Singapore: Muis names key people leading probe into alleged corruption

The Online Citizen

The investigation panel on allegations of questionable certification practices in the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)’s Halal Certification Strategic Unit does not include officers from the unit, said the Council.

In a statement on Wednesday (17 June), MUIS said that the investigation panel — led by MUIS Deputy Chief Executive Albakri Ahmad — does not involve the officer subject to the allegations.

“MUIS would like to reiterate that the officer against whom the allegations were made is not part of the investigation panel.

“The officer is also currently not involved in handling matters related to the recognition of Foreign Halal Certification Bodies while investigations are ongoing, so as to facilitate the investigations,” said the religious council, without naming the officer.

MUIS added that an independent review panel chaired by Abdul Hamid Abdullah — a Council member and retired audit director from the Auditor-General’s Office — has also been set up for the purpose of reviewing the process of the investigation and its findings.

The Council also highlighted that it had earlier called on members of the public “who have conclusive information and evidence on alleged questionable halal certification practices” to write in by Monday this week.

MUIS added that it will “carefully review” the submissions “as part of ongoing investigations and a fuller update will be provided once the investigation process is completed”.

Members of the public, said MUIS, should refrain from spreading “unsubstantiated information” regarding the matter.

“MUIS notes that since our last statement, there have still been various social media posts by individuals speculating on the outcome of the investigations. This has led to further confusion by members of the community. We urge for patience to allow for the investigation process to be completed,” said the statutory board.

Earlier in late April, MUIS said — in response to the allegations published in one of the articles by regional publication Asia Sentinel — 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.

MUIS only issued “a brief denial, a false claim of its adherence to ISO standards and a threat to take legal action” in response to claims of favouritism and corruption among top officials in Halal Strategic Unit: SDP veteran politician Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood

MUIS’ statement on Wednesday followed Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) veteran politician Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood’s open letter to Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli last month.

Mr Jufti wrote that MUIS has not taken “further action” to prove that it is “conducting an independent and comprehensive investigation” over allegations of favouritism and corruption among top MUIS officials in the Halal Strategic Unit.

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 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 the open letter to Mr Masagos on 17 May.

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”.

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.

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 last month — 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.

In a comment under his open letter — which he had posted on Facebook — Mr Jufrie 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”.

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.