(SINGAPORE) There has been a leadership change at City Harvest Church, which is under investigation by the police.
Its founder has taken a backseat while two pastors, Derek Dunn and Aries Zulkarnain, have been put in charge of running the church. This arrangement will continue until the current investigations are completed.
The founder, Pastor Kong Hee, will however remain the president and chairman of the City Harvest board. He is among the 20-odd church members summoned by the Commercial Affairs Department as part of the probe.
Meanwhile, City Harvest has appointed auditors from RSM Chio Lim to conduct an independent review, Pastor Dunn told The Business Times yesterday.
The independent review will examine the church's corporate governance structure and internal control processes.
'If the review identifies lapses, the church will take necessary corrective measures recommended by the adviser to prevent such lapses in the future,' said Pastor Dunn. 'The church is fully committed to accountability and integrity in the church's dealings and has taken steps to protect its interest and that of its members.'
He broke the church's silence for the first time since the probe began.
At the start of this month, the police and the Commissioner of Charities said that they were investigating 'financial transactions involving several individuals and companies, related or connected to the City Harvest Church', after the Commissioner's office received complaints of misuse of church funds.
These related companies under probe include those that are not charities or subsidiaries of the church, the Commissioner's office said.
These objections were apart from complaints over the church's purchase of a minority stake in Suntec Singapore. The acquisition would cost the church $310 million, including expected renovation and equipment expenses, City Harvest announced in March.
Pastor Dunn declined comment on the ongoing police investigations. 'We are very grateful for and deeply appreciate the strong love, concern and support demonstrated by all of our members as well as those from the Christian community here in Singapore and abroad, during this challenging period,' he said.
'The authorities have been more than professional and have extended their utmost courtesy to our members in the investigative process.'
While the two pastors will take charge of ministerial duties at City Harvest, the 10-strong board will continue taking on the management role. The church created a deeper separation between the executive and board roles after a review by the Commissioner of Charities some two years ago, said Pastor Dunn.
Recommendations from the review on City Harvest and six other religious organisations - which were mostly kept private - included cutting the number of pastoral members sitting on the church board. The church currently has 24 pastors.
'Following the review, the church has reduced the number of pastoral members on the board to three. This allows a greater degree of independence of the board from the church's spiritual and pastoral leaders,' said Pastor Dunn.
Previously, pastoral members made up a majority of the board.
'There is no doubt, however, that it is not practical for a church to effect a complete separation of the leadership of the governing board from its pastoral leadership,' he added.
The board looks at the daily operations of City Harvest, which entails ensuring that the accounts of the church are properly audited and recorded, as well as managing its investments.
Its other duties extend to administrative matters, which were previously under the purview of the pastoral department.
The board members are nominated by an executive member and voted in by a simple majority. They serve for a year, before being put up for re-election at the church's annual general meeting (AGM) the next year.
BT understands that there are 750 voting members of the church, who are eligible to vote in board members. These include ordinary members who take on more responsibilities, having been with the church for a longer time and receiving training.
As part of the 2008 review, the Commissioner also asked the church to consider a strategy for board renewal, with 'particular attention' to the roles of the chairman and the treasurer, said Pastor Dunn, adding that the plan was put in place by the 2009 AGM.
Investigations into the church and its financial dealings have flung the door open to debate over the segregation of commercial and religious pursuits of the church, which had total funds of $103 million, including a $65 million building fund, for its fiscal 2009.
And what are the church's views on the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by Pastor Kong and his wife, Ho Yeow Sun?
Pastor Dunn stressed that claims of extravagance have been exaggerated.
'Concerning the lifestyle of Rev Kong and his wife, we know them well. Rev Kong is a dedicated and motivated senior pastor of the church. He has been working hard for the past 20 over years and is a renowned and recognised personality on the speaking circuit. His wife is a successful singer,' he said.
'While their lifestyle reflects their own accomplishments, we do not see it as lavish or excessive.'