ANTIDOTE The credibility of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s RM30 billion ‘Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Programme’ has taken a beating from allegations that zakat, the obligatory Islamic contribution to benefit poor Muslims, has been misused by the Sarawak government.

Sarawak PKR women’s wing chief Nurhanim Mokhsen has urged the MACC to probe allegations made by anti-graft website Sarawak Report against Daud Abdul Rahman, the Tabung Baitulmal Sarawak (TBS) chairperson and assistant minister in charge of Islamic affairs.
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Sarawak Report has posted documents showing that TBS, the government body overseeing zakat, awarded construction contracts worth hundreds of millions of ringgit to companies with close business links with state ministers.

One of these companies is Eastbourne Sdn Bhd. Records with the Companies Commission of Malaysia show that 65 percent of Eastbourne shares are held by Daud himself.

He has said he will “leave it to the authority [sic] to decide”.

“There is a need for Daud Abdul Rahman, the person responsible for zakat collections, to make public the accounts for public scrutiny. Daud must come clean and explain,” Nurhanim told Malaysiakini.

“Daud, as the (assistant) minister in charge, is not only accountable to the Muslim contributors, but to Allah. Transparency is paramount to ensure that there is no misuse of the funds.”

She added that the Sarawak Report allegations are “backed with enough evidence for the police and MACC to probe this scandal and bring to book those responsible for this alleged heinous act”.

Zakat spent on ‘prestige’ projects

One example of Baitulmal spending is particularly instructive. According to Sarawak Report, a RM253 million contract was handed to Eastbourne after the general election in May, to build ‘Baitul Makmur II’, a lavish office building in Petra Jaya, north Kuching.

In June, according to the Construction Industry Development Board, the Baitul Makmur II job had been ‘sub-contracted’ for RM228 million to Hock Seng Lee (HSL). 
azlanThe discrepancy of RM25 million - an enormous instant profit for Eastbourne - was never explained.

HSL is a construction conglomerate that is known to enjoy the long-standing favour of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud(above), who is not particularly renowned for being adept at “empowering bumiputera”.

A Baitulmal building opened in Kuching last week, the Sarawak Islamic Complex, was reported to have delivered RM100 million to the main contractor, Naim Cendera Sdn Bhd, a conglomerate run by Taib’s first cousin, Abdul Hamed Sepawi.

Abdul Aziz Isa, manager of Sarawak DAP’s Tupong service centre, and special assistant to state chairperson Chong Chieng Jen, has described the up-and-coming Islamic complexes in Sibu and Miri as other “mega-projects” funded by the TBS, each costing around RM100 million.

Abdul Aziz has been branded a “stooge, Malay traitor and apostate” by political opponents for his efforts. This seems harsh, for he is not even Malay - he is of Melanau-Iban descent.

Nurhanim explained that it is “clearly prescribed in Islam that zakat is to be used and disbursed in very specific situations and circumstances: the Arabic term is asnaf.

azlanThe Department for Islamic Development (Jakim) listseight categories ofasnaf, including aid to the poor and unemployed (Muslims and non-Muslims).

Jakim also stipulates that among these categories, religious authorities are entitled to zakat tithes to pay for administrative costs (an eighth of zakat collections in Kelantan, for instance). The construction of prestigious buildings does not feature in the list.

Bumi spending going to ‘BN and its cronies’

Despite nearly half a century of purported affirmative action, Malays and Muslim Dayaks such as Muslim Melanaus and Kedayans throughout the state are conspicuous members of the large underclass in Sarawak.
Itinerant labourers in urban areas, as well as fisherfolk and farmers in villages from Asajaya to Kuala Lawas, they suffer hardship, poverty and a climbing cost of living.

“There are far too many cases of deserving recipients being refused help, and there is a need to be transparent so that the criteria required for successful applications are known to all,” Nurhanim said.

Daud has not replied to requests from Malaysiakini for his response to the claims. He has also not responded to calls from Abdul Aziz and Nurhanim to publish the’ accounts of TBS.

He had claimed in July that TBS manages its money well, spending RM2 million a year to help the poor, and RM30-40 million a year on “helping target groups”. These target groups have not been named.
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For all Najib’s talk of uplifting the bumiputera, he has failed to deliver on his grand promises.

“Based on the support by the Malays and bumiputeras in the 13th general election, therefore today, the government will do a quantum leap to execute concrete and swift strategies and approaches,” Najib had announced during his launch of the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Programme.

But it is difficult to do a quantum leap when our ruling parties are seen to have their snouts in the trough.

The zakat scandal, Nurhanim observed, has shown that “in this context, Najib’s call is very hollow, as turning a blind eye to corruption and the rampant abuses in Sarawak and Sabah will still keep the two states (lagging) behind” Peninsular Malaysia.

She is concerned that it is “futile to pump in more money, as this will just go to BN and their cronies” while the BN government fails to curb corruption.

“To date, the Malays in Sarawak only grumble. I see this feeling of helplessness as ‘nothing seems to change’. The news and information (about corruption) are not yet widely known in the community… on PKR’s side, we’ll try to disseminate it widely.”

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted atkeruah_usit@yahoo.com