Vietnamese celebs face scandal over philanthropy

By Long Nguyen, Nhat ThuSeptember 17, 2021 | 06:42 am PT
Fans have called on local celebrities to publicize details of the money they solicited for charitable activities due to the lack of transparency.

On Friday, singer Thuy Tien publicized bank statements of the money she called for in public donations last year.

In 2020, the singer raised VND177 billion ($7.7 million), the largest amount of donations a Vietnamese artist had raised at the time. Tien directly visited central provinces to hand money and gifts to people suffering from flooding and hurricanes.

But since then, she has faced a myriad of questions regarding how she used the public donation in her bank account.

Tien and her husband Cong Vinh, a former footballer, have posted many live-streamed videos to claim they did not benefit from donations.

Vinh and Tien are not alone. Many other Vietnamese celebrities have faced public outcries after rumors about their charitable use of public donations money. Though many have called for greater transparency, few celebs have been willing to release financial information.

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

Comedian Tran Thanh was one of the first celebs responding to the public call, posting more than 1,000 pages of bank statements for VND9.6 billion donated to support flood victims in central Vietnam last year. Previously, many people had asked Thanh to publicize these documents, but it was not until the afternoon of Sept. 7 that the artist did so.

He said before releasing the papers, he had consulted with accountants and lawyers, asserting that he did not do anything wrong.

"If I am wrong, the first thing I have to face is the law. If they continue to affect my honor, my life and attack my family, I will ask the law to deal with fabrications," he said in a Facebook video.

In addition to Tran Thanh and Thuy Tien, singer Dam Vinh Hung is also rumored to have solicited funds of more than VND1.8 billion. He said he was filing a lawsuit against the person who slandered him, and would invite a professional auditing firm to check the money and give his fans appropriate answers.

The slow release of bank statements and a lack of transparency are the main culprits leading to these scandals.

Hung admitted it was his fault for not releasing detailed information on donations and expenditure. In Thuy Tien's case, fans disagreed when she called for a large amount of money but only announced the disbursement on written A4 papers.

In May, senior comedian Hoai Linh was slow to disburse more than VND13 billion in donations and did not promptly notify his donors, causing public backlash.

According to experts, calling for donations sent to personal bank accounts is a risky thing to do for an artist since it could easily cause them trouble.

Lawyer Tran Minh Hung in Ho Chi Minh City said domestic charity activities have flourished in the past decade, but that there are no specific regulations. According to him, it is not reasonable for artists to use personal bank accounts to solicit public money. However, the process for individuals to set up a fund is quite complicated, requiring many procedures, financial conditions, and capacity.

Singer My Tam (R) hands over money to a poor woman in southern Long An Province, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Pham

Singer My Tam (R) hands over money to a poor woman in southern Long An Province, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Pham

To avoid scandals, many celebrities said they have actively announced their disbursement plans.

After finishing their trip to central provinces to support flood victims last year, singer Ly Hai released more than 200 pages of bank statements regarding the VND12 billion donated by the public. Singer My Tam, who started doing charitable activities in 2008, initially did not call for donations but spent her own money. After that, many donors contacted her, seeking to join in her efforts. Tam would then sent information on donations and expenditure to each.

"They can see how their money is used. That is transparency - the most important thing," Tam once said in a TV program.

The charity fund manager of HCMC Theater Association, actress Trinh Kim Chi, said: "Each time I raise an amount of no more than VND500 million, so I can manage the money better. After disbursement, I usually make a summary of how I spent the donation, with information of sources and recipients written clearly."

Chi is typically supported by a Theater Association representative. During months of social distancing, she transferred money, then sent bank statements to the Executive Board of the Theater Association.

Singer Thai Thuy Linh previously planned to establish a fund, but then gave it up.

"The fund will have to operate like a company. I am not able to run and maintain operations. In addition, the founder of the fund has to pay salaries to staff and many other fees," Linh said, adding it is not a professional fund so she would face difficulties when donors ask for invoices.

Artists like actress Viet Huong and singer Tung Duong said they do philanthropy work with their own money to manage donations better. Duong does not publicize his account number on his personal page, only sharing information with close friends who give him money for charity purposes.

Chi hopes authorities would issue specific rules for artists involved in philanthropy. According to her, many artists act spontaneously when it comes to calling for donations and do not understand the principle of information transparency, so they easily get in trouble.

"I hope artists remain enthusiastic about charitable activities, because there are many disadvantaged people out there, waiting for community support."

Recently, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism included social activities in the draft version of the code of conduct for artists, requiring them to be transparent in their philanthropy to make a good impression on their fans.

Earlier this year, the State Budget Department under the Ministry of Finance said it had 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 stressed.

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