Sunday, July 29, 2012

City Harvest Church's Accountability and Transparency: Unresolved Suntec investment issues

The issues raised in 2010 concerning City Harvest Church's (CHC) transparency and accountability to church members in its investment of church funds are still pertinent.


Background (source)


On 6 March 2010, City Harvest Church announced that it has purchased a significant stake in Suntec Convention Centre and will be using its facilities for church services, the project will cost an estimated S$310 million, including shares acquisition, renovation and rental costs. Church founder Kong Hee said in a statement that the move "allows [the church] to move from a present expensive rental model to a more financially sustainable ownership model for the long term". However, some brought up the point that as a registered charity, CHC's income - expected to include profits and dividends from space rental and tenant leases in Suntec Singapore in the future - is non-taxable. The church has clarified that the investment is indirect, through a wholly owned subsidiary for the purpose of taxation and separate accounting. Questions surfaced among the public whether religious organisations, which are registered as charities, should be allowed to go into business using what are essentially donor funds.
The Commissioner of Charities (COC) sought clarifications on the transaction. The church stated it was under a non-disclosure agreement which required the details of the transaction to remain confidential, but explained that the investment was made through a holding company that is not a charity organization and does not enjoy tax breaks; and had disclosed details of the deal to the COC as well as the Urban Redevelopment Authority upon request. The church also said that there was a "strong and unfounded allegation" floating online that the Management Board and Kong were "deliberately concealing a number of embarrassing facts from its members" with regard to the Suntec investment, saying that the allegation was "furthest from the truth", and later released a notice stating that Charities and foundations often use donor funds to invest and generate sustainable income for their intended causes.
On 21st july 2012, the church announced details of its investment in Suntec Singapore. A total of 39.2% shareholding was acquired at a total cost of $97.75 million. Public-listed Suntec REIT holds the other 60.8%. The remaining balance in the projected building fund will be used for costs such as equipment, furniture and fittings, periodical shifting costs (due to other events at the venue), committed rentals, optional rentals and refundable rental deposits.
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Since 19 March 2011, CHC has moved to the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The initial plan for a 12,000-seat auditorium to be built has been shelved due to a new guideline released in July 2010 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The new plan is to seat 7,500 in compliance with the new rule that restricts the use of commercial buildings for religious purposes.

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Church member critical of City Harvest Church’s investment in Suntec

Published by The Online Citizen on March 27, 2010 (source)



City Harvest Church member Simon Teoh, an investment banker, is critical of where the $310 million investment by City Harvest Church into Suntec will go.
He wants to know how much would be spent on the lease and how long it would last.
Troubled by the church’s response not to answer such questions on the grounds of a non-disclosure agreement with the consortium. Mr Teoh has called for more accountability and transparency from the Church.
He wrote in to the Commissioner of Charities asking for the confidentiality clauses to be rescinded and that City Harvest Church would amend its Constitution so major business deals can be put to a vote among ordinary church members.
We publish the entire letter from Mr Simon Teoh to the Commissioner of Charities here.
Dear Commissioner,
I am writing with respect to the City Harvest Church investment and expenditure of $310 million for the purchase of shares in a company which owns 80% of Suntec Convention Centre and the rental of exclusive areas of the same (plus related moving and renovation costs). This was reported in the Straits Times twice over the last two weeks, including the recent queries raised by your good office.
As a member of the public and the church, I like to highlight to the Commission that todate, members (both non voting and voting) of the church have not been apprised by the Management Board of the church (“the Board”) of the salient terms of the $310m planned expenditure/investment.
Instead, the Board is pressing ahead with utilising the church’s Building Fund (totalling $65 million as end Oct 2009) and committing the church to large future liabilities ($245 million, being the difference of $310m and $65m in the Building Fund) without consulting the members/executive members at the recent AGM. No EGM has been scheduled and I am led to believe that the deal is closed.
In addition, over the last two weeks, the Board has been seeking financial commitments/pledges from its 30,000+ members to raise monies to meet the said liabilities. I do not think this is ethical, especially considering the large number of minors and vulnerable members (eg old, uneducated) in the church.
The excuse given at the recent AGM and in the public sphere for the lack of disclosure is that the Board is bound by confidentiality clauses in an agreement with the Sellers and/or Suntec management. I believe that as a large, public organisation, the Board should not have agreed to such clauses in the first place.
Although the Board is authorized as per the church’s constitution (which I only recently learnt) to commit to any expenditure it deems fit, I believe this “carte blanche” authority and the Board’s poor judgement in agreeing to the confidentiality terms with the Seller runs counter to best practice standards of disclosure and transparency as per the Commission’s code of governance for charities and IPCs (Code).
I quote section 1.3 and 8 of the Code (emphasis made are mine):
Section 1.3: Accountability to Donors
“General Principle: The charity and its fund raisers should be accountable to their donors for the donations received
1.3.1 The Charity and its fund raisers should ensure that donors received informed and ethical advice about the charity, intended use of donation, value and tax implications of potential donations”
Section 8: Disclosure and Transparency
“General Principle: As the charity operates with public support through both donations and the use of volunteers, it should be transparent in its operations to maintain the integrity of serving for public trust and community good instead of personal gain. As such, the charity should demonstrate its openness to the public by providing the public with information about its mission, structure, programmes, activities, performance and finances.”
I love my church but am puzzled by the lack of transparency and accountability by the Board who is tasked to look after the members’ collective interest. I am not suggesting any impropriety but I believe in transparency and accountability, which protects and promotes public confidence.
I humbly urge the Commission to balance the impact on public interest and the public’s confidence in Singaporean charities versus the Board’s desire to complete the deal and require the church’s Board to seek the approval from the deal’s counterparties to mutually rescind the confidentiality clauses so salient terms can be disclosed.
Secondly, I hope that the Commission will also request the church’s Board to undertake a review of its Constitution to find ways to promote more accountability and transparency to its members. For example, to make it a requirement for material proposals such as material investments and expenditure (say for sums greater than $0.5 million or $1 million) and detailed historical financial accounts be disclosed and be put to a vote by its ordinary members.
I am confident that you and members of the public will agree that $310 million investment/expenditure affecting 30,000+ members of the public are significant numbers/figures that need to be protected through appropriate disclosure and joint decision making.
I look forward to your action in the name of public interest.
Best regards
Simon Teoh

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March 11, 2010 (source)

Suntec Convention Centre: CHC’s New Home


"CHC’s New Home: Suntec Convention Centre" was the title of a news article that appeared on the front page of The Sunday Times, on March 7th, 2010. An extract of the article is reproduced below:

"Amid cheers from the congregation, City Harvest Church (CHC) yesterday announced that it will pay $310 million to become a co-owner of Suntec Singapore, a prime piece of downtown real estate.

