No abuse of power in how foreign halal certification boards are recognised: Muis

Muis added that in the interest of accountability and transparency, the council has referred the allegations to CPIB. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There has been no abuse of power in the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), it said on Tuesday (Dec 15), following investigations into allegations made against how it recognises foreign halal certification bodies (FHCBs).

But in the interest of accountability and transparency, the council has referred the allegations to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and will conduct a comprehensive review of its FHCB recognition framework.

It has also made a police report about this issue as the Muis investigations revealed the possibility that official information has been publicly disclosed.

FHCBs are organisations Muis deems to have similar standards to its own when it comes to halal certification and whose products, when imported into Singapore, are certified as halal, or fit for consumption by Muslims here. These organisations can earn thousands of dollars monthly by charging exporters a fee to get their products shipped to Singapore certified as halal.

Since April, Muis has made several public statements in response to allegations by Hong Kong-based news outlet Asia Sentinel that the council showed favouritism in its recognition of FHCBs.

A key point of the allegations was whether Muis' recognition and delisting of FHCBs were carried out in a fair and impartial manner, and if one of its officers had displayed any bias.

Other articles in Asia Sentinel as well as other online outlets have been published, repeating and furthering the accusations.

In response to these, Muis had said in June that an internal investigation team, as well as an independent review panel chaired by Mr Abdul Hamid Abdullah, a Muis council member and retired audit director from the Auditor-General's Office, had been established to review the allegations. Muis said on Tuesday that the allegations were unfounded.

"The investigations have found that Muis' processes are sound and the recognition and delisting of FHCBs have been carried out by its officers in a fair and impartial manner," said the council.

"As such, any accusations alleging abuse of power by its officer is unfounded."

Muis said its investigations revealed that all recognition, renewal or delisting of FHCBs have followed approved internal protocols, and the accused Muis officer had neither approved nor delisted any FHCB based on his personal discretion.

There were reasonable, objective grounds for the delisting of FHCBs and proper approvals were obtained, said the council.

While Muis does not disclose reasons for rejecting or delisting FHCBs as a matter of policy, on Tuesday it provided a summary of the range of reasons for such a decision.

This includes incomplete applications and insufficient supporting documents despite reminders given, the issuance of blank halal certificates, and non-Shariah compliant processes.

Muis said its decision to conduct a review of its FHCB recognition scheme is a response to how the halal business landscape has evolved significantly. The council intends to implement changes arising from this review by the end of 2021.

In the course of its investigations, which included 49 submissions from FHCBs and members of the public, Muis discovered that there was a possibility that classified information was published in the media. It has made a police report about this.

"As Muis takes the matter of misconduct of a public officer who discloses classified information to unauthorised sources very seriously, Muis has lodged a police report to investigate the potential breach of the Official Secrets Act and will take disciplinary action against any officers found to be in breach," it said.

Some of the FHCBs which had made submissions to Muis were those that had been delisted, and the council said it has provided to them details of the grounds for their delistment. The criteria for certification from Muis were made available to them at the point of application.

Muis assured these organisations that any previous applicant which can now demonstrate that it meets the standards required may submit its application when the window for application opens under the updated framework.

Muis said it takes all allegations against it seriously and is fully committed to ensuring that requirements for the dietary needs of the Muslim community continue to be met.

"Muis will continue to enforce a robust recognition process of the FHCBs to ensure continued public confidence in imported ingredients used by halal certified food establishments and manufacturers in Singapore."

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