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Graft in Allah's name

Publication Date : 05-07-2012


Indonesia has a serious rival to the Wall of China – the thicker, longer and more formidable wall of resistance against combating graft. Part of that wall is the Religious Affairs Ministry, the state institution deemed the most corrupt in a 2011 survey by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Officials and the public expressed shock last week when the KPK announced it was beginning investigations into irregularities surrounding the ministry’s procurement of millions of copies of the Koran.

The shock expressed has been greater than that conveyed regarding other graft issues, including its haj pilgrimage management. For the latest allegations concern the holy book itself. Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, has now gained global fame for embezzling everything, even the provision of the Koran, which is believed to contain God’s words.

But then the revelations are not all that surprising. For the provision of the Koran copies ended up being only one item on a long list of procurements by the aforementioned ministry, and only one among a vast number of procurements across 34 ministries and other state institutions. The procurements at these bodies are among the main sources of corruption identified by law enforcers.

To meet the demand of at least 2 million copies a year for local religious affairs offices and Islamic schools, the ministry had to outsource the printing of Korans.

Citing KPK sources, Tempo magazine revealed on Monday the role of a politician from Golkar - one of country's big political parties - on the House of Representatives’ budget committee, who was said to be the regular mediator between the House and the ministry.

Graft reports surrounding the Koran procurement, and also the haj management, will only mean louder calls to clean up graft at the ministry – by privatising its lucrative, graft-prone businesses – or dissolving the ministry itself.

Instead of making haj management independent of the ministry, the Indonesian government appointed the economist Anggito Abimanyu as the ministry’s new directorate general for haj and minor pilgrimage affairs.

We hope that the former head of fiscal policy at the Finance Ministry becomes a sort of modern-day Pied Piper to lure out the graft rats, given his flute-playing skills. But it will be amazing if he can even so much as scratch the surface of that wall, which protects the interests sitting on the ministry’s lucrative businesses.

Before the Koran procurement reports, the KPK also revealed irregularities in the use of interest proceeds, worth 1.7 trillion rupiah (US$188 million) from the management of haj funds of 32 trillion rupiah ($3.4 billion). The commission called for a moratorium on haj pilgrimage registrations, with too many candidates on the waiting list.

As the haj is obligatory for all able Muslims, millions set aside savings and wait at least three years before leaving for Mecca – setting the stage for graft among greedy parties within and outside the ministry.

Protests come and go; including from private airliner Batavia Air, which voiced in April suspicions over its repeated losses in transportation tenders for the annual average departure of 200,000 pilgrims. Its suspicions of a business monopoly are as yet unproven.

But, nevertheless, we question the use of this ministry, if it can’t even protect the Koran from corruption, much less millions of would-be haj pilgrims, many of whom save all their lives to meet the costs involved. As for the protection of religious minorities, we have seen how the Religious Affairs Ministry is itself part of the problem.


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