Tarmizi Taher: "The Perpetuity Fund should not be abolished"

AFTER `tactical fund' became the most popular terminology since corruption in the General Elections Commission was exposed not too long ago, a new word has been appearing quite frequently in the press, associated with the alleged corruption in the Religious Affairs Department. That word is `Community Perpetuity Fund' or DAU.

So far, two persons have been investigated and detained. They are suspected of embezzling the haj pilgrimage funds. The first is Taufik Kamil, former Director-General for Islamic Community Guidance and Haj Organization, who was detained last Friday. He was followed by former Religious Affairs Minister, Said Agil Husin al-Munawar, who was arrested the following Thursday.

Former Religious Affairs Minister (1993-1998) Tarmizi Taher is of the opinion that the obvious element in this case is the management of the DAU. "I see a certain amount of naivete," he told Tempo reporters Abdul Manan and Tulus Wijanarko in a special interview last Friday. Excerpts:

The DAU concept first appeared when you were Minister of Religious Affairs. How did it come about?

I am grateful to Muslim public figures who asked that a national haj seminar be held in 1994. I had invited to that seminar the Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister at that time, Datok Abang Abubakar, to hear his opinion on whether or not Indonesia needed to have a haj savings fund. His presence was noticed by Pak Alamsyah (the previous Religious Affairs Minister). He called me. He asked me to bring the Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister to meet Pak Harto (President Suharto), and convince him of the need for a haj savings fund in Indonesia.

When he was Religious Affairs Minister, Pak Alamsyah said some things were successful, others were not. One failure was to convince President Suharto to set up some kind of haj savings fund. After their meeting, Pak Suharto said he was waiting for a recommendation from the seminar. In fact, one of the recommendations was that we didn't need such a fund because banks were already introducing programs specifically for the haj pilgrimage.

So, exactly what was the recommendation of the seminar?

A haj savings bank was unnecessary, but an endowment fund or something like a perpetuity fund was. But at that time, it was called the Organizing Committee of the ONH (haj pilgrimage cost). Then in 1995, we prepared all kinds of relevant regulations. In early 1996, Presidential Decree 35/1996 was issued on the Organizing Committee of the Indonesian Haj Pilgrimage. Such a presidential edict is issued when it looks like the law would take a long time to be drafted and enacted.

Then, because the Muamalat Bank was slow in developing, we paid for the MUI's (Indonesian Ulama Council) shares in the bank, valued at Rp20 billion. This was done so that part of the revenues could be used for the MUI's daily activities. For that, Presidential Decree 52/1996 ensured that the endowment funds were deposited in Muamalat Bank.

What was Muamalat Bank's total assets at the time?

I don't know. The shares were valued at Rp20 billion. That was the amount of the perpetuity fund. Other funds were deposited in state banks. This was a private bank endorsed by the Islamic community. The relevant documents still exist.

What happened then?

Thank God, midway through my ministerial posting, we prepared the organization and the system. I was able to clarify it all in a report after 1997. From that year until April 2004, the DAU had accumulated Rp473 billion. Eight years ago, that was a lot of money.

What was the initial source of the fund?

Firstly, it was the result of streamlining of funds in the Religious Affairs Department. We streamlined the ceremonial trips of officials to the provinces. There was similar streamlining of central and provincial officials' haj
pilgrimage. Previously, they used to pay the regular ONH but demanded to have the ONH special treatment. Some 500 people have availed themselves of this facility. Imagine, the cost incurred by one person can go up to US$10,000, which means a total of US$5 million.

Secondly, we benefited from the floating dollar at that time. The rupiah exchange rate to the US dollar kept weakening at the start of 1997. I decided to accelerate the 1998 haj planning because it was very crucial then. Finally, the cost of the pilgrimage came to `just' Rp7 million. That was when the dollar reached Rp20,000. In that Rp7 million cost, was included 1,500 Riyals for board and lodging. In other words, the haj pilgrims were fortunate at a time when the conglomerates were collapsing. Thanks be to God Almighty.

The third source was the result of efficient administration of ONH finances.

At the beginning, was the DAU deposited in one account or many accounts?

There were a number of accounts, but they were all known. And all of the accounts had to refer to that presidential decree. At that time the fund was in BNI, Exim Bank, BBD and BRI, all under the name of the Religious Affairs Department. We made sure there was not confusion between routine funds of the department, the DAU and the funds for the management of the haj or ONH funds.

How is the Perpetuity Fund managed?

In 1999, it was regulated through Law 17. It was later perfected with Law 22/2001. By the new law, the use of the DAU had been broadened. The funds were originally intended for four reasons: the haj pilgrimage, education, aid to houses of worship and fourthly to alleviate poverty. Later it was extended to include assistance for training and sermons, health and social religion.

