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CityNews reports,

CHC Trial: Kong Hee: Roland Poon Incident Was A “Wake Up Call”

Early allegations spurred church leadership to seek counsel from Drew & Napier lawyer and Baker Tilly auditor in strengthening its corporate governance, CHC founder Kong Hee tells court.  

The Roland Poon incident had been so distressing to the City Harvest leadership and its members that it “ … woke us up to the reality that what we perceive as something good …in the church may not be how those outside the church would perceive it,” recalled Kong Hee this afternoon in court.

In 2003, Poon, a businessman, had made a public allegation that Kong was making the church worship Sun even before God himself, forcing members to buy her albums and vote for her at the MTV Asia Awards, and that the church’s building fund was used to pay for her promotional and publicity campaigns.

Poon’s allegations caused much unrest and confusion among CHC members. Kong said, in response to his lawyer Edwin Tong’s question about what sort of backlash the incident caused, that “especially in Singapore, we had a lot of hate mails. People wrote in to say that how could a church be using its funds to promote the personal career of one of its members, and then, of course, there are others that felt that she is the wife of a prominent pastor; how could the wife of a prominent pastor become a secular pop singer?”

The onslaught of negative feedback cause some members to be confused, some to leave the church, and others to question the whole purpose of the Crossover Project, the court heard today.

It was then that the board members decided that moving forward, the church should not financially support the project. Up to that point, the first two albums, Sun with Love and SUN*day, were paid for by the church.

The decision was then made to revisit an offer made by longtime member and successful businessman Wahju Hanafi to pay for the Crossover Project; he had agreed to fund the production expenses for the two albums.

Poon eventually issued a public withdrawal of his allegations. Out of that incident, the church leadership learned another lesson.

“No matter how traumatising that was, it was … another learning experience for us,” said Kong today. “I think that event became a wake-up call for our church, that, you know, the reality of life is such that you cannot manage and control what’s happening in the public domain. So it was more a wake-up call for us, that we’ve got to be very careful what we share.”

Kong told the court that before the incident, he had been very open with church members, “sharing again and again on the Crossover Project, to the EMs on the financing of the Crossover Project … I realised that whatever we share, it very quickly would go out to the public, and once it goes out to the public, it’s very difficult to manage public opinion, which would then affect our members and distract us from our missions. The adverse media, the hate mails, it really affected our members in a big way and distracted us from what we felt we are called to do by God for his kingdom in the Great Commission, in preaching the Gospel,” he added.

The fallout from what has since been termed the “Roland Poon incident” thus pointed the church leadership to the need for a top-class law firm to represent the church and help it bolster its corporate governance.

That was when the decision was made to retain the services of lawyer Jimmy Yim from Drew & Napier to “inject rigidity and structure” into its corporate governance.

Kong recalled, “Jimmy often would tell me that, ‘You know, Pastor, I’m not charging a lot. I’m really doing this because I love the church and I want to help you in your vision.’”

As a senior counsel and a highly respected member in the legal community, Yim was thought to have the necessary legal expertise to scrutinize processes and contracts for projects in the church’s pipeline, including the search for new worship premises, the transitioning of the Crossover Project to the USA and the corresponding collaboration with renowned hip-hop music producer Wyclef Jean.

Likewise, with regards to audit and financial matters, Kong and his team looked to Teo Foong Wong (later Baker Tilly) auditor Foong Daw Ching for advice. Describing Foong as someone who went through things “with a fine-toothed comb”, Kong said that he was assured in putting the church and other church-linked entities under him because of his meticulous, conservative nature.

According to Kong, Foong had given him assurance that if something was wrong, Foong would contact him.

Retaining the services of Yim and Foong meant that CHC’s senior staff and board members could seek proper advice whenever they had queries.

Kong said, “That’s the reason why we put them on retainers, so that… as our church continues its expansion, its programmes, we don’t have to second-guess or get worried that perhaps we have not dot every ‘i’ or crossed every ‘t’. So especially when I’m not around as often as I would like to, because of our overseas missions, I really wanted my staff, my leaders, the board members, to constantly check with the lawyers and the auditors.”

Court resumes at 9:30am tomorrow.

Source: The CityNews Team, CHC Trial: Kong Hee: Roland Poon Incident Was A “Wake Up Call”, CityNews, http://www.citynews.sg/2014/08/chc-trial-kong-hee-roland-poon-incident-was-a-wake-up-call/, Updated on August 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm. (Accessed 14/08/2014.)