Senior pastor Kong Hee broke the news first at CHC's service at its Jurong West building, then later at another service at the Singapore Expo in Changi.

He said CHC had acquired a 'substantial stake in a consortium company that owns 80 per cent of a joint venture fund that owns Suntec Singapore'.

The complex's full name is Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The $310 million includes the cost of acquiring shares in the consortium, rental costs, renovation costs and others.

Suntec Singapore was acquired by ARA Asset Management through the ARA Harmony Fund last year, with its investors comprising Suntec Reit - which holds 20 per cent - and a consortium company which holds 80 per cent."



On March 8th, 2010, Kong Hee, the senior pastor of CHC posted a blog entry which elaborated more on the matter. By 12 March, 2010, the blog entry attracted more than 160 comments.

One of the most interesting comments was made on March 12th, 2010 at 12.20am, by John, apparently an executive member of CHC, in response to a comment made on March 11th, 2010 at 10.16pm by Derek Dunn, the executive pastor of CHC. John's comment is reproduced below:

"Dear Pastor Derek,

I shall accord you the respect you deserve as an Executive Pastor and return the politeness in my reply to you. I guess it’s not in my place to accept the apology concerning remarks made about the other church which was named openly by Pastor Kong Hee, but I do appreciate the gesture. As to whether it was done intentionally or not, I have to say that you know it’s not the first time. I do hope that we learn to treat our fellow brothers with respect since we are all in the same family. We may differ in our interpretation of scripture, but to categorize them with sinners is very uncalled for.

With regards to the truth behind the Suntec deal, I guess it may be a true fact about the non-disclosure but at the same time it is also a convenient excuse to not divulge very key information that is crucial for the confidence and full-hearted support of this deal by every member. I still do not understand why the leaders agree to a non-disclosure for the sake of Harmony’s shareholders when the members of the church, who are essentially shareholders too, are kept in the dark.

I agree that minority could mean anything from 1 share to 1 short of 50%, but you, of all people, should know that the stake purchased, based on our available funds and based on sound reasoning, is going to be found in the far lower half of that range. Yes, maybe in time to come when the full $310M is raised, but not now and certainly not in the near future.

This is one other reason why people like me are unhappy. To see our leaders say things that is technically not a lie but yet leads to a certain impression. And it results in our members, especially the young ones, going around declaring, blogging, twitting and facebooking we own Suntec City, have 1,000,000 sq ft, we have 78 years lease, the other church will pay rent to us and all for $310M, compared to other church who pay $500M for 30 years (evidenced in contributions above).

Please… even if we have a better deal, should we have such an attitude? This kind of behavior is a reflection of a leadership that is always comparing, competing and always needing to be number one. I know somebody’s got to be number one but it’s the competitiveness and the strong driving ethos of the church that makes many of our members to behave this way.

Why don’t the leadership do something and correct the wrong impressions concerning the building? I’m sure something can be done without infringing on the NDA.

Pastor Derek, with regards to the building, you don’t have to answer since it’ll be difficult to clarify without disclosing confidential info. I trust that you really believe you are doing the right thing for CIty Harvest Church and I respect you for being able to articulate your response to me in such an honorable and respectful demeanor.

Pardon my candidness in certain portions but it is really said without malice.

Thank you."


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Insights from a former CHC insider
by Eric See, July 27, 2011 (source)

I have been a CHC member since 1999. I have stopped attending it since May 2010 and have not given a single cent to it. Till today I still can't believe how Kong Hee & Sun Ho has changed.

It was well till 2005. Everything and everyone is so geared towards loving God fervently. That was till the cultural mandate came in, when SUN HO went to Taiwan to have some concert and shared her testimony to get people saved. It was good and my wife and I even volunteer to go to Taiwan and Medan to help out. It was exciting seeing lives changed. What I don't like is, CGL (cell group leaders) from CHC are pressuring their members to buy 3-4 albums to support SUN HO. Right down in my mind, I was thinking "I only need 1 CD to listen to". Finally, we just bought one to listen. Nothing fantastic about the songs. Her second album was a non-event then. I remember we have a few concerts in church.

Here are some things I have experience first hand. Please note that all these all my personal view through research and first hand experience, it may not be 100% correct:



1. SUN HO contract with Tono Entertainment



I remember Kong Hee saying that a recording company has signed SUN HO to be in LA for 5 million. We simply accepted anything he said . It was until recently that I knew that the company that signed SUN-Tono entertainment had already folded in 2003. How on earth can she sign a contract with them in 2005? Was it a lie from the very first day of the 2005.


2. HC, Mark & co under church payroll?



SUN HO did not go to USA alone. She has Henry Chee and his wife Xiuyan acting as Dayan's nanny. Vivien was there too. Mark was there too and for what purpose I don't know. 





Important question is were they under church payroll? The answer is YES and I know this is the question a lot of CHC members would like to ask but don't dare to.


3. SUN HO's real purpose in USA?



This is another question alot of CHC goers would like to know. For what I know is to prepare to penetrate China. But after 5 years, 5 singles there is no clue on how this relates to China. It was till my friend bring to my attention "China Wine' where she dress and acted worse than those circular artistes. Has she backslided?

What is all these about where KONG HEE practically have to fly to & fro  LA weekly to see his wife and son. All of us are fooled into believing that KONG HEE has indeed sacrificed a lot for the church and his family.

O-school and Xtron existed just to support her adventure in USA.

