Thursday 23 August 2012

Whistle-blowing hotline for charities

Service will allow people to report unethical behaviour anonymously
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2012

CHARITIES have a new whistle-blowing platform, with the launch yesterday of an ethics hotline by Shared Services for Charities (SSC).

An independent channel for employees and stakeholders to raise concerns about misconduct, the SSC-run hotline allows people to anonymously report unethical behaviour in charities.

Charities must register with SSC, which will then assess the complaints in confidence before handing over the appropriate information to the board of directors or relevant persons.

The ethics hotline was introduced on the sidelines of an event highlighting the five accounting firms that volunteered their services to the SSC. The firms are: Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and RSM Chio Lim.

"People sometimes don't know where to report issues, or don't want to go to the authorities," said SSC executive director Lilian Tay of potential whistle-blowers.

"This channel encourages ethical reporting as early as possible, so the charity can take action before its reputation and (the public's) trust are damaged," she said.

The service will be offered to individual charities who will pay a one-time start-up fee of $500, with monthly rates of $150 to $200, depending on the size of the charity and the length of contract.

In comparison, commercial rates can run to thousands of dollars, said Ms Tay.

Launched in 2008, Shared Services for Charities is a non-profit group which provides independent review and documentation services for charities.

It has about 50 clients and its main sponsors are the Singapore Exchange and local charity BinjaiTree.

Corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, welcomed the move to provide another channel for reporting legal and ethical violations.

"But the devil is in the details," Professor Mak added, referring to how the SSC will have to protect the identity of a whistle-blower.

He referred to the recent City Harvest case and the National Kidney Foundation as instances when people who were willing to speak up were slammed with defamation suits. "Whether the individuals making those complaints feel confident enough to reveal their identity or reveal enough information for follow-up is a separate matter because of fear of reprisals."

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