Store buzzes, Rev Kong silent, church's financials speak up
Chen Huifen
Fri, Jun 04, 2010
The Business Times

(SINGAPORE) It was business as usual at the Ed Hardy outlet at The Heeren, where funky T-shirts and jeans with loud and colourful prints are being sold at between $180 and $500. A sign near the entrance indicated that a sale was going on with up to 50 per cent discount. A jacket with the phrase 'You Only Live Once' - with artwork of a bikini-clad girl surrounded by roses - hung on a rack near the cashier.

There was also a T-shirt with a bulldog wearing a crown, above the words 'King of Beasts'. On display tables, there were canvas shoes with tattoo-like skeleton drawings.

There were a few curious walk-ins, obviously drawn by the cult fashion designs. But there was no sign of City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee who, with his pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun, owns the Ed Hardy store.

Since falling into the limelight this week as one of the City Harvest Church members questioned by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), the Reverend Kong has not made any public appearance or given any update on his Facebook and Twitter pages. Notwithstanding ongoing investigations, credit has to be given to the church for its attempt at transparency.

According to checks by BT, City Harvest is the only mega church - and possibly the only church here - that posts its financial statements on the Internet for all to see. Going by its last audited financial year that ended in October 2009, City Harvest received $38.6 million of donations and earned another $2.4 million from a Bible training centre and in miscellaneous income.

But expenses came close to incoming receipts. Expenditure for the 12-month period was almost $40 million - much of it on staff salaries and allowances, which were $9.3 million or 23 per cent of total expenses. As at October last year, City Harvest employed 150 people.

The staff cost includes an annual wage bonus, a half-month bonus and a zero to two-month bonus given out in May last year. A footnote explained that the bonuses are given 'according to the prevailing civil service practice'.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows average annual remuneration per worker at the church was almost $62,000. On the other hand, Ren Ci Hospital, which had 431 employees, reported staff costs of $12.2 million, or just over $28,000 on average per worker. The Muhammadiyah Association of Singapore in 2008 reported staff costs of $666,000 - or just over $17,000 on average per worker. The Salvation Army, which has 328 staff, spent $7.5 million on employee cost last year.

Other than staff remuneration, the next biggest expense for City Harvest Church was 'other' operating and administration expenses, at $7.9 million. This was followed by spending on special events ($6.1 million), mission support and church planting ($4.9 million) and local community and charity work ($2.9 million).

Bank, cash and fixed deposit balances totalled $32 million. Including sundry receivables of $14.3 million, City Harvest had total assets of $111 million. Total funds were $103 million, including $65 million in the organisation's building fund. The church also recorded total liabilities of $7.6 million.

It is difficult to compare the church's financial performance with that of the previous year because of a change in financial period. Its FY2008 statement covers a 16-month period. And since no other church is known to make its financial statements public, it is also difficult to do an apple-to-apple comparison.

Known for its rock concert-style services, City Harvest Church was founded in 1989 by the Rev Kong, who is not on the church's payroll. Instead, he is said to support himself through his businesses and speaking engagements.

Other than the Ed Hardy outlet, he owns two boutiques under Skin Couture. He is also the co-owner with his wife of International Harvest, a provider of corporate training and motivational courses.

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