Her lifestyle over there was luxurious. Her rental of apartment works out to be $28000 monthly. She got 2 cars there. Was she there for a purpose or just enjoy the new found high life? Her monthly expenses could work out something like this:
  • Rental : $28000
  • Child Education : $1000
  • CHC Staff : $30000
  • Car: $2000

On some occasion, she will appear to on some relief sight to help the victims (Haiti) for the church to know that she is doing good for the weak.

4. Xtron & its Financial Nonsense

It was till the newspaper bring out this company that was supposedly SUN HO's marketing company that I came across SUN HO. Before that, I have heard that KONG HEE had started a AV company outside to take care of the AV in church. I though it was brilliant since other people beside CHC can do business with this AV company. It was till last year that I knew this AV company to be Xtron. Why do I have to find out everything from the press and forums? There is simply NO TRANSPARENCY. 

It was shocking to know that this company had only ONE customer - CHC and the company had consistently raked up 5-8 millions loss annually from 2005 onwards. 2005 again? Was it a coincidence?


What did it do to rake up these losses? It is logical and normal practice for the company to wrap up after 2-3 years of 7 millions losses yearly. How Xtron get the money to lose? likely from CHC and AMAC (Eng Han's investment vehicle).

It was reported AMAC bought bonds (worth millions)  in 2007-2008 to help solve the financial problems. Why would a fund invest in a failing company or something that has no value and in deep shit financially? AMAC was probably funded by the BBGs. Besides, I remember there was some "Mutual Fund" written on the offering envelopes, it was understood this goes to some church mission. Probably this "Mutual Fund" is channelled to the AMAC too. 

All these chains of events evolve around SUN HO.

5. SUN HO's popularity

Ever wonder how a 40 year old can have so many fans and on top of US charts. At least that is what is portrayed of her from KONG HEE. The fact is that few Americans heard of SUN HO. The charts probably is not the main stream ones. Those DJ can be offered money to play artiste songs more often. (I don't know if it's true). I for once won't listen to her song let alone join her fan club. Her fan club likely are all CHC members.

6. Suntec - $310million

This is really a spark that blows up the whole saga. KONG HEE says it was SUN HO who help CHC acquire a stake in Suntec. Samuel Loh (Simon Teoh? Teoh's letter is shown above), a CHC member and private banker, asked for a breakdown of the figure from CHC. After no reply is given, he wrote to the COC for them to investigate the church. 

It was annouced that we are co-cowners of suntec city by buying a significant stake in Harmony Fund which have 80% of the suntec city. It was only after much scrutiny, that CHC release a media clarification on 7th March 2010:

"Our Church, through a special purpose investment holding company wholly owned by CHC, has acquired and holds an indirect minority stake in the holding company of Suntec Convention Centre."

Significant stake become minority stakes? Something is not right. 

The sum doesn't add up too. Harmony Fund bought into Suntec in 2009 for around 250 million in 2009. A minority stake (max 49.9%) would only work out to 120 million.  Why are they quoting 310 million? 



When people ask about the details, they refuse to release the details because of NDA agreement with Harmony Fund. Why would such NDA exists? When major stakeholder changes interest, SGX would require the company to make the announcement the next day.

CHC will be moving to Suntec from 19 March 2011 onwards but with 7500 capacity to cater for the new guidelines issued by the authority. All the members are so excited. Put it simply, CHC is only renting suntec after spending so much to rent a place. All these money is after 5 A&R (Arise and Build) which amass 100 million. They will have no choice after putting JW (Jurong West) building as collateral. 

Sources said that CHC will pay 46million to a licensee to help find a place, in which 16million is already paid. This licensee is probably AMAC. I though it was SUN HO who help find the place. Why is there to pay a middleman every year for finding Suntec to rent? Simply as that, you want to rent the hall in Suntec, go up to Suntec, check availability, book and pay directly. 

7. Simple minded

I ask most of my friend in CHC, they don't even know what is Xtron? Oh boy are they ignorant or just simple-minded when the writings are all on the walls. 

Are they going to continue finance 8 more A&R? The good thing is SUN HO adventure has ended.  Probably, the money donated would be put to better use now.

8. KONG HEE financial

From 2005, he stopped receiving pay from CHC. His income is from talks and 2 SKIN boutique shops (1 closed down at Marina square). His event company, International Harvest rakes up $410000 in losses. I have doubts about the SKIN shops revenue as 1 closed down. How can he pay SUN's expenses plus his tickets to/fro USA every week? It cost $2-4 k for round tickets to USA. 

9. ATTENDANCE INFLATED

One unknown CHC staff revealed that the actually weekly attendance is around 14800. The attendance given by church is around 28000 which causes a hoo-ha. The disparity is so big and I suspect it is intentional to make CHC seen as big. The annual tithes received is much less than NCC (New Creation Church). It suggests that the figure should not be so big as reported. NCC has around 20k members. 

There is something not right internally as strives develop.

10. NEW CHURCHES

Darren Tan (ex-CHC pastor) left in Feb 2011 to start Life Unted Church in Aljunied. 

Tan Chee Kiang (ex-CHC pastor) left to start City Care Church in JB. (David Yem is there with him).

Latest update is KC Gan has left  to join Chee Kiang. He is the main man behind CHC's previous album.

[ CHC's ex-music director David Yem resigned around Dec 2010.]


CHC announcement, Feb 2011 (source)

Two members of the pastoral staff resigned in 2010 from the current 24-strong team of pastors and assistant pastors. Former assistant pastor Darren Tan left to start his own church. He submitted his letter on Dec. 1, 2010 and his last day of employment was Jan. 31, 2011. CHC’s Management Board and leadership feel that it would be best for Darren’s new work to be independent of CHC at this moment of time until God leads otherwise. Tan Chee Kiang, a former pastor, and David Yem, the former music director of the church, resigned for personal reasons.

 

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Questions questions!
 
(source)


The following are questions raised by a CHC member(s) related to CHC finances, management, etc, with humorous answers (given by another). A few are now satisfactorily answered, while others remain open.

These questions might contain factual errors. Nevertheless they reveal the mind of an intelligent CHC member, defying the church injunction to exercise blind faith in Kong Hee and the CHC leadership.



