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Sri Muwarni, a 57-year-old teacher from Surakarta, Central Java, saved every rupiah left over from her monthly salary in the hope of being able to pay for a trip to Mecca.
After years of saving with her now retired 63-year-old husband, she has finally collected Rp 25 million (US$2,650), and in November last year, she wired the money to a bank account set up by the Religious Affairs Ministry’s haj division.
The money is a down payment that Sri and her husband must make before they can secure a spot on the long waiting list of would-be pilgrims to Mecca.
“I have received a form advising that we are scheduled to depart in 2019. I know eight years is a long time for us to wait, but we are so happy that we have booked the seats for the pilgrimage. And I’m just grateful that we didn’t have to sell any of our property to make the initial down payment like others had to do,” Sri told The Jakarta Post.
Sri and her husband are among close to 2 million would-be pilgrims who have paid a down payment, which in total amounted to about Rp 50 trillion at the end of July, according to Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) data.
Earlier this year, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) revealed irregularities in the use of interest proceeds worth Rp 1.7 trillion of the massive haj fund accumulated from prospective pilgrims, which was worth Rp 32 trillion up to last year.
The irregularities are just part of the heap of dirty laundry at the ministry revealed by the KPK in recent years.
Recently, the KPK uncovered graft surrounding the Rp 55 billion procurement of Korans and another involving the procurement of Rp 18 billion worth of computers for Madrasah Tsanawiyah (junior Islamic high schools) laboratories.
“All eyes are on the misuse of haj funds while it is the fund allocated for religious education programs, for Islamic education programs in particular, that is more prone to corruption,” said ICW activist Firdaus Ilyas.
The ministry runs five divisions handling the affairs of Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists, as well as managing religion-based courses in state schools and universities nationwide.
In addition to a division devoted to Islamic guidance, the ministry also has an Islamic education directorate given the high numbers of Muslim students studying at hundreds of madrassa, universities and pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).
The Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) estimates that Rp 1.23 trillion is allocated for the directorate of Islamic education per year.
A source familiar with the issue has accused two senior officials of the directorate, identified only as MA and AM, of misusing the budget last year for personal gain.
Rp 4 billion of the fund was thought to be channeled to a boarding school in Babakan, West Java, which is apparently run by MA, and another Rp 40 billion for a calligraphy study center at a different boarding school, thought to be fictitious.
The directorate was also said to have earmarked Rp 4 trillion to build a college for Koranic studies in Babakan. The project, however, was not listed as a 2011 state budget item.
“The fund is said to have come from the budget earmarked to improve the condition of Islamic boarding schools in the country. In reality, such financial support rarely reaches pesantren, as you can see from the deteriorating condition of most schools,” the source said.
Ministry data show that the country had 27,218 Islamic boarding schools in 2011. The ministry also said that there were 5,691 Koranic learning centers.
The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) has also released a preliminary audit result of the ministry’s 2011 budget, noting an almost 2,000 percent increase in funds allocated for the Islamic guidance division, from Rp 1.49 billion in 2010 to Rp 31.11 billion last year.
Last year, the BPK also found unaccountable funds of Rp 15.62 billion from Rp 2.7 trillion the ministry set aside to support the Islamic education directorate.
According to the ICW, the ministry’s poor financial management and the officials’ incompetence have aggravated the corrupt culture within the institution.
“Most of the ministry’s personnel only have degrees in religious studies, which appears to be useless when it comes to managing the huge amount of money they receive annually.”
The ministry has also endorsed a financial management system based on dakwah (preacherly approach) that ends up requiring subordinates to blindly trust their superiors.
They can’t do this because the Religious Affairs Ministry is not a religious institution; it is a government institution that requires professional management,” Firdaus of the ICW said.
Firdaus suggested that the ministry employ staffers with economic and law backgrounds to be more professional.
Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman Zainuddin Daulay denied the suggestion that amateurs ran the ministry and claimed that it employed more than 1,700 professional accountants.
He also denied all allegations of budget misuse, saying that “the Religious Affairs Ministry has always been transparent and clean”, citing BKP’s qualified opinion for its 2011 budget.
BPK chairman Hadi Purnomo recently said: “BPK’s qualified opinion on a certain ministry’s financial report doesn’t mean that it is corruption free. People have misunderstood us,” he said.