Corruption: Koran Scandal Shows It’s Time to Clean House
Is nothing sacred anymore? That’s a predictable reaction upon hearing that the Corruption Eradication Commission has named Golkar Party legislator Zulkarnaen Djabar a suspect in a graft case related to the procurement of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
This entire scandal again feeds the perception of our politicians being so out of touch with ordinary people and having such self-importance that they think themselves to be above the law — not only the law of the state but also the law of the divine.
As usual, everyone expressed their shock, surprise, anger and contrition over the whole sordid affair.
Kemas Roni, the lead prosecutor of the antigraft body, known as the KPK, declared his shock that someone was audacious enough to steal money from a Koran procurement project.
Nasaruddin Umar, the deputy minister of religious affairs, said he was surprised that the scandal had happened in his ministry, adding that he had made it clear to ministry officials that corruption would not be tolerated.
Golkar, seeing that this scandal has the potential to wreck its plans for the general elections in 2014, has already moved into damage-control mode with Nurul Arifin, the party’s deputy secretary general, asking Zulkarnaen to at least temporarily step down from the House of Representatives.
Irianto Syafiudin, the head of Golkar’s West Java branch, was more blunt, calling for Zulkarnaen to be fired.
Zulkarnaen cried mea culpa . The entire case, he said, was a warning from God that he needed to increase his “vertical communication.”
By the close of play, however, life will likely go on as it has these past few years. Already Abdul Karim, an official in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has accused the media of blowing up the case and insinuated that certain interested parties were trying to discredit the ministry. He warned that should the ministry be closed down, Muslims would suffer.
That reaction suggests the ministry is more interested in saving itself than cleaning up its act. This despite the fact that the Koran procurement scandal is no doubt only the tip of the corruption iceberg in the ministry.
Take the example of the corruption allegations surrounding the hajj pilgrimage organized by the ministry. As early as 2009, Indonesia Corruption Watch uncovered evidence suggesting money set aside for the pilgrimage had been misappropriated.
On Jan. 6, 2009, the anticorruption watchdog reported that Muhammad Maftuh Basyuni, at the time the religious affairs minister, improperly received hundreds of millions of rupiah from the hajj pilgrimage fund.
Considering how much money is involved in the hajj management program — about Rp 39 trillion ($4.1 billion) — the Rp 35 billion Koran procurement scandal is peanuts by any reasonable comparison. But despite the accumulating evidence, the investigation in the management of the pilgrimage has gone nowhere, even though the KPK itself on Nov. 29, 2011, declared the Ministry of Religious Affairs to be the most corrupt institution in Indonesia.
In addition, there have been revelations that lawmakers from House Commission VIII, which oversees religious affairs, received thousands of Korans from the ministry. While Ida Fauziah, the head of Commission VIII, argued that distributing Korans was a good deed, the problem is that receiving them for free from the ministry smacks of conflict of interest and is certainly morally questionable.
In most democratic nations, rules are made to address these kinds of issues, imposing limits and bans on gifts that a lawmaker can receive from any government or non-government institution.
One cannot help but notice that efforts to clean up the hajj fund management have stalled in the House.
The legislature has not approved the creation of a commission to supervise the hajj pilgrimage and there is no law in place to regulate the management of the pilgrimage fund.
With so much money flying around and the credibility of both the House and the Ministry of Religious Affairs at stake, both institutions would be well advised to start cleaning up their houses and behaving more transparently. And at the same time, they should avoid anything that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University (Unhan).