CHC Finance 

(sub judice:  matters before the judiciary)

*Why did the CHC buy million of $ of unquoted bonds from Xtron, a company that has been losing money since it was formed? 
  • 1.    Because Kong Hee and Sun are the owners of Xtron
  • 2.    Because KH likes to help the poor
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee has strong faith that Xtron one day will flourish

*Is it true that the Management Committee passed Resolutions to approve the Cultural Mandate and the acceptance of companies linked to CHC (e.g. Xtron and AMAC) as legal and valid? What is the meaning of all this? Does this mean that monies has passed through these companies and involved in matters not in the Building of God’s church?
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       No
  • 3.       Probably – definitely true for Xtron. Xtron accompanies Kong Hee and Sun on all their trips, funded by CHC.

Building Fund

*It has been confirmed by newspaper reports and CHC website, that CHC raised $114+ million from 2005-2009. Why is then that there was only $64+ million in the Arise and Build fund in 2009? What happened to the $50 million unaccounted for? 
  • 1.    It went to the licensor
  • 2.    It went to Sun Ho and Xtron
  • 3.    It went to charity

*With the URA restrictions (no tenancy agreement), little or no possibility of further shares purchase# and also not requiring major renovations (non-exclusive use) are we still talking about a $310 million Suntec deal or a sum which is much less? Shouldn’t this information be disseminated to the church if there are any updates? Is there anymore necessity to raise the further $245 million through A & B Fund raising for the next 8 years at an average of $31 million per fund-raising year?


Not true. CHC increased its share in Suntec in July 2012.
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       No – CHC’ers have unconditional trust in their leader.
  • 3.       Worst case – CHC goes broke – so better keep on giving.


Suntec Convention Centre, SCC 
(use of Building Fund)


*Why did my Snr Pastor pay $46.3 million to the Licensor for simply finding a new place of worship for CHC? Why was the Snr Pastor so generous to give Licensor such a big amount when the Suntec church will not be ready by March 2011 and the usage is non-exclusive and without a tenancy agreement? 
  • 1.    Because he is co-owner of the licensor
  • 2.    Because he likes to give freely
  • 3.    Because it is just petty cash

*Why did my Snr Pastor announce that CHC was “co-owner” and later clarified that the Church only is a minority shareholder of SCC? This was further clarified by ARA Group in the Chinese newspaper. 
  • 1.    Because, with the giving and all. he did not expect any financially savvy people amongst his flock
  • 2.    “Co-owner” – “minority shareholder”: it’s all the same isn’t it?
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee has the right to change his mind

*Why did my Snr Pastor pledge the Jurong Church in “the event of non-payment of rent, the creditors have a cause of action against the assets of CHC (i.e. our Jurong West St 91 Church Building)”? Isn’t this a violation of the Societies Act which does not permit society members to subject it’s members to adverse risk? 
  • 1.    Because he did not know
  • 2.    Because he does not care
  • 3.    All of the above

*What is impact of URA restrictions on the church usage of Suntec? Would the space be enough? If space is not enough, what sense is there to move at all? Also, if non-exclusive does it mean have to move out all equipment every Sunday? Where would we go for our Bible classes, morning/evening prayer sessions etc etc as earlier planned for Suntec?
  • 1.    URA restrictions can be bypassed
  • 2.   There is enough money to move in-and out every Sunday
  • 3.    CHC presence will de-motivate and scare off exhibitioners

*It has been clarified that Suntec Reit will eventually buy over Suntec Convention Centre in 2-3 years time. Why then did the Senior Pastor announced that the deal was self-sustaining, when it’s unlikely that future shares can be bought in Suntec Convention Centre?
  • 1.    Because Kong Hee is indirectly involved in Suntec Reit
  • 2.    Because Kong Hee does not care
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee believes God will support


Kong Hee and Kevin Dyson's credentials

*Is it true that the Senior Pastor Kong Hee and his mentor, Dr Kevin Dyson got their education and qualifications through degree mills i.e. unaccredited institutes of higher education as defined by the US Department of Education?
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       Yes
  • 3.       Yes

# ed. My answer is Yes. Kong Hee, Kevin Dyson and Phil Pringle (Dyson and Pringle are on the CHC Advisory Committee set up in Sep 2010 to improve CHC's  structure, governance and accountability) all have bogus theological doctorates from diploma mills. See here and here.


Kong Hee
*Is it true that the Senior Pastor is paid director fees as the President/Chairman of the Management Board of CHC, when he specifically said that he does not collect any pay from the Church? 
  • 1.    Yes
  • 2.    No
  • 3.    Does it matter how the money eventually lands in Kong Hee’s pockets?

Sun Ho


*Is it true that when Sun Ho was offered the contract of USD5 million by Tonos Entertainment in 2005, Tonos Entertainment had already closed down in 1st Sep 2003? So what contract was Sun Ho on, when she went to America? 
  • 1.    It was all funded by Ed Hardy clothes
  • 2.    It was all funded by Sun herself
  • 3.    It was all funded by the Lord

CHC Size
*Is true that CHC has just 14,000+ members rather than 33,000 members as earlier declared by the church. 
  • 1.    Yes
  • 2.    No
  • 3.    What’s the difference between 0,3% and 0.6% of total S'porean population? or 0.001% of all Christians? Still very very small

___________________________

ed. Internal records obtained by The Straits Times puts the weekly average at 15,000 (14,800?) between June to September 2010.

 According to CHC (here), its congregation size in 2010 is 22,049. The following charts are of December (or Nov/Dec) services, whose attendance were significantly boosted by the Christmas services.
    Average December CHC service attendance 1989-2010 (source)


    Average Nov/Dec overall CHC Movement
    service attendance 1989-2010 (source)

    CHC congregation size (source)

    More details on CHC congregation size: here

    _________________________________

    CAD Investigation 
    (answers are now clear)

    *Why did the CAD raid my Snr Pastor’s home, CHC Office and offices of associates of CHC on 31 May 10?
    • 1.     Because they suspected abuse of funds
    • 2.     Because PAP does not like CHC
    • 3.     It was the Devil’s doing

    *Why did the CAD interrogate my Snr Pastor and his wife on multiple occasions?
    • 1.       Because they enjoy talking to Sun
    • 2.       Because they have nothing better to do
    • 3.       Because they suspect foul play

