Concerns about Muis' extra powers over Muslim endowments

Malay MPs expressed concern yesterday about the extra powers that the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), a statutory board, is being given over wakafs, or Muslim endowments.

Also, do the wakaf trustees have any recourse if they disagree with Muis' decision, asked Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC).

The issues were raised during the debate on the Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill, which was later passed by Parliament. The changes include allowing Muis to remove the trustee of a wakaf if he fails to give information or particulars required by Muis, or fails to let Muis inspect the wakaf's properties, accounts and records.

Previously, Muis could remove a trustee only if the wakaf had been mismanaged, or intervene if no trustees had been appointed.

But by then, the wakaf may already be in jeopardy, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said when giving the reason for the change.

Another new requirement stipulates that the appointment of a new trustee to a wakaf is void unless it is approved by Muis in writing. This is to ensure trustees are qualified to manage the wakaf, said Dr Yaacob.

Muis can also direct a portion of a wakaf's income to a sinking fund to support its future upkeep and development. This would be done in consultation with the trustees, taking into consideration the wakaf's resources, he added.

A wakaf dispute-resolution committee will also be set up.

During the debate, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said giving Muis "absolute responsibility could be seen as a move that denies the public transparency and access to wakaf issues".

Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad said the management of wakafs was often a personal matter and asked the extent to which the authorities would intervene.

Mr Faisal said he was "uncomfortable with efforts to give (Muis) as an administrator more power or full power in the administration of assets and Muslim institutions". He asked if there were channels for wakaf trustees to dispute Muis' decisions that they disagreed with.

Replying, Dr Yaacob said the new wakaf dispute-resolution committee is one way to mediate disagreements, without draining a wakaf's resources by taking the matter to court.

However, if the trustees still disagree with Muis' decision based on the committee's recommendations, they can still take the matter to court."But we would advise against this and would rather all parties come together for an amicable resolution," said Dr Yaacob.

He added that it has always been Muis' responsibility to administer all wakafs under the Administration of Muslim Law Act.

"It's therefore Muis' priority in the interest of all wakaf beneficiaries to ensure our wakafs are run well so that they can generate the maximum returns and are sustainable in the long run," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Concerns about Muis' extra powers over Muslim endowments'. Print Edition | Subscribe