Philanthropy minus transparency equals loss of trust, celebrities discover

By Long Nguyen   May 26, 2021 | 05:12 am PT
Celebrities seeking to do charity by soliciting public donations face a backlash when they fail to use the money transparently.

In the last few days the online community has been agog with allegations about comedian Hoai Linh’s failure to use the VND13.4 billion ($581,742) he raised from the public last October.

With the central region hit by storms and flooding in the month, many artists called on local donors for support, including Hoai Linh, who said he was sad to see people lose their loved ones and houses in the floods, telling benefactors to send money to his bank account.

"[I] plan to head to the central region with this money," he wrote on his Facebook page on November 11.

But while many other artists have traveled to the central region and showed financial support, people have yet to see Linh visit the area though he posts a lot of visuals of his daily activities.

Senior actor Hoai Linh faces backlash as people said he had done nothing to help flood victims six months after he raised his fund. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Comedian Hoai Linh faces a backlash for failing to help flood victims six months after he raised VND13.4 billion from public contributions. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Linh said the money is still in his bank account, and he has not traveled to the central region because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Please trust [me]. I will carry out the mission and papers showing my charitable activities."

But his claim has caused skepticism.

"So he said he could not travel to the central due to the pandemic, but he still headed up north to Dien Bien and Lai Chau... such a lie," Nguyen Thi Minh Hang, who claimed she used to be a fan of Linh until this happened, said.

In the last six months many donors, celebrities and businesses have tried to help flood victims while Linh did nothing, Nguyen Trung Thanh, a banker in Saigon, said.

But some others are willing to give the actor the benefit of doubt saying donors and fans should be patient and give him some time before judging him.

According to Bui Quoc Tuan, Saigon-based lawyer, Hoai Linh’s plans to distribute donations are faulty, having kept the money for more than six months, while flood victims are in dire need.

Linh also violated the law, which states donations must be distributed no more than 20 days after the fund stops receiving money, the lawyer added.

In the last few years, private individuals, mostly celebrities, have created charity funds and called for public donations before gifting the money to those in need. However, some have faced criticism for lack of transparency.

In October 2016, TV host Phan Anh faced community backlash after he sent donor money meant for flood victims to a fund supporting heart disease patients. Raising VND24 billion ($1.04 million) thanks to his fans, Anh later held a press conference and set up a website to update the public on his charitable activities, though many people remained skeptical, demanding a refund.

Some celebs were criticized because of the amount of money they donated. Last year, H’Hen Nie, Miss Universe Vietnam 2017, was called stingy after donating VND50 million ($2,167) to flood victims in the central region. Singer Dong Nhi, model Minh Tu, and TV host Tran Thanh all faced the same issue when publicizing their donations.

Some others like pop singer Thuy Tien haves always put charitable transparency first.

"I appreciate transparency when it comes to donations," Tien maintained.

Last year, Thuy Tien, raised a record VND177 billion ($7.6 million) for the central region flood victims, met with many families and handed over money, food, medicines, and other necessities.

She also shared photos of bank statements and bills for the goods she had bought.

Photos of Tien traveling to flooded areas and helping people amid pouring rain moved a lot of people.

Pop singer Thuy Tien handles cash to a man in the central region. Photo courtesy of Thuy Tien.

Pop singer Thuy Tien hands over money to a flood victim in the central region in 2020. Photo courtesy of Thuy Tien.

To get around this problem and avoid criticism, many suggest that philanthropists should work with an organization.

Sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh told VnExpress International: "Famous people, anyone, doing philanthropy should be appreciated. But if one keeps a huge amount of money given by others, they must be transparent and make the distribution public."

The trust fans have in their idols could be ruined in an instant, he added.

Veteran singer Kim Cuong always tells her fans to send their donations to the HCMC Sponsoring Association for Poor Patients. Thanks to this, all her charitable works now include detailed bills and papers.

Echoing Cuong’s opinion, Pham Kim Dung, chairwoman of Suoi Mat Tu Tam, a newly-founded charity, said artists should have a team supporting them in philanthropic work.

Celebs should also distribute donations as quick as possible to help those in need, many artists stressed.

Tien traveled to the central region right after receiving donations from her fans, regardless of extreme weather.

Even when prevented from traveling, etc. artists should still provide regular updates to donors. Singer Luong Thuy Linh, creating a fund last year to support a central kindergarten, has not traveled to the field due to landslides and the pandemic. However, she has explained the situation to her fans and called for their sympathy.

The State Budget Department under the Ministry of Finance said it has finalized a bill with rules about raising funds, receiving and distributing money from donors.

The ministry advised those creating such funds to use the donated money, and provide updates to local authorities for support and consultation. Donations from individuals must be transparent, it said.

Chan Ngoc Giau, chairman of HCMC Stage Artists' Association, suggested his colleagues carefully check regulations before calling for and distributing donations.

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