The Jakarta Post
The Religious Affairs Ministry and the Indonesia Ulema Council ( MUI ) are at loggerheads over the authority to issue certification of halal products, causing a long delay in the deliberation of the halal certification bill, which has languished at the House of Representatives for more than eight years.
The Religious Affairs Ministry has demanded that the authority to issue halal certificates be given to the government rather than the MUI. The MUI, which currently holds the sole authority, insists that it is the only institution capable of performing the role.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said that taking over the authority to issue halal certification from the MUI was part of an effort to uphold the principle of fairness. 'Other [Islamic] organizations will be jealous and demand the same role. Besides, it is the government that has the mandate to issue a regulation, not a mass organization,' he said on Thursday.
He proposed that in a new arrangement for halal certification, the MUI would be still be involved in providing recommendations but only from the religious perspective.
Suryadharma, who is the chair of the Islamic-based United Development Party ( PPP ), said that by eliminating the role of the MUI, the government could also reap additional non-state tax revenues from the issuance of halal certificates.
Under the current arrangement, the MUI gets to keep all proceeds derived from the issuance of the certificates. Currently, the MUI charges Rp 5 million ( US$450 ) for a halal certificate.
Similar concerns were also raised by lawmaker Hasrul Azwar, a member of the House Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs, which is tasked with deliberating the bill, who said that the MUI had never been transparent about what it earned from the halal certification.
Hasrul, also a PPP politician, said that once the government controlled the halal-certification process it would not only reap more revenues for the state but also could help curb extortionate practices. 'We plan to break down the components of costs involved in the issuance of each certificate to prevent businesses from being charged illegal levies. We have to control it,' Hasrul said.
Fellow Commission VIII member Raihan Iskandar, however, rejected the government's proposal.
He said that the MUI did not have to disclose how much it collected from the halal-certification fees, arguing that not only was the MUI a privately run institution but also an organization that served the Muslim population, which currently made up 88 percent of the country's 250 million population.
Raihan, a politician from the Prosperous Justice Party ( PKS ), wanted the MUI to keep its job.
'The government is seen in a negative light by the public these days. It would be no problem if the government could win our trust in performing the job. But, we want a trustworthy and professional institution to handle halal certification.'
The halal certification bill was initiated in 2006 by lawmakers in an attempt to protect Indonesian consumers, the majority of whom are Muslim, from products that contain non-halal ingredients, such as pork-derived products or alcohol.
In the current draft bill, halal certificates and labels would be required for three sectors; food and beverages, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It would also cover ingredients and the equipment used to make the products.
Lawmakers are still debating over who should hold the authority to issue certification and whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.
The draft bill also proposes the establishment of an independent halal-certification body.
Each of the nine political parties at the House is expected to present their final take on the contentious issue on Tuesday next week.
MUI chairman Amidhan Shaberah said the organization must maintain its current halal-certification role given that it was the only suitable organization. 'The issuance of a halal certificate requires a combination of religion and science.'