Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali persuaded the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to hand over the authority on halal certification to the government, promising that the organization would not be required to provide accountability reports on proceeds it received from the halal-certification fees.
Suryadharma assured the MUI on Monday that the fees it collected from the issuance of halal certificates were perfectly legal as the proceeds had been used to pay operational costs.
However, he encouraged the MUI to let the government handle the responsibility for the greater good.
“The MUI has handled the halal certification process using its own funds. So, I personally don’t see a problem with the organization keeping the proceeds. It is not an issue,” Suryadharma said on the sidelines of a meeting with the House of Representatives Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs on Monday.
Suryadharma, also chairman of the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP), said that forcing the MUI to disclose its records regarding halal certification would be equal to demanding financial accountability of a privately run hospital when acquired by the Health Ministry.
“Why would a privately run hospital hand over its financial records to the ministry? There’s no need to do so,” he said, adding that “it [MUI] would be audited only if it later became our partner in issuing the [halal] certificates”.
Suryadharma statement comes as Commission VIII lawmakers decides whether to audit MUI’s halal certification program.
MUI chairman Amidhan Shaberah previously said the council charged up to Rp 5 million (US$431) for a halal certificate for a product, which was only valid for two years.
According to Amidhan, the fees were exclusively for the certificates, while a company may need to cover additional fees, including accommodation and transportation, when a team from the MUI needs to carry out tests outside Jakarta.
Several lawmakers from Commission VIII, which has been tasked with deliberating the halal certification bill, have called for an audit on MUI’s financial reports on the halal-certification fees, suspecting that the outfit had amassed a substantial amount of revenue from the process.
Other lawmakers have rejected the proposal, citing MUI’s status as a privately run religious organization.
Lawmaker Hasrul Azwar of the PPP argued that if the government oversaw the halal certification process it would control the amount the MUI could charge applicants while the proceeds could be kept as additional income for the state.
Ledia Hanifa from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who chairs a working committee for the deliberation of the halal certification bill, said that unless the government and the House succeeded in resolving the debate, the deliberation of the bill would remain at a stalemate, as it had been since 2006.
Ledia also said that there were other contentious issues in the deliberation of the bill. “Bear in mind that the discussion involves many other important issues including the protection of small businesses.”
In the current draft bill, halal certificates and labels would be required for three sectors; cosmetics, pharmaceuticals as well as food and beverages. It would also cover the ingredients and equipment used to make the products.
Each of the nine party factions at the House are expected to present their positions on the matter on Tuesday.