Religious Affairs Ministry defends haj fund

Haeril Halim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Mon, February 10 2014, 10:35 AM

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has denied that corruption had taken place in the management of the haj pilgrimage fund and that his ministry had introduced reforms to prevent graft and irregularities.

The minister claimed that the management of the haj fund during his tenure was “far better” than it had been under his predecessors.

Last week, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) announced it had launched a preliminary investigation into alleged irregularities in the ministry’s management of the haj pilgrimage fund from 2012 to 2013.

Suryadharma said that he was caught off guard by the KPK’s announcement.

“To be honest, I don’t know what [the KPK meant] by [the alleged] irregularities. We have carried out internal reforms within the ministry until now,” Suryadharma said over the weekend.

He also lashed out at the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK), whose reports in January 2013 alleged that over the last eight years there were extensive irregularities in the fund holding the deposits of prospective pilgrims.

Suryadharma challenged the PPATK to back up its claim.

“The PPATK report said that there were suspicious transactions totaling Rp 230 billion during 2004-2012. I urge the PPATK to make the report publicly available to avoid speculations that could tarnish the image of the ministry,” he said.

Data from the PPATK showed the ministry had managed Rp 80 trillion (US$6.5 billion) in haj funds with Rp 2.3 trillion interest from 2004-2012.

Each pilgrim is required to pay a deposit of Rp 25 million to be registered on the waiting list for the pilgrimage. Those payments are stored and managed by the ministry. Currently, there are nearly 2 million people who are on the waiting list. Last year, around 168,800 people went to Mecca for the haj.

Suryadharma urged the KPK to expedite its preliminary investigation to prove the allegation.

The United Development Party (PPP) chairman also said that he would be ready to meet the KPK summons. He also denied allegations that the ministry was not transparent in handling the haj fund.

He said that details of haj fees, including the passport fee of Rp 225,000, insurance of Rp 100,000, and accommodation expenses while in Jeddah, Arafat and Medina, had also been published online.

The ministry’s director general for the haj and minor haj, Anggito Abimanyu, said that the chances of the haj fund being misused were small, as it was kept in sharia-based banks protected by the Deposit Insurance Corporation (LPS).

“We have transparent reports and also the haj fund is protected by the LPS. We’ve also recruited skilled human resources,” he went on.

Last year, Anggito said that the government was considering placing haj funds in US dollar-denominated government sukuk (sharia bonds) to safeguard pilgrims’ money against the risk of currency mismatch, as well as to boost the development of the country’s Islamic financing.

The KPK so far has questioned two lawmakers — Hasrul Azwar and Jazuli Juwaini — in connection to the alleged irregularities.

Hasrul, who currently sits on House of Representatives Commission VIII overseeing religious affairs, is a PPP politician and Jazuli, who is former deputy chairman of Commission VIII, is with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The Religious Affairs Ministry currently manages around Rp 60 trillion (US$4.9 billion) in haj funds collected from potential pilgrims across Indonesia, which has the world’s highest Muslim population.

Of the total, Rp 31 trillion is placed in sharia-compliant debt papers, with the remaining funds are invested as deposits in local sharia banks, such as Bank Syariah Mandiri and Bank Muamalat.


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