11 July 2021
1. There are recent articles by a foreign writer questioning the financial management and governance processes in Muis. The articles have been shared on online platforms and via social media. Some of the allegations have previously been explained through media statements and in Parliament, however these are ignored or are not mentioned by the article. Hence, it is our duty to respond to the allegations in the articles.
Muis has a robust system in place to uphold governance and public accountability
2. As a statutory board, Muis is required by law to submit its audited financial statements to Parliament by 30 June each year. Muis’ audited financial statements are published on our website for public viewing. In line with the requirements of the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) on appointment of auditors, Muis changes its auditors every seven years1. Muis’ audited financial statements for FY2020 have been submitted to Parliament. Muis auditors have issued a clean (unqualified) audit opinion for these financial statements.
3. To ensure that Muis’ financial processes remain robust, Muis has also put in place a risk-based internal audit function where an annual review is conducted by an independent internal auditor to ensure compliance with internal controls and procedures. The audit observations and recommendations to improve the overall internal control environment is presented to Muis’ Audit Committee, which is chaired by a Muis Council member.
4. As a public agency, Muis is subjected to AGO’s audit every 5 years. Muis takes the audit observations highlighted by AGO very seriously and commits itself to address the gaps and strengthen further its financial controls and processes. Following AGO’s audit in 2018, Muis formed a taskforce chaired by Muis’ Chief Executive to address the findings and take immediate remedial actions. Muis has implemented measures to address all the observations, with exception of one which requires the development of a new IT system, and this is on track to be addressed by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, interim measures have been taken.
Our Mosques and Madrasahs are well managed and have adapted well in the pandemic
5. Under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), all mosques in Singapore are vested in Muis. The Mosque Management Board of each mosque is required to keep proper accounts and the financial statement of each mosque must be audited annually by a public accountant appointed by Muis and approved by the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
6. Muis oversees the financial governance in mosques where policies, regulations and procedures have been put in place to ensure good governance. Regular training sessions for the mosque leaders and staff as well as internal audit reviews at mosques are also conducted to strengthen the mosques’ financial governance. Over the last 5 years, there have been significant improvement in the auditors’ reports where clean (unqualified) audit opinions are now issued to 99% of mosques (compared to 77% of mosques in FY2015).
7. Muis also oversees the Joint Madrasah System (JMS), which is an integrated education system among three madrasahs, namely Madrasah Irsyad, Madrasah Aljunied, and Madrasah Arabiah. The JMS Board of Governors undertakes annual financial audits which are submitted to Muis. Muis also regularly reviews and strengthens madrasah policies and practices.
8. At the same time, Muis has increased support to the other madrasahs. From 2018, Muis supports Madrasah Wak Tanjong through the Comprehensive Assistance Package to strengthen the madrasah’s governance, teacher and staff professional development as well as overall educational outcomes. The other madrasahs, Madrasah Al-Ma’arif and Madrasah Alsagoff, also benefit from Muis’ financial grants for teacher training and student development.
9. Our mosques and madrasahs’ financials have remained stable and healthy despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We have turned to digital means to facilitate online donations, and since April 2020 OurMasjid.SG portal has raised nearly $6 million, which is disbursed to mosques on a quarterly basis. Together with the Government’s Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), our mosques are in a healthy cash position. Muis and our madrasahs also launched OurMadrasah.SG online portal in December 2020 which has raised $400,000. During the pandemic, our Madrasah staff and teachers have acted quickly to minimise disruption to their students’ learning, while keeping them safe. They are committed to doing so as we prepare for a “new normal”.
10. While Muis has put in place a robust system to ensure financial governance at our mosques and madrasahs, these need to be complemented by competent and committed leaders in our religious institutions who uphold principles of accountability and integrity. In cases involving individuals or instances where lapses come to light, Muis had followed up to ensure robust investigation and if needed, reported to the authorities for further investigation and actions to been taken. These cases are rare and few, and such acts should not tarnish the reputation of our mosque and madrasah leaders, staff and volunteers.
Ensuring good governance for Zakat and serving the vulnerable in the community
11. Under the AMLA, Muis administers the collection of zakat and fitrah. Zakat collected is disbursed to eight asnaf (categories of beneficiaries). Muis seeks guidance from the Zakat & Fitrah Committee, comprising religious and community leaders, on the collection of zakat and its disbursement to the various asnaf in accordance with the syariah. The Committee, chaired by President of Muis, meets annually to review policies and current practices and to keep up with the needs of the eight asnaf, especially the poor and needy to ensure the vulnerable groups in the community are well supported. In addition, Muis’ collection and disbursement of zakat are audited and this information is publicly available in Muis’ Annual Reports.
12. More than 6,900 households received zakat assistance last year. In 2020, Muis disbursed $27.6 million to help poor and needy Muslims under its various programmes and schemes. In years where zakat collection is higher, Muis also disburses more to zakat beneficiaries through the Ramadan and year-end disbursement components, on top of the monthly disbursement. For 2020 for instance, we provided an additional six months of assistance through these components to support families through the downturn.
13. Besides financial assistance, Muis also provides for the holistic needs of the zakat beneficiaries through support programmes such as the Befrienders programme through our network of over 500 volunteer befrienders, and the implementation of Islamic learning and life skills programmes for the beneficiaries’ self-development. The beneficiaries are also connected to the larger network of support such as ComCare by MSF, Family Service Centres and services by other social service agencies to ensure that they receive the relevant social or employment assistance.
14. For Muis’ other statutory duties, e.g. the management of Haj, Halal Certification and Wakaf, we will similarly continue to strive to uphold good governance and regularly review our processes to best serve the community. Muis also welcomes feedback and takes complaints seriously to uphold the highest standards of integrity.
Office of the Mufti has investigated case of deviant teachings
15. As clarified by the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs in January 2021 in Parliament, Muis had been dealing with a case of alleged deviant teaching where the first complaint was received in 2015. In 2018, the Fatwa Committee issued a letter instructing the individual to immediately stop rendering healing services. He was also instructed to stop propagating any ideas and practices that were not taken from credible religious sources to the public. The Fatwa Committee advised him to seek religious knowledge from credible and qualified asatizah.
16. In November 2020, new information surfaced regarding this case. Muis immediately reopened our investigations into the matter and issued a media statement on 10 November 2020 calling for the public to come forward with evidence. The investigation team and Fatwa Committee have interviewed key persons involved and are in the process of concluding the investigation. Muis will share its findings with the public in due course.
Muis takes governance and accountability seriously, and appreciates feedback to further improve
17. In conclusion, Muis takes matters of governance and accountability very seriously and has robust processes in place to ensure that we uphold this. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement and we appreciate feedback and suggestions from the public on how our processes can be further enhanced.
18. Since Muis was established in 1968 its primary objective has been to serve the needs of the Muslim community in Singapore. We have been able to do so with the strong support and trust from the community. We do not take this for granted and will continue to work hard to build upon this trust that the community has placed in Muis. We remain committed to serving the community in a full range of areas to support the socio-religious life and advancement of the community.
MAJLIS UGAMA ISLAM SINGAPURA
1 With effect from 1 April 2020, AGO’s requirement is for auditors to be changed every seven years. Before this, it was every five years.