and it included a note which said, “We could have been more careful to credit any source of inspiration used.”

News of Kong Hee’s plagiarism was first exposed by Singaporean blogger Tee Kay Hetch, who then alerted the American authors.

The latest news comes after the recent announcement by City Harvest that its leader and founder was taking a “well-needed break”.

He has so far refrained from making any public appearance since news broke of the investigation regarding the misuse of church funds.

Reaction to the investigation has sparked a huge debate, with many Singaporeans weighing in on the issue. Close to a staggering 7,500 comments can be found at the end of this post alone.

Some have defended the church while proclaiming their faith in its leadership while others applaud the move to audit the church’s finances.

It is obvious the probe has touched a raw nerve, and rightly so, because religion is and always will be a touchy and delicate subject in the multi-racial, multi-faith context of Singapore.

And while we must not jump to conclusions – Pastor Kong Hee and his staff are innocent until proven otherwise – it’s clear something is amiss.

Reports of the largest mega-church in Singapore (over 32,000 members) having amassed millions of dollars in reserves started to raise eyebrows years ago.

From a small church which started in 1989, City Harvest now boasts a 14,000 sq foot office in Suntec and its own $47 million building in Jurong West. It has 45 affiliate churches in Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Australia with a total of 48,000 members. It employs 154 full-time staff and has 15 committees overseeing all its operations.

$40 million alone was spent in the last financial year.

Despite the much publicised fact that Kong Hee, 46, hasn’t been paid a salary by the church since 2005, the Pastor and his pop-star wife Sun Ho continue to attract their fair share of detractors. In particular, many others have criticised his wife for her celebrity lifestyle, raunchy music videos and daring dress sense. She has also made no comment since the investigation started.

But what the startlingly similar scandals involving the NKF, Ren Ci and Youth Challenge have taught us is that excess often leads to temptation. By all accounts, the leaders of all three non-profit organisations started off humbly and upheld genuinely noble ideals, until money — more than they knew what to do with — quickly led them down the path of greed, materalism and corruption.

In July 2005, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation, T. T. Durai, was arrested for making false declarations on NKF’s accounts. Lurid details of first-class air travel, a fleet of luxury cars at his beck and call, a $600,000 annual salary and even a golden tap in his private office suite emerged. During a much publicised trial, it was revealed in court that NKF had amassed $262 million in reserves.

A year later in 2006, Youth Challenge, which sends students overseas to do humanitarian work, came under fire for poor management practices and was subsequently voted for closure. Its leader, Vincent Lam – a former police officer who set it up in 1985 to keep aimless youths off the streets — was found to have an extravagant annual pay package of nearly $250,000 - 56 % of the charity’s total income. He resigned a year later. In March this year, Youth Challenge folded.

In 2008, Reverend Ming Yi, the chairman of Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre, was charged with forgery, conspiracy and misuse of funds. He allegedly approved million-dollar investments for Ren Ci, but the funds included loans for himself. Stories of BMW cars, lavish condos and excessive splurging were revealed in court with the monk defending his lifestyle as that of “a modern monk”. Just last week, his jail sentence was reduced from 10 months in jail to just six.

And now, City Harvest Church, which recently invested in a whopping S$310 million stake in Suntec City Convention Centre. In its 2009 audit, it was found to have S$103 million in reserves.

From March next year, CHC will be renting a convention hall from Suntec Convention Centre which will include a 12,000-seat main auditorium, 10 meeting rooms, a multi-purpose hall, theatre and concourse on the top floors.

Check out how it raised funds for the impending move.

Benjamin Tan, 26, who makes regular contributions to his own church, told Yahoo! Singapore, ”When it comes to religious organisations like City Harvest, the money they receive should be more than enough to cover the maintenance of the church. I see no need for a reserve fund, or the investment of excess.”

“The role of religion is the worship of God, not a tool or vehicle to make money,” he adds.

Another senior church leader agreed, saying the sums of money being reported made him uncomfortable.

“Money is meant to flow through the church. There is no need for it to amass so much money because the Bible teaches us that, at the end of the day, we must have faith that God will provide,” he said.

Others disagree.

A 22-year-old City Harvest churchgoer, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Any organisation that wants to do anything on a large scale needs a large amount of finances, be it charity work or even day-to-day administration.”

“City Harvest Church needs such a large amount of funds partly because it runs one of the largest community service organisations in Singapore – City Harvest Community Service Association (CHCSA),” he explains.

The CHCSA sent teams to Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami as well as sent medical and relief teams to help in the Haiti earthquake in January this year.

Whatever the reasons behind the financial complications in these organisations, one thing is certain — it is often the needy and those who really depend on them for prayer, food, treatment and life’s basic necessities who suffer the most.

Ren Ci Hospital, for example, suffered a severe plunge in donations from S$9.3 million in 2007 to just S$1.1 million in 2008. A drop in NKF donations also saw the organisation dipping into its reserves to keep its commitments to Singaporeans suffering from kidney failure.

Perhaps even more damaging is that instead of celebrating the many success stories by these charity and religious bodies which so often go un-noticed, the general public begin to question and doubt.

“Do my tithes or donations really help the needy?”

“What’s my money being used for?”

“How much do they already have in their offers?”

So, tell us, just how much money is needed to run a charity or a religious organisation? Is it right that they be run and financed like a private corporation? Or is the concept of a simply-run, no-frills church an out-dated model in this day and age?

1 comment:

  1. City Harvest Church is not on equal terms with the NGOs quoted. These NGOs are charitable organisations with charity as its ethos but not CHC which is a spiritual entity with a stake in JESUS CHRIST'S GREAT COMMISSION. If you have ears, let us hear and not to be misguided.