(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

A probe into a healthcare charity has widened after a police report was lodged against three people linked to the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP).

The Sunday Times understands that the police report, filed in April, accuses the trio of falsifying records to deceive officers from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Commissioner of Charities.

BMDP had been in the news earlier this month when The Sunday Times reported that MOH had commissioned an audit into the healthcare charity that manages a private bone marrow registry here, following feedback it received on administrative and governance issues within the organisation.

The audit into the BMDP started in September last year.

It is not known when the audit will be completed, but the 24-year-old charity’s Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status expires next month.

The IPC status allows it to raise funds from donors who will enjoy a tax deduction – the lifeline for many charities here.

ESTABLISHING TRUTH

From time to time, you will hear about things, and if it is quite recurring, then a special audit is something to verify the facts, whether there is anything substantial in what you have been hearing

MR GERARD EE, a veteran in the charity sector and chairman of the Charity Council, pointing out that special audits do not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing or fraud.

At the time, MOH said that it had yet to conclude the review, and it was premature to comment on it or discuss if action will be taken.

The police confirmed to The Sunday Times that a report had been lodged and investigations are ongoing. It is not clear whether the report is linked to the audit.

Sources say that the investigation into falsified documents is related to salary increments, and that the complainant had surrendered documents to police during an interview.

Asked if the police investigations were linked to its audit, MOH said: “MOH’s review on BMDP is ongoing. We have not lodged any police report on BMDP.”

On its part, BMDP said: “The BMDP is unable to comment on the ongoing police investigation, however it is committed to assisting the authorities in their investigation”.

BMDP builds and manages Singapore’s only register for volunteer bone marrow donors, helping to save the lives of Singaporeans suffering from blood-related diseases.

Bone marrow, or blood stem cell, transplant is the best treatment option for patients diagnosed with blood diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma. Without a transplant, many of them will die.

At any one time, at least 50 patients here are waiting to find a matching donor.

Over 75,000 donors have joined the BMDP registry, which records a person’s genetic type through a cheek swab. Donors need to be between 17 and 49 to sign up.

BMDP has a staff of about 20 and a 13-member executive committee made up of professionals including doctors, lawyers and accountants.

BMDP’s reserves have grown from $1.6 million in 2012 to $16.7 million last year.

In the ongoing audit, KPMG had highlighted several “critical and major” areas of concern after reviewing the charity’s operations between 2013 and July last year.

Among the findings, the audit questioned if the services of BMDP’s Patient Services and Donor Centre were considered “charitable” since the cost of the services offered to patients was recovered from patients, with a “mark-up”.

KPMG also flagged the “excessive” use of donations on marketing and entertainment.

Concerns were raised as well about the “unclear policy” regarding BMDP’s reimbursement practice for entertainment purposes, as well as the overseas travel claims of a senior executive.

A veteran in the charity sector and chairman of the Charity Council, Mr Gerard Ee, had pointed out that special audits do not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing or fraud.

Said Mr Ee: “From time to time, you will hear about things, and if it is quite recurring, then a special audit is something to verify the facts, whether there is anything substantial in what you have been hearing.”

BMDP’s response

The Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) has responded to some of the concerns raised in a draft audit by KPMG Services, which were highlighted in an earlier report by The Sunday Times.

The audit questioned if the services of BMDP’s Patient Services and Donor Centre were considered “charitable” since the cost of the services offered to patients was recovered from patients, with a “mark-up”.

BMDP: While there is “a small administrative fee… added to the cost for the patient”, patient costs are not marked up. “The administrative fee is designed to cover all the costs of running the programme on a break-even basis,” said a spokesman.

Several costs are involved when a bone marrow transplant is needed, including the price of medical check-ups and laboratory tests carried out on the donor to ensure he is fit to donate, BMDP said.

When the registry needs to transport bone marrow from overseas, the cost will also include air fares and other related expenses.

Of the over $900,000 received for its Needy Patient Fund, set up in 2015, only $51,500 was disbursed to needy patients that year, said the audit.

BMDP: The fund, which started in 2015, and which has been renamed The Patient Fund, was set up by a legacy donation of $900,000 from a single benefactor. It is not made up of funds raised from the public.

It supports Singaporean and permanent resident patients in need of financial assistance through full or partial funding to cover the cost of procuring bone marrow. Procurement costs range from $20,000 for a local donor to a maximum of $64,000 for a donor from the United States, for example.

BMDP said about 25 per cent of the funds, or about $225,000, has been used to help over 60 eligible patients.

“Excessive” use of donations on marketing and entertainment.

BMDP: A $2.25 million grant was received under the Care & Share Movement, an initiative led by the Community Chest, in 2015. Those funds, plus grants from the Tote Board, have been used to cover tissue typing expenses (lab tests for new donors) and to launch Project Tomorrow – a three- year project to add 50,000 new donors to the register by next year.

This has involved community engagement and grassroots awareness raising via exhibitions and roadshows, and a media campaign. Project Tomorrow has increased the register from 62,000 last April, to 80,000 this April.

More Info: www.straitstimes.com

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