    *Why did my Snr Pastor and his Dy Snr Pastor have to step down?
    • 1.     Because of conflict of interest
    • 2.     He did not have to – It was his choice
    • 3.    Because God told him to take a back-seat

    *********************************************************

    The Last 16 Months of My Life


    by Ronald Wong on Friday, September 23, 2011  (source)






    In recent weeks, many people have asked me about what happened to me, some have not been too kind (asking me not to be judgmental and yada yada yada ==> but hey... actually I feel as if I'm the one being "judged" haha - you don't even know a bit about the "story"... but I can live with that), some have heard from others about me (kindof warped I should say; might as well ask me directly). Some have called me "bitter" and "judgmental" (hey... after being implied through the pulpit a reprobate, ingrate, absalom, etc ==> what's new man?). And many have asked me to "lay out the facts".
    So, rather than have you hear from others, I decided today to tell you my side of the story (I try to keep it short), and lay out some facts over the course of time as demanded (as much as it does not affect the ongoing cantonese event going on).

    This is a short summary about the history of what happened according to what I've experienced

    March 2010:
    - CHC announced the joint-ownership model of Suntec Convention Center through a holding company
     - CHC came under much fire by members of the public and critics both from within and outside of CHC
     - Between March 2010 till September 2010, I have been actively speaking up for the leadership of the church, actively engaging the "critics". You can still see some of the things I wrote (PK's blog, various forums under the nic "Ronaldwong" ==> most of it have been removed by moderators (but I kept copies of it). No doubt they were genuine, and in this situation, 2 separate issues.

    - In April 2010 I joined the “CHC Cyber Task Force” – basically a group of 5-6 cgls whose main objectives were to engage the social media to offer a "balanced view" of the church and the leadership, based on our own experience. It was headed by a CHC Zone Supervisor and we were actively engaging the various forums such as AsiaOne, Hardwarezone, SammyBoy, Konghee.com, etc. I was actively participating until Sep 2010. Some of my posts are still there (if you like to see them, I have printed them to soft copy, as most of it was deleted).

    - During the period from March 2010 to September 2010, I believed everything that I hear totally without question. And I have been actively defending the church and the leadership without question. The reason I did that was because this is where I grew up in, and experienced many good. Everything I learned about being a good Christian, a good man, a good son and husband, I learned it all here – in CHC. I was so convicted about my “understanding” of the situation that when I engaged the public forum, I used my real name, and even challenged the critics to come and join me at the cell group which I lead for many years – so that I can prove to them that what some of the serious allegations were unfounded. Of course, none of the critics appeared.

    What Happened Between Oct 2010 to Feb 2011

    In Oct 2010, an anonymous person (I suspect was from one of the forum I was actively engaged with who was adamant he had the "evidence") dropped me a mail containing a stack of papers and some stuff at my office. Included inside were photocopied documents of CHC pastoral and financial reports, documents of CHC-linked companies such as XTron Productions Pte Ltd, AMAC Capital and it’s related companies, among others. When I saw the documents, it set me thinking for a while that these were perhaps “fabricated”. Whether are they credible, I leave it up to your imagination – actually some of them can be purchased off Bizfile for a small price.
    The fact that being in the cyber-taskforce, and on several occassions having to have your "taskforce team leader" call you personally on the phone to remove certain posts you made to rebutt/challenge the critics because what they say “was not entirely wrong”, certainly did not help clarify my doubts.

    It set me through a process from just believing whatever was told – on the basis of "trust" and “love”, to being critically analytical (critically analytical means to carefully think through) about many things I hear being said – from various ones, including my own pastor, staff who left, to others who have in some ways worked with CHC or its related companies.

    The documents dropped by the “anonymous” opened many doors for my thinking cap – some of the companies linked to CHC – if you recall in recent meetings, was known to be very “established” in the marketplace, were recording very poor financials year-on-year in the report (you can download the financials off bizfile), and were not compliant to ACRA's compliance rating stipulated under the Companies Act - which business in the world would want to do that?

    It caused me to probe into many more things that was since time past (since 1995), esp post-hollywood days in 2001 from the Roland Poon saga to the Multi-Purpose Account (MPA) to Hollywood, etc.  

    3 things got me very uncomfortable:

    1)      Financials – for the CHC-linked-companies, where did the monies come from? And where did the monies go to? Don’t just tell me about Xtron. Tell me about AMAC Capital and AMAC whatever, as well as all the rest of the “you-know-which-ones”. Where were the cash flows? What fees were charged? What sort of "arms length dealings" are we talking about if you are reporting such losses? Why the millions of financial losses? What actually happened and who bore the losses? Where did the money go? In the CG ministry and a CGL since 2003, I'm really clueless except for very nice picture of info painted in the meetings - not to mention those who came later - what do they know? When I probed, the standard answer was "it is under investigation, so cannot say", or "it is under NDA". If the amount it cost Suntec REIT to buy 51% stake of ARA Harmony Fund can be publicly disclosed, what is the problem with disclosure? Today, with this info, you can almost work out an estimate off the AR posted by the REIT and come to a conclusion about the viability of the deal - no need to wait for the latest AR to be given. You guys should really step up and ask questions about these companies and their nature of dealings. The church accounts up to 2009 looks ok, very comprehensive notes although there were some questionables which can only be answered if the other related companies were better understood. Look instead at other areas that your money went to. Focus on the cash flow stateemnt (CF) ==> Where did the money come from? Where did the money go to? What was it used for?

    2)      The “Reality-illusion” divide – matters such as the ZS scheme vs really "loving" people, the inflating of congregation size vs “being faithful in the little things”, the pop “success” of Sun down to her lifestyle and "american management company" and the $5m worth of contract, 2209 Canyon Drive, China first-day cover (2004), etc. What is happening to all that were taught from time past? Overwritten by CM?

    3)      The future of the church in Suntec – and how members will continue giving and sacrificing while some constantly have pockets of money – tithe, offering and building fund pledges going into a separate "multi-purpose-fund" account not declared to ordinary and ministry members? The UOB account that was closed and immediately followed by the same collection in cash only (avoid paper trace?) at the end of every month, etc. Basically, there are members who were sacrificing their "lives" away - ordinary people who make a honest living working hard, sacrificing/delaying their life goals to contribute to the church operating/building fund and yet somewhere out there, there were so many people giving into a seperate account unknown to more than 70% of the congregation. We have more than enough people to verify this giving in cash, in case you think they are rumours. Is the suntec shift a sustainable move? Does the congregation size justify such a move (knowing full well that there was not 33,000 at all at the point the decision was made)?

