Fresh graft scandal hits Indonesia's Religious Affairs Ministry

Fresh graft scandal hits Indonesia's Religious Affairs Ministry
Lukman Hakim Saifuddin.

The Religious Affairs Ministry has been rocked by another graft scandal, with the Attorney General's Office (AGO) naming on Wednesday five people suspected of embezzlement of funds earmarked for the procurement of textbooks for Buddhist students.

The ministry, currently led by United Development Party (PPP) politician Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, was previously hit by a scandal involving trillion of rupiah in the ministry's haj fund, and which saw Lukman's fellow PPP member, former religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali, named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

"We have named five suspects in the case. The project was launched in 2012, and we started looking into alleged irregularities in September of this year. The project's total budget is Rp 7.2 billion (S$762,000) and we're still calculating the state losses caused by the alleged irregularities," AGO spokesman Tony Spontana told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

He said that irregularities in the project included budget mark-ups, bribery, gratuities and procurement of items not stated in the contract.

Tony said further that AGO investigators were still looking for evidence to implicate more individuals in the case.

"For now, we have listed five people as suspects, but the investigation is still ongoing to unearth the role of others in the case," Tony said.

Two of the five suspects are the ministry's director for Buddhism Education Affairs Heru Budi Santoso and former director for the Directorate of Islamic Guidance A. Joko Wuryanto.

The other three suspects are Samson Sawangin and Edi Sriyanto, who are respectively directors of PT Samoa Raya and CV Karunia Jaya, two companies that won the tender for the project, and an individual identified as Wilton Nadeak. Tony said that the AGO investigators had not as yet detained the suspects as they were "cooperating with the AGO investigation".

The budget for the project was approved during Suryadharma's tenure but Tony claimed that the investigation had not found any indication that the former minister was implicated.

Separately, Religious Affairs Ministry inspector general M. Jasin confirmed that the procurement of the religious text books had been marred by irregularities, adding that it was the ministry's inspectorate general that had reported the alleged irregularities to the AGO for further investigation.

"The AGO's investigation was kickstarted by our internal investigation report regarding alleged irregularities in the procurement project. It's part of our effort to clean up graft practices at the ministry.

"At the same time, we are conducting internal reforms in order to bring better governance to the Religious Affairs Ministry," Jasin told the Post on Wednesday.

On Sept. 23, the ministry announced that the government would establish an independent agency to manage the Rp 70 trillion-haj fund as part of internal reforms designed to prevent embezzlement by ministry employees.

The ministry launched the initiative after receiving a recommendation from the KPK, which urged it to stop operating the haj programme and instead switch its focus to drafting regulations.

The fresh allegations will further tarnish the reputation of the Religious Affairs Ministry, which the KPK named the most corrupt institution out of 22 government agencies surveyed in 2011.

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