Muis stresses commitment to high standards of governance, accountability

Muis has rebutted allegations of improper financial management and governance process that have been lobbied against it.
Muis has rebutted allegations of improper financial management and governance process that have been lobbied against it.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has stressed its commitment to high standards of governance and robustness in its internal systems.

The council on Sunday (July 11) published a wide-ranging statement on its website rebutting allegations of improper financial management and governance process that have been lobbied against it.

These allegations came from recent online articles by a foreign writer, and Muis said that it is duty-bound to respond.

Addressing an allegation on financial irregularities, Muis said that as a statutory board, it is required by law to submit its audited financial statements to Parliament by June 30 every year. These audited statements are published on its website for public viewing.

In line with requirements of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) on appointment of auditors, Muis changes its auditors every seven years. Its audited financial statements for FY2020 have been submitted to Parliament.

"Muis auditors have issued a clean (unqualified) audit opinion for these financial statements,'' said the council, adding it has a risk-based internal audit function where an annual review is conducted by an independent auditor to ensure compliance with internal controls and procedures.

The audit's findings and recommendations are presented to Muis' audit committee, which is chaired by a member of the council.

As a public agency, Muis is subjected to AGO's audit every five years, it noted. Following AGO's audit in 2018, it formed a task force chaired by its chief executive to address the findings and take action.

The council has implemented measures to address all observations from the audit, except one that requires it to develop a new IT system, which is on track to be addressed by the end of this year.

"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," the council said.

The allegations against Muis come from writer Murray Hunter, who has published articles on the council in online newsletters and Hong Kong-based news outlet Asia Sentinel. He had previously charged that Muis mishandled a piece of bequeathed property, and that there had been abuse of power within its ranks.

Responding to Mr Hunter's accusation that Singapore's mosques are facing a "chronic liquidity crisis", Muis said that the financials for mosques and religious Islamic schools, or madrasahs, here have remained stable and healthy.

Over the last five years, there has been significant improvement in the auditors' reports, where clean audit opinions are now issued to 99 per cent of mosques. This is compared with 77 per cent of mosques in FY2015, it said.

Mosques and madrasahs have been stable financially despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and the council said it has turned to digital means to facilitate online donations. It also said that more than 6,900 households have received assistance from zakat, or alms, collected by Muis last year. Muis consults a committee, comprising religious and community leaders, on zakat collection and disbursement according to Islamic law, it added.

Mr Hunter had said in an article that there was "great concern" surrounding zakat management.

Muis also gave an update on its probe into a case of deviant teachings that The Straits Times reported on last year, and said its teams have interviewed key people involved and are in the process of concluding the investigation. It will also share findings with the public.

The council said while it takes its matters of governance and accountability very seriously and has robust processes in place, there is room for improvement and it appreciated public feedback on how to enhance its processes further.

"We remain committed to serving the community in a full range of areas to support the socio-religious life and advancement of the community," said Muis.