The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)’s Halal Certification Strategic Unit has once again come under fire as questions regarding a possible cover-up of corruption and favouritism involving senior officers in the unit have surfaced recently.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) veteran politician Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood highlighted — in an open letter to Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli last week — that MUIS has not taken “further action” to prove that it is “conducting an independent and comprehensive investigation” over such allegations.
The Council, he noted, has only issued “a brief denial, a false claim of its adherence to ISO standards and a threat to take legal action” in response to the claims made in articles by regional publication Asia Sentinel regarding the issue.
“It has also not responded to the accusation that it had misled the public on the application of the ISO standard,” Mr Jufrie added in an open letter to Mr Masagos last Sunday (17 May).
Mr Jufrie also said that the Minister had instructed MUIS to conduct an internal investigation instead of an independent one, in response to “a hard-hitting letter” penned by “a Singaporean living in Australia” to the current Chief Executive of MUIS regarding the alleged corruptive practices of the said officials.
The SDP politician, however, said that he was informed that “the very person accused of corruption and his immediate senior who protects him are appointed to sit in the investigating team”, instead of facing a suspension “until a thorough investigation finds him innocent”.
“If the dragging of its feet gives the impression that it is trying to sweep the issue under the carpet to protect the alleged wrong doer, the appointment of the alleged wrong doer and his immediate superior to conduct an investigation against himself and his protector is indeed an affront to justice and fair play,” he stressed.
The letter sent by the Singaporean residing in Australia, said Mr Jufrie, intends to affirm the claims made in the Asia Sentinel articles.
Mr Jufrie himself has received numerous complaints on how terms and conditions governing the accreditation of foreign halal certifiers “are a big mess and often contradictory, which the officer in MUIS exploits to serve his personal interests and that of his preferred party”.
He cited an email dated 5 January 2017, in which he was told that external certifiers are not allowed to appoint consultants to assist them in their dealings with MUIS.
Yet, for “a certain applicant”, the appointment of a consultant preferred by the officer was made a condition for approval as a foreign-based halal certifier.
“The consultant preferred by the MUIS officer as mentioned in the letter has been accused of theft, certifying non-halal meat as halal and firing his own slaughtermen turned whistleblowers, among others,” Mr Jufrie added.
Claiming that mainstream media outlets such as Malay-language daily Berita Harian “have been warned” not to report on the matter, Mr Jufrie lamented how an issue “of such public interest and concern” does not receive “the necessary forensic scrutiny of a compliant media” which could pressure the authorities “to act swiftly and transparently”.
“Corruption for money is one thing but corruption that leads to the certifying of what is “haram” as halal is a very serious matter which I am most concerned about.
“Whatever the officer was alleged to have been doing – the abuse of power, the corruption, the bullying, the favouritism, his arrogance and other despicable antics – it is done in the name of MUIS, the Islamic institution he represents.
“When people curse him they are indirectly cursing MUIS and, by extension, the good name of Singapore gets tainted,” said Mr Jufrie.
In a comment under his open letter, Mr Jufrie also disclosed that there has been no fewer than three reports filed to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) regarding the allegations of corruption among MUIS senior officials in the halal certification unit.
He added that the decision to pen the open letter to Mr Masagos was made after the Bureau had reportedly not taken any action “for reasons known to themselves”.
MUIS, JAKIM officials frequently hold “unofficial” meetings in Kuala Lumpur to discuss which certification bodies to favour, independent auditor alleges
The Singaporean referred to in Mr Jufrie’s letter is reportedly an independent Halal auditor based in Australia.
The auditor, in his letter to Mr Masagos and MUIS on 9 May, alleged — as reported by Asia Sentinel on Monday — that MUIS officials, together with Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), frequently hold unofficial meetings in Kuala Lumpur to decide which certification bodies to favour and which ones to blacklist.
“Many certification bodies have been treated badly and unfairly,” the auditor wrote.
Industry insiders, according to the auditor, often speak of bias towards those close to one of the MUIS officials involved as well as a JAKIM high official.
The MUIS officer, he said, supposedly grants “a leading advantage to his friends” such as the Supreme Council of Halal Meat in Australia Inc and the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.
“Their modus operandi has always done through their known agent,” wrote the auditor, in reference to another Australia-based auditor who partakes in the “unofficial” meetings in Kuala Lumpur.
Despite MUIS having announced that it has carried out a probe into the matter, Asia Sentinel reported industry sources as saying that the exercise is merely an attempt at whitewashing the alleged actions of the MUIS official and his superior, the latter of whom leads the halal certification unit.
According to Asia Sentinel’s report, the halal certification unit — which includes both the finance and halal departments — was previously flagged in the 2018-2019 Singapore Auditor General’s report for “lapses in 12 tenders and quotations valued at S$5.54 million, which might have led to a different tender result through the evaluation system”.
“Consequently, the Auditor General found inadequate assurances that government procurement principles of transparency, open and fair competition and value for money had been met.
“In addition, the office’s checks found weaknesses in MUIS domestic halal system over access rights, allowing some users to conduct inspections and approve their own recommendations,” Asia Sentinel highlighted.
“Although MUIS in response it took the Auditor-General’s findings seriously and acknowledged the lapses, it publicly claimed the agency had found no evidence of fraud,” it added.
MUIS in a statement on 27 April — in response to the allegations published in an earlier article by Asia Sentinel — insisted that central decisions regarding halal certification are not made by a single person, but by an independent panel made of internal members of MUIS management who do not take part in processing applications for halal certification.
“While Muis recognises that FCBs [foreign halal certification bodies] operate in different social, religious and legal contexts from Singapore, Muis only recognises those who are able to demonstrate that they adhere to similar standards adopted by Muis, as well as the clearly stipulated terms and conditions for recognition,” said the Council.
MUIS added that it has removed the FCB recognition status of 10 organisations which did not meet its requirements over the last 10 years, and noted that FCBs must have an adequate halal management process as well as a competent legal Islamic advisory board responsible for religious advice in halal certification.
While MUIS in its statement last month said that concerned parties should approach the relevant authorities to clarify their doubts, Asia Sentinel noted that to date, MUIS has not invited the publication “to supply any information or documentation to MUIS to assist in any investigations”.
The Council, added Asia Sentinel, allegedly has not acknowledged the 9 May letter to Mr Masagos and MUIS by the independent Australian-based auditor.