    Is there a remote chance that perhaps things are not as what we see and believe to be? If so, then what happened to the lives and time and money that so many innocent people give, out of simple trust and goodwill, wanting to do something for Jesus and make a difference in others? Is that an abuse of trust? Granted, it is "constitutionally correct" - but in terms of governance, ethics and morals found sorrily wanting - in a place known to be a moral center with a important role as a critical social pillar of nation building.

    Personally, this perhaps was the toughest season in my life – I had to grapple with the thought that perhaps… just perhaps… all that I believed all these years which makes one successful and a good man - is it really sustainable? I’m concerned about how will I become in future, having been taught the “DNA” for the past 16 years. What if it is all a dream? What is my life like now? You really have to go through a lot of serious thinking.

    I penned the saddest songs and poems during this season of my life, even as I begin to see my friends leave one by one I can't help asking. I tried to understand more, but I realize, after speaking with my Pastor, that it was impossible. I sent him a very concerned email sometime in February 2011, and met up with him hoping to know more but instead of clarifying, he tried to make me feel that it was “wrong” to doubt my pastor and ask these sort of questions because "I was supposed to trust the leadership". He even suggested that my "heart was poisoned" and that I should present myself as an example during a FAQ to the leaders to "acknowledge that I had been misled by certain indviduals and warn the rest of the leaders to be careful". The only consolation he gave me was "many things he dunno" and "he will check for me".

    The Final Straw came in March 2011 when my immediate “team leader” asked me to stop probing and being so vocal about my findings – only to discover later that he is a board member of one of the CHC-linked group. I take it as a conflict of undisclosed interest rather than discipleship. Not wanting to be held ransom under his authority, I left the church in March 2011, determined to uncover the truth. They were trying to silent me.

    I have to admit that I went through an emotional roller-coaster and was angry for some time - I think it is normal to be angry. But it is neither uncontrolled rage nor bitterness. Just angry at what is going on in a place that never ought to be happening. Thankfully, over time in a new environment, I was able to regain clarity and live all over again in spite of what has happened. Now, creating awareness is my main priority.

    The last 6 months

    From the day I discovered that I have been wrong about many things, I set on a mission to uncover the truth. It was after I left that I realized that I stand on a very different side of sociology – “isolation” from the people I know as “family members”. My determination come from the fact that my parents are still attending the church, as well as many of my friends whom I have known for the past 16 years - so my concern is for them not to be mislead.
    There are also talk that "I have been spreading rumours" which resulted in people leaving. For goodness sake, if that had been true, then there would have been a explosive revival in my new church! But no, we just want to go back to the Word where Jesus is the center. All I did was for those who sought me to "talk it out", I asked them to open their eyes and pray and be careful - before giving away their money - because it represents their lives. There are many adults who have brains to think and not easily manipulated emotionally nor fall easily to some "marketing jargons" - I have no influence over them. Rather than doing so many funny things, I suggest rebuilding broken trust by disclosure. The recent FAQ is disappointing - because it did not touch a single bit on the real issues. And what you failed to do, someone else will. I'm not the first one - I just happen to be the current "mascot" (had to redeem all my wrongs for being naive). There will be more people stepping out.

    We have very good and committed members in CHC and I love and respect every single one of them. The problem Is not the church or the members. As much as I can, I will try to deal with this matter honorably, to the extent honor is due.

    I made a decision to set out to uncover the truth for all to know, so that you can rebuild the house in order, and I know it will cause conflict with the people I regard as “friends” there. Nevertheless, this is a tough choice to make and I have decided to see it to the finish, in spite of the challenges it presents. It has been a worthy fight the last 6 months, to turn from one side to the other, adn then to uncover the truth. And I'm just starting to take it to a new level - publishing all these documents for all to see over time, perhaps chronologically.

    Some people choose to build a building, I just felt it is more important to rebuild our lives – starting with putting Jesus as the center in everything, and releasing the truth that will set people free. We all need a closure to this saga. Vindicative, if possible, but most important than anything - be careful with your giving. It represents your blood and life. Revelations 16 says something about it, besides Eekiel 13.

    “Peace if possible but truth at any cost” - Martin Luther.

    This is my story. At the end of the day, I like what a brother say, that "we may be in different camps now, but we are under one Cross". And this Cain (if you treat him as one) is not going to say "am I my brother's keeper". Rather this Cain is gonna say "I AM my brother's keeper". You are always my brother and sister, regardless of what you think of me after I left.
    ***************************************************

    CHC scales down Suntec usage

    AsiaOne News, Feb 19, 2011 (source)

    City Harvest Church (CHC) will begin its services at Suntec Singapore on March 19, a year after its $310 million move put the church in the spotlight.

    However, according to sources that spoke to The Straits Times, church leaders have announced that the initial plans have been scaled back.

    Rev Kong Hee, founder of the church, had initially said that CHC would have exclusive use of Suntec's conventional halls. However, it is now understood that service will only be held there on weekends.

    The initial promise held that the sixth and seventh floor will be used solely by CHC, which also has a minority stake in the company that owns 80 per cent of the building.

    Plans to build a 12,000-seat auditorium have been shelved. Instead, two halls will hold 7,500 worshippers while a third hall will be used to as a children's church.

    This new development is not totally unexpected, due to the Urban Redevelopment Authorities' (URA) guidelines that restrict the use of commercial buildings for religious purposes.

    The guidelines came into play after the church's plans were announced last March.

    These restrictions include a 20 per cent limit on the total floor space used for religious purposes and a two-day limit on the number of days a week for religious activities on any commercial property.

    Last year, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) acted on allegations of misuse of church funds, picking up computers and financial records.

    Although the allegations were not related to the church's relocation to Suntec Singapore, and City Harvest has tried to improve its internal processes, membership has reportedly declined.

