TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulamas or MUI, Amidhan Shaberah, who hails from Banjarmasin, capital of South Kalimantan province, has been in the news lately, for reportedly selling halal (permitted, according to Islam) certificates to foreign companies for thousands of dollars, when they should be free of charge, pending the proper requirements. Reportedly, to companies who are already issued such certificates, he threatens to invalidate the certificates for breaching MUI rules, in exchange for dollar payments.
In fact, the decision to issue or withdraw halal certificates lies in the hands of four people. But Amidhan's position as chairman places him in the forefront of accusations. It so happens that he was once a bureaucrat, his last post being the director-general of the hajj pilgrimage organization at the Religious Affairs Ministry. Upon his retirement in 1996, he joined MUI.
Following the interview, however, he called Tempo many times, to clarify some of his statements. At one time he would deny having attended a particular meeting, only to admit it a few hours later, in his attempt to explain the bribery charges against his organization. Excerpts of the interview:
Many businessmen overseas are now admitting they were asked to pay you money to get the halal label.
[The process] is now online. We have done a field survey on those who have registered. The MUI national coordination meeting in 2013 determined seven criteria to qualify to be a halal-issuing organization. This includes having three ulama (Islamic scholar) in the organization and two professions as auditors, to help the local mosque or madrasah (small mosque) and be registered as a member of the World Halal Food Council.
What is the fee?
Free. Being halal is a religious thing, why pay? They will just be asked to help a mosque or an Islamic school in the area of their operation.
But they set a fee to food and beverage producers.
After the license is issued we have nothing more to do with that company, except during the audit every two years. It's true Australia is protesting this. There is a fee because they must pay salaries to their employees, supervisors, butchers, office rent and other needs. Each organization sets its fees differently, so there has been a kind of tariff war. There seems to be a rivalry between Turkish and Lebanese businesspeople over there. We suggest that the fees should be standardized.
(Lukmanul Hakim: Actually, in 2006 there was a plan to do it according to the states. The objective was to avoid fighting between them. It was embarrassing to deal with the Australian government, which is not Islamic.)
When the MUI conducted an audit, who funded it?
The licenses are good for two years. We audit the issuing organizations to ensure that they have given the producers the labels according to the sharia law. Because we are a non-profit organization and no fees are charged, they must bear their entire transportation and accommodation expenses while they're over there. If it's far away, I ask for a business class air ticket because I'm already old.
Did you get paid?
(Lukmanul Hakim: In the past, the National Standardization Board suggested the MUI set an auditing fee, but it was rejected. So a lump sum was paid.)
We obtained a contract between a halal organization and the MUI, in which it says that they must give a contribution to the MUI. What does that mean?
There is no contract. It's not insurance that would need one. If there is one, it must be fake. The people who are authorized to issue the licenses are: myself, Ma'ruf amin, chairman of the MUI, and Lukmanul Hakim, director of the research institute of food, drugs and cosmetics. MUI represents the policy, implemention rests with Lukman.
(Lukmanul Hakim: I just initial the licenses. The signatories are Pak Amidhan and the secretary-general.)
Another case involves businessman Mohamed El-Mouelhy, who claimed to have given you Aus$26,000 to accelerate the issuance of his license.
That story happened 20 years ago. He was disappointed at not getting support to set up the World Halal Council. Countries preferred to join the World Halal Food Council, which is now headed by Pak Lukman. He will agree that the bribery story is slander.
This happened in 2006.
No, it didn't happen. (An hour later, he called.) It seems the meeting did take place. I was invited to go to Australia, but it was with the Religious Affairs Ministry. There were seven of us, and all expenses were borne by the State Budget. Those lies must have come from Mouelhy, and even if there is proof, I was not a government official, I can accept gratuity. (*)
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine