Malaysia to form royal commission to probe issues linked to Tabung Haji fund

Tabung Haji is the main savings vehicle for most Malaysian Muslims who want to go for pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA - The Malaysian government will set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate issues related to the Muslim pilgrims' fund Lembaga Tabung Haji that arose from audits carried out in the board, The Star newspaper reported on Wednesday (July 14).

Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who announced the probe into the government agency, said the matter was agreed at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The probe would involve audits carried out by consultants such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Roland Berger between 2014 and 2020, The Star said.

Tabung Haji is the main savings vehicle for most Malaysian Muslims who store money with the agency to go for pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia, with the fund paying attractive annual dividends.

It held assets totalling RM78 billion (S$25.2 billion) in the first half of 2020.

The previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in December 2018 declared Tabung Haji was financially mismanaged for years by the previous Umno-led government, and set up a special purpose vehicle called Uruharta Jamaah to bail it out.

But the issue became a hot political potato, with Malay Muslims and Umno accusing PH of trying to smear the previous government, and saying that the Islamic institution which is held in high regard by most Malaysian Muslims remained healthy financially.

The special purpose vehicle formed by PH took over RM19.9 billion of what it said were "underperforming assets" of Tabung Haji, thus allowing the fund to start on a clean slate and enable it to continue paying out dividends.

A Tabung Haji Recovery and Restructuring Plan was put into place by PH, with the Mahathir-led Cabinet featuring current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Senior Minister Azmin Ali among others.

In the five years before PH took over, Tabung Haji paid annual dividends of between 4.5 and 8 per cent.

The fund paid a dividend of 3.05 per cent in 2019 and 3.1 per cent 2020, a sum decried as low by its depositors.

Deputy PM Ismail Sabri said on Wednesday that among terms of the RCI include its scope, which is to focus on findings by the consultants on issues related to Tabung Haji from 2014 to 2020, but would not involve the Recovery and Restructuring Plan.

"The RCI is also to determine if there were elements of cover up and if misleading information was provided," he said, as reported by The Star.

He said the RCI would also recommend appropriate action to be taken against parties that were either directly or indirectly involved in any wrongdoings, or had violated laws, he was quoted as saying.

"The commission is to present to the government its findings and recommendations on the next course of action, if necessary within three months," he said.

The Prime Minister's Department will identify individuals who will be appointed to the RCI.

The recommendation is for experts in the fields of syariah, legal, Islamic banking and investment.

"The setting up of the RCI is necessary so that further investigation can be made on issues that arose. This will also boost the people's confidence towards Tabung Haji," he said.

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