    In December 2009, the church's annual report recorded 28,000 attendees on a weekly average. However, internal records obtained by The Straits Times puts the weekly average at 15,000 between June to September 2010.



    **********************************************************************


    TR Emeritus, 
    March 20, 2010 (source)

    City Harvest Church (CHC) has been questioned by the Commissioner of Charities over its $310 million purchase of a stake in Suntec Singapore which it announced two weeks ago, the Straits Times reported today.

    The Church said earlier that it would use two floors in Suntec to house a 12,000-seat auditorium for worship services and that it would be used exclusively for its services, except for about five times a year to allow for international conferences or events to be held there.

    The stake raised some eyebrows among Singaporeans who questioned if registered charities should be allowed to go into business and if the income collected by CHC through its Suntec rentals would be taxed.

    An irate Singaporean Lester Lam wrote to the Straits Times Forum on 11 March 2010 questioning the relevance of giving religious organisations tax-exempt status when many of them own commercial properties and derive rental income from them.

    “Should the Government continue to let religious organisations own commercial properties and earn income from rent? After all, the revenue these organisations use for the purchase is tax-exempt in the first place. Suntec City was developed for commercial purposes. With the church’s purchase of the development and its proposal to convert a section of the exhibition space for church use, is it in breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s land-use policy?” he asked.

    A letter jointly issued by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore explained that “incomes earned by charities are tax-exempt because their main purpose is to provide public benefits through their activities.”

    There are no laws against charities being involved in business activities except that they “must be done in the best interest of the charity and not subject the charity’s assets and resources to unacceptable risk.”

    The Straits Times article did not reveal the exact questions asked by the Commissioner of Charities to CHC. Its Senior Pastor, Kong Hee could not be reached for comments.

    ******************************************


    Extracts from the FAQs issued by Suntec Singapore (March 2010),  are as follows (source):

    1. Who owns the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre (Suntec Singapore)?

    - Suntec Singapore is owned by the ARA Harmony Fund. Stakeholders of the Harmony Fund include Suntec Reit (20%) and other private investors including City Harvest Church.


    2. Does City Harvest Church have a majority share in the Harmony Fund?

    - While details of the stakeholders are confidential, it can be confirmed that City Harvest Church has a minority participation in the Harmony Fund.


    3. Will City Harvest Church have a seat on the ARA Harmony Fund Board?

    - Currently, CHC has no board seats in the ARA Harmony Fund.


    4. Will the Church have any influence in the daily business of the Convention Centre?

    - No. The operation of the Convention Centre has been contracted to Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Services Pte Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of ARA.


    5. What leased spaces will City Harvest Church be using in the convention Centre?

    - Suntec Singapore has issued a license agreement to the Church to provide 3 halls on the 6th floor, the Gallery space on the 3rd Floor and the theatre on the weekends. The license agreement will come into effect in March 2011.


    6. Will the Church be renovating the licensed spaces for their use?

    - Yes. An auditorium with the latest sound system will be constructed in the 6th floor halls. This auditorium will be available for Suntec Singapore to market for MICE business and other events during the week. The Gallery will be converted into smaller rooms for exclusive use by the Church. There are no changes planned for the theatre that will be used by the church on the weekends only.

    ******************************************************************
    CHC increases its stake in Suntec

    Channel NewsAsia, 21 July 2012 (source)

    The City Harvest Church (CHC) has raised its shareholding in Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre to 39.2 per cent. 

    Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain made the announcement at a service on Saturday.

    In 2010, the church, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Urban Property Investments Limited acquired 20 per cent effective shareholding for an aggregate purchase price of S$43.75 million in Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

    Last year, it acquired an additional 19.2 per cent for a purchase price of S$54 million.

    Together with the acquisition in 2010, the church now has an effective shareholding of 39.2 per cent in Suntec for an aggregate purchase price of S$97.75 million.

    Pastor Zulkarnain said the balance 60.8 per cent effective shareholding in the property is held by Suntec Harmony Pte Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suntec REIT.

    He added: "To put it simply, we are co-owners of this property together with Suntec REIT."

    Zulkarnain explained that the S$97.75 million forms part of the S$310 million budget that was previously announced to the church.

    "The balance amount is for the committed rentals; the optional rentals in the coming years; refundable rental deposits; furniture, fittings and equipment costs, and periodic shifting costs," he said.

    The pastor also revealed that initially, with the purchase of this additional stake, the total budget would have reached S$327 million, which is S$17 million above the church's original planned budget of S$310 million for the property. 

    But this will not be the case.

    "We are still able and committed to keep to our original budget of S$310 million because our team has worked very hard to reduce the costs of shifting," said Zulkarnain.

    He said CHC's "ownership-and-lease" model uses the share of dividends from the property to fund part of the rental costs for running weekend services.

    "We arrived at a budget of S$310 million by calculating the point at which the return of our investments will cover most of the yearly rentals," he explained.

    "CHC intends to eventually become self-sustaining in respect to payments of future rentals."

    Zulkarnain said that the value of the property is expected to increase following the ongoing Asset Enhancement Initiative that Suntec REIT has embarked on for the convention centre. 

    Suntec REIT has budgeted S$180 million to carry out upgrading works, which include creating two levels of retail space.

    To facilitate this upgrading, CHC will be holding its services for a period of time at Singapore Expo starting September 2012.

    Pastor Zulkarnain also had an announcement on the church's 2011 Building Fund campaign. 

    "For our Building Fund campaign last year, we pledged a total of S$23,640,715," said Zulkarnain. "By the end of the Building Fund period this year, we had collected S$22,687,651. This is a very healthy 96 per cent fulfilment, better than previous years."

    The two announcements come a week before the church's annual general meeting. 

    In a media release, the church said this move is in accordance with the Commissioner of Charities' suggestion that the church reveals developments in its Suntec investments to its congregation.

    ********************************************

    City Harvest Church's financial statement for the Financial Year ending 31 October 2009 was posted on the Internet around June 2010, but is unfortunately no longer available.


    The following extracts from the discussion here in June 2010  provides glimpses of the financial statement.








    _______________________


    What bothers me now is the accounts of CHEC and the other companies.

