Govt throws cash at religion

With religious minority groups still suffering persecution and systemic corruption plaguing the Religious Affairs Ministry, questions have arisen as to whether the government’s decision to raise the ministry’s budget by an average of 25 percent annually since 2008 is justified.

A Finance Ministry report says the Religious Affairs Ministry’s budget increased from Rp 14.9 trillion (US$1.3 billion) or 5.7 percent of the total state budget in 2008 to 45.4 trillion or 7.3 percent of the total state budget in 2013.

For the 2014 state budget, the ministry will receive Rp 49.6 trillion. In terms of annual growth within the 2008-2013 period, the ministry sat in second place with 25 percent after the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry with 26.1 percent, the report said.

While some critics said the country should have spent more money on improving its shoddy infrastructure and science-based education to boost the economy, others questioned whether there was any point at all to the ministry’s budget increase.

“The growth is extreme — from Rp 6 trillion in 2004 to Rp 49.6 trillion in 2014. Within eight or nine years its budget increased as much as Rp 43 trillion,” Said Abdullah, a politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

The ministry has long been perceived as notoriously corrupt, with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) placing it as the most corrupt institution of the 22 government agencies it surveyed in 2011.

Last Friday, the antigraft body detained a former director of sharia guidance at the ministry’s directorate general for Islamic guidance for his alleged role in a graft case involving the procurement of Korans.

The ministry claimed to have used the budget to develop several programs aimed at creating religious harmony in the country, such as building/revamping haj facilities in 15 locations in Saudi Arabia and recruiting 1,500 officers for the Haj Management Committee (PPIH), according to the report.

It has also given scholarships to around 8 million impoverished Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian students.

Chairwoman of the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII overseeing religion, Ida Fauziyah, defended the government’s decision, saying the budget rise was justifiable as the ministry shared educational responsibility with the Education and Culture Ministry.

“The Religious Affairs Ministry receives part of the 20 percent allocated budget for the education sector [Rp 350 trillion]. Of the Rp 49.6 trillion budget, around 42 trillion is from the education budget to fund religious [Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu] education institutions from kindergarten to university,” the National Awakening Party (PKB) lawmaker said.

The ministry managed 98,379 Islamic schools and universities in 2012, according to the ministry’s directorate general for education. The Education and Culture Ministry, whose annual budget increase is 12.9 percent, managed 269,079 state and private schools and universities in 2011.

Ucok Sky Khadafi from the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra) said the ministry’s services were far from good.

“People still pay for clerics when they get married, while in fact the service should be free,” Ucok said.

Fitra recorded that of the Rp 49.6 trillion given to the ministry in the 2014 state budget, Rp 25.5 trillion went on staff salaries, Rp 10.3 trillion on goods procurement, Rp 2.1 trillion on capital expenditure and Rp 11.5 trillion on social aid.

“Only Rp 149 billion was spent on programs to promote religious harmony,” Ucok said, adding that the social aid funds were prone to abuse.

Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman Zainuddin Daulay did not return calls and text messages from the Post on Sunday.