City Harvest founder steps down as chairman

SINGAPORE - CITY Harvest Church founder Kong Hee has stepped down as chairman of the Singapore-based church's 10-member management board.

The major leadership shuffle, the second since the Commercial Affairs Department launched a probe into the alleged misuse of church funds last May, is a move "after consultation with senior members of the church," said a church spokesman.

Although Mr Kong will stay on as a board member, half of the board will be replaced, reported The Straits Times. The five outgoing members are Suraj, Aries Zulkarnain, Lee Tat Haur, Chiang Pak Shane and Choong Tsih Ming.

A new chairman is expected to be announced by May 10.

In a church newsletter released over the weekend, City Harvest said the changes were made during the church's Annual General Meeting on April 10 so the organisation could comply with the recently updated code of governance for charities.

In January, the Charity Council tweaked its guidelines to establish stricter distinctions between the board and staff members of charities in order to maintain board independence.

Previously, the governance code stated that paid staff should not serve as board members; now, both paid and unpaid staff are advised not to serve on the board. If staff are also board members, they should not comprise more than one-third of the board.

To distinguish between staff and non-staff members, the council told the Straits Times that "if a new board member is only overseeing missions work, but is not involved in the actual running of missionary programmes in the field, he or she is not considered a staff."

With the five new board members, the church deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, missions director Bobby Chaw, and Mr Kong will be the only staff members serving the board, the church said.

The church’s five new board members are known figures among the 30,000-strong congregation. Mr Chaw is the church’s missions director, while Mr Lee Kiam Hong, Mr John Lim Geok Peng, and Mr Francis Tay Eng Hock are cell group leaders; the fifth newcomer, Dr Francis Seow-Choen, a consultant at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, is a member of the church’s missions committee. 

When asked if Mr Kong's stepping down as chairman would matter, Mr Amos Lee, 40, a church member for 14 years told the Straits Times: “As long as the overall leadership is still intact, and he is still the one giving the direction, I don’t think there will be an issue.”