Monk + Money = Monkey Business?

The coverage of Reverend Shi Ming Yi’s trial led to a small balcony discussion between me and my wife, and subsequently, a number of lengthy comments between me and a skeptic (with good reason) in – of all people and in all places – local celebrity Ken Tay’s Facebook profile.

For those not in the know, following the very messy and sensationalised NKF scandal comes a new high-tension drama series – “Ren Ci Hospital“, starring the Vulnerable Reverend Shi Ming Yi (I’ll explain the use of the term “vulnerable” later).

The synopsis: said Reverend was arrested in the middle of last year and put on trial a day later after a five-month probe into the hospital’s alleged misappropriation of funds, found in undeclared interest-free loans to individuals and businesses working with the organisation. Digging deeper into the dirt, the prosecution found additional discrepancies, not only of the Reverend’s very fat bank account, but also of his history in property investments here in Singapore and in Perth, Australia, his chauffeur and various cars of significant worth (we’re talking Beemers and Volvos; I drive a Nissan Sunny, and it isn’t even mine), not to mention his allegedly “doctored” philosphy PhD from a questionable educational institution.

Now, we’re talking about a big-time charity figure who’s been earning millions for the organisation(s) he represents, and is known throughout high society (middle and low as well, for that matter) as the foremost Buddhism advocate in Singapore, Johor (and some say Batam). My first real interest in this matter was piqued while I was in the midst of moping about my own finances, when I read a headline mentioning the Reverend’s bank account; my first thought (which I subsequently posted on Twitter because it was less than 140 characters long) was, “You know your life is truly crap when you find out on a newspaper that a monk has more money than you.”

I mulled over that statement with my wife, who had a different opinion of this whole debacle. Here we have the third-largest charitable organisation after the NKF and the Singapore Endowment Fund; the amount of money changing hands on the basis of Singaporean kindness makes charity work overwhelmingly profitable as an induistry. And, as some of us may have learnt from the NKF debacle, it is quite necessary (although not altogether the smartest thing to do) to have it run very much like a corporation, complete with administrative staff, personal assistants, auditors, a board of directors, and the most dangerous job of all, the CEO.

So the monk fucked up. So what? In the face of so much money coming at you like Spanish tomatoes during La Tomatina, the temptation is truly irresistible, regardless of whether you’re a monk, a yogi or the Pope. To be fair, the Hospital itself has flourished and its charges taken care of with the fullest utilisation of the benefits the organisation has earned. Lending a quote from The Straits Times, “The monk admitted that he was ‘easy with money’ but denied he was similarly so with Ren Ci’s money.” With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves, how many people have we helped, the way the Reverend has helped his patients, to be able to fuck up this big-time?

I’ve personally seen as many monks sharing a bouncy red 20-year-old Datsun hatchback as there are monks driving and being driven in Mercedes Benzes and BMWs (I won’t even talk about the airport encounters I’ve had with monks in first-class). Do they deserve to live their lives this way, whether it be in a hatchback or a luxury 2.4-litre German monster? Neither you nor I can say, for we know nothing of their backgrounds and the circumstances behind their gains (even the Datsun boys; at least the thing moves). This is where the benefit of the doubt comes in handy.

Let’s talk about the “loans”. If a truly venerable monk with $5 in his cloth bag were approached by a man who makes his case as a penniless chap in need of $5 to tapow 2 packets of chicken rice back for himself, his wife and 37 children, do you think the monk would say no? Similarly, if the Reverend, hapless as he is about the financial policies set forth by his own organisation as well as the legal boundaries of the Charities Act, were to be asked by the people under his employ, colleagues, or business partners to “help a brother out” after being presented with a convincing case, what do you think he would do? (Even though it is surplus revenue from after his organisation’s beneficiaries had been beneficiarised, a scheming mind might say, “Go ahead”, whereas a naive mind might ask, “Why not?” The outcome may be the same, but the intentions are vastly different.)

“(His PA) told Ming Yi that he needed the money because he had run into some financial difficulties, but did not tell him that it was to pay for the renovations.” [link]

As far as I can see, the misappropriation of funds was borne through a naive sense of doing good coupled with an ignorance of rules and regulations, made possible through the conniving of certain individuals who made their want of money look like a need for personal gain.

What of his property “investments” and bank account then? Supplemental income? Back-up plan for Ren Ci’s rainy days? Part of Mother Theresa’s estate to “all the kind people out there”? In search of the perfect place to meditate in? All my wife and I know is that it is not uncommon for heads of charities to have money on the side for whatever, whenever. Even the hospital’s management committee had this to say during the trial:

“When questioned later by Ming Yi

7 Replies to “Monk + Money = Monkey Business?”

  1. I think at the end of day, Rev MY managed to do his job: Help the sick and the poor. For a single man to be able to successfully lead a team to get the Ren Ci hospital up and running in a pretty decent amount of time deserves some slack. It is ok to make mistakes and to learn from it. Let’s hope he will exercise more caution when choosing the right people to trust from hereon.

  2. Just because the government does it, doesn’t mean it is right! If you want to make money, don’t go into charity or politics. Singapore is one of the rare countries where you can make a lot doing either! As Gandhi says:Honesty is incompatible with amassing a large fortune.

  3. Just because the government does it, doesn’t mean it is right! If you want to make money, don’t go into charity or politics. Singapore is one of the rare countries where you can make a lot doing either! As Gandhi says:Honesty is incompatible with amassing a large fortune.

  4. I think at the end of day, Rev MY managed to do his job: Help the sick and the poor. For a single man to be able to successfully lead a team to get the Ren Ci hospital up and running in a pretty decent amount of time deserves some slack. It is ok to make mistakes and to learn from it. Let’s hope he will exercise more caution when choosing the right people to trust from hereon.

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