So there were only four functions at the start. What must be remembered is that the third function is providing assistance. If we build houses of worship like in Malaysia or Brunei, there would be no state funds left. There are about 1 million mosques and mussolahs (small mosques). There are about hundreds of thousands of madrasahs. The aid given to them are all indexed. Small pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) with 300 or less students were given Rp30 million aid money. So, there were criteria. On top of that, assistance was also given when proposals were submitted by foundations. Once in a while we would hold random checks for their legitimacy.

What was the management structure like?

The patron of the DAU was the ex officio president. The executor was the Religious Affairs Minister, the secretary was the Haj Director-General. Another person who took part in disbursing the funds was the treasurer. He was the one who prepared checks and related documents. I also indexed them. Assistance under Rp10 million was signed by the secretary and the treasurer. For disbursements above Rp10 million, the secretary and treasurer must report it to the minister. It may not necessarily be the minister who signed it. More than that, in the billions, we had to ask for the president's approval. So there were steps of accountability.

How about oversight?

Oversight was done by Muslim organizations. During my time, meetings were held regularly every six months. In the current case, Pak Syafi'I Ma'arif (Chairman of Muhammadiyah) claimed he was never invited to the meetings. During my time, we met regularly.

At the end of your term, what was the value of the DAU's assets?

By the end of February 1998, there was US$15 million and Rp249 billion. That would mean 10 percent of that was Rp40 billion. This amount automatically went to the DAU account. This was the funds we disbursed [for charity]. None of the organizers were supposed to get any share of it.

During your time, were the funds used much?

I was more collecting the funds. Why? Because all this began midway during my term as minister, based on the recommendations of that national haj seminar. The requests for assistance only came in 1997.

As a result of this present case, the accounts of the Religious Affairs Department have been blocked.

The Religious Affairs Minister must already be informed that the blocking is for investigative purposes. It is unlikely that the blocking will be continued by the police. Would they be attacked by the community? Even though I'm retired, I will be the first to scream if the Perpetuity Funds are abolished. As of 2004, I checked with the Supreme Audit Agency and the funds are still all there.

But it's not growing much?

People's capacity to do business varies.

What do you think about the investigation on this case?

I regret one thing, that the investigation team seems to be in a rush to announce results. Every day there's always a story about this. They should announce only after the investigation is completed. Reporters should not be pressing the police for information. What I'm recounting now is only the history of the DAU. So, it's not about the people who are being investigated.

I am of the belief that people must be presumed innocent. Just look at Nurdin Halid, everyone, including myself never thought he would go free. How come he was released? Now it's the turn of one Said Agil Husin al-Munawar. There are two kinds mistakes, according to religion: first, because people are stupid, and secondly, because people are repressive.

In my view what has been done by Pak Said Agil is nothing more than mismanagement. I see a certain amount of naivete. Or, in the words of a doctor: his hand is hot. First, he was involved in the Batutulis case, then in the case of those many pilgrims who failed to leave for the haj. So, I think a minister must be a leader, a manager and an administrator.

What is the impact on the image of the department whose mission is to deal with moral issues?

Basically, I am very concerned. But I think positively, and I take the good out of it. I hope that people who want to do something in this reform era, this period of Pak SBY, will think twice before doing anything. There should be no excesses. When a man has not been proven guilty, he should not be labeled a thief. That's dangerous. His rights are being violated.

In the report by the BKPK, your name is mentioned in the 2001 report as having accepted US$3,000 from then Minister Said Agil. What do you say to that?

I don't remember exactly. In 2001 I was still overseas, serving as ambassador in Norway. I came home in 2002. I was in Norway for about three and a half years. But then I thought, if that money was indeed given to me, it was probably when I attended a Rabithah'Alam Islami (World Islamic League, an organization involved in religion and socio-culture--Ed.) conference.

If so, is that in accordance with the principles of DAU?

Of course, because the World Islamic League is still associated with the welfare of the community.

Do you intend to clarify to the authorities how your name got into the report?

US$3,000 is like half a month's salary to an ambassador. So, I don't quite remember, because I was really busy. That was not a small conference. But once again, I will say, I don't remember exactly whether I accepted that money or not. I asked my wife about it, and she responded she didn't think so. So, in such an uncertainty, how can I clarify anything?


Place & Date of Birth:Padang, West Sumatra, October 7, 1936

- Faculty of Medicine _ Airlangga University
- Doctor Honoris Causa from Syarif Hidayatullah National Islamic University (2003)

Organizational Affiliations:
- Chairman, Airlangga University Student Council (1962)
- Muballigh Muhammadiyah National Corps

- 1993-1998: Religious Affairs Minister
- 1998-2002: Ambassador to Norway
- 2003-to date: Rector, Islam Az-Zahra University, Jakarta

TEMPO, JULY 04, 2005-043/P. 34 Heading Interview


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