    IF it is true that some members of the entourage of Sun Ho in LA is under the payroll of CHEC and other related companies (together with "lending" by the church to these companies), it would very likely be considered as fraud in the court of law. 

    I asked 2 accounting grads (state: 1 is with honours, the other is Masters) - They agreed that if the above is true, then it is very likely that the CAD will be able to pin it as fraud and misuse of church funds. 

    They also agree that it is (or may) be a very neat set of creative accounting... But given enough time and manpower (which the CAD has ample supply), the links and relationship between the church, individuals and companies will be uncovered.

    ______________________________________

    Another thing that interests me is note 17.

    "... the church signed an 8-year license agreement for $46.3 million payable over a period of 6 months."

    I was thinking a lot... $46.3 MILLION!! that's enough to build 1 Jurong West building. And that the licence agreement is only for A MERE 8 years!

    What exactly is this $46.3 million for? For the rental of Suntec convention hall?



    More ingenious: entering into an 8 year S$46.3 mil licence agreement, payable over a period of 6 months from 1 Oct 2009, just so that the licensor undertakes to procure an acceptable premises for the church's use. As at 31 Oct 2009, the church had already paid S$16 mil in advance.

    License agreement executed before 1Oct 2009 can be amended, modified or terminated by mutual consent at a later stage to take into account of impending move to Suntec. 

    Read carefully the last para " In consideration .....to do so".

    This agreement is not realistic or practical.



    The licence fee agreement was designed to facilitate the cash outflow to Xtron, so that Xtron could in early 2010 sign that rental agreement with Suntec and pay the advance rental deposit etc. It was creative financing.


    ____________________________________


    Wow! They must have a financial whiz in the membership! Just look at the cash flow statement: they reaped a hefty profit of $72.5 million from disposal of some undisclosed financial assets alone! They also have some interesting debtors - receivables is a humongous $19 million! They pay well too - staff salary and allowances total $8.3 million!
    ___________________________________


    There are 3 executives of the Management Board earning the following salaries

    One was paid from $100,000 to $150,000
    Another was paid from $150,001 to $200,000
    The last one was paid from $200,000 to $250,000

    The salaries include basic pay, benefits and CPF contribution.


    I wonder who are they. And are these amounts on top of their current salary drawn as employees of the church. 
    ____________________________________________


    why is there interest income of only $3000, when there is a cash at bank balance of $31,000,000?

    that means either: 

    Gross incompetence
    or
    Something dodgy is happening with the financial statements.

    _____________________________________________


    In addition, the board authorised the investment of S$11.4 mil into unquoted bonds. We all know that unquoted bonds means the pricing and realisation recourse are so opaque that one can never be sure if he has bought into a dud! Who recommended the investment? Who was the issuer of such unquoted bonds and hence the beneficiary of the funds? Who approved the investment?
    ____________________________________

    Expenses in respect of Asia Conference -$4.4 million whilst income -$290,000.




    ________________________________________________


    CHC's Disinformation  on new church building in Jan 2010
    (source)




    $310m building plan for City Harvest

    18 January 2010 | The Straits Times
    by Yen Feng
    CITY Harvest Church has announced a $310 million expansion plan to buy land, and to erect a building that will house shops, restaurants and a 12,000-seat auditorium.


    Founder Kong Hee, 45, said during church services yesterday and last Saturday that the land sale would be completed later this month. He did not specify the location, but said the site would be in the 'central south' district.


    He described the site as 'super large'. It is believed the site covers an area as large as three football fields - six times the size of the Protestant church's current home in Jurong West Street 91, which it owns.


    'This is truly amazing,' Dr Kong said yesterday at the Singapore Expo, where it has been renting a hall for services. 'Finally, we will have a church in the marketplace, for the marketplace, to penetrate the marketplace.'


    The church's plans to incorporate retail elements into its building project follow similar plans announced in 2007 by New Creation Church, another large Christian group in Singapore.


    New Creation has teamed up with mall developer CapitaLand Retail to build an 'integrated hub' at Buona Vista. The $1 billion project, when ready in 2012, will house shops, a concert hall and a theatre.


    Details of the City Harvest project remain fuzzy. It is not known how many floors the building will have, how much space will be for retail and religious use, or when construction will start and end.


    It is also unclear if the church will rope in partners, as New Creation did, to develop the site.


    In response to queries from The Straits Times, Reverend Derek Dunn, City Harvest's executive pastor, said yesterday that a non-disclosure agreement prevented him from commenting on the project.


    At yesterday's service, Dr Kong said only that there would be 'ample parking', and that the building would have 'eateries, restaurants and world-class facilities'. The news surprised many churchgoers, who cheered and waved their hands.


    Last Saturday night, Dr Kong posted a message on his Twitter service that proclaimed: 'Told them the great news. People were laughing, crying, clapping. A new day for City Harvest Church.'


    Yesterday, he told the congregation that expansion plans had been germinating since 2005, when the church began renting a hall at Singapore Expo to hold additional services for its growing congregation - now 27,000 strong. The Jurong West church seats only about 2,400.


    According to City Harvest financial statements, it spent $3 million on rent from July 2007 to October 2008.


    Dr Kong said he had considered 25 potential sites, including the Capitol Theatre at Stamford Road, The Pines Club at Stevens Road and the Toa Payoh Sports Complex, but had found them all unsuitable.


    At $310 million, the proposed facilities would cost each member about $11,000 if they divided the amount equally.


    Member donations make up more than 95 per cent of the church's annual income.


    The church plans to pay for the project over seven to 10 years, although it has set an initial target of $17 million by June.


    Members were optimistic, despite the recession, that they would reach the target. They also pointed to how New Creation Church members managed to raise $19 million in just one day last year in March - at a time when banks were failing and millions worldwide were out of jobs.

    2 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    City Harvest was rebuked by COC for letting AMAC Capital, Chew Eng Han's investment company, managed its funds.
    It has been revealed that Chew Eng Han is holding in Trust on behalf of AMAC Capital, 443,000,000 plus shares of Trancus, a recently re-listed counter on SGX.
    Is the church money being used to invest in this speculative counter that has been put on watchlist by the SGX?

    Anonymous said...

    He is God's servant; God alone can judge him.

    In the meantime, we should be